The leadership education landscape has changed. No longer solely confined to a classroom setting, virtual connections via social media have expanded the reach of educators and students, while changing the ways that educators engage with their learners.
Dr. Bill Withers, professor of communication arts and assistant director of the Institute for Leadership Education at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, describes himself as a “digital immigrant” who has “adapted and acclimated to integrated technologies like social media.”
Withers routinely utilizes Facebook and Twitter to stay connected with students as well as friends, followers and fans with interests in leadership. Each summer, he teaches exclusively via Facebook. Because students are already utilizing social media on a daily basis, their typical responses to Withers’ explanation that the class will take place within its own learning group on Facebook are, “Okay, cool.”
“Social media is the ‘water cooler’ or ‘campfire’ of the 21st century,” Withers observes. “If you’re not using it, you’re not involved in the rich conversations that occur in such environments. I am routinely posting thoughts, ideas, and responses – and students contribute accordingly. We then bridge those posts to even deeper exploration as part of our in-class discussions.”
Jason Falls, author, speaker, consultant and CEO of Social Media Explorer, agrees with Withers’ approach. According to Falls, educators who incorporate social media in the classroom have the ability to “communicate with students on the popular communication platforms they’re using outside the classroom. They can share lesson plans, extra learning resources, and other ideas through outlets where students are already spending much of their free time. Educators can effectively teach technology and social networking skills students will desperately need when entering the workforce. Teachers can share instructions, links to online resources and answer class questions on Twitter. They can create Facebook groups around classes, subject matters or even events that allow students to better connect with each other and share ideas to enhance everyone’s experience and learning.”
Withers believes that educators who don’t take advantage of social media are missing out on enriching connections and conversations. Traditional “chalk and talk” teaching methods are no longer effective for educators who seek to engage students beyond classroom walls. Leadership lessons aren’t contained to 60-minute lectures three times a week, and the relationships between educators and learners that are strengthened through social media extend learning beyond the semester.
Withers is a strong advocate for going where students are, rather than waiting for them to come to you. “You must meet students where they’re at. Today, and for much of their existence, students have the opportunity to learn, share and grow virtually even when the official class ends.”
For more information about Dr. Bill Withers' work at the Institute for Leadership Education at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, he can be reached at [email protected]. You can find Dr. Withers online and linked to social media at: http://www.wartburg.edu/ca/withers.html.
Angie Chaplin, M.A., C.P.B.A., is a Certified Master of The Leadership Challenge® Workshop and Principal of Angie Chaplin Leadership Partners LLC, based in Waverly, Iowa. In addition to consulting and facilitating The Leadership Challenge and The Student Leadership Challenge workshops, she also teaches courses at the undergraduate and graduate level on leadership and strategic communication. She can be reached at [email protected].