New Visual Social Media for the Higher Education Classroom


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Authors: Julie A. Delello and Rochell R McWhorter

This chapter examines how next-generation visual social platforms motivate students to capture authentic evidence of their learning and achievements, publish digital artifacts, and share content across visual social media. Educators are facing the immediate task of integrating social media into their current practice to meet the needs of the twenty-first century learner. Using a case study, this chapter highlights through empirical work how nascent visual social media platforms such as Pinterest are being utilized in the college classroom and concludes with projections on ways visual networking platforms will transform traditional models of education.

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New Visual Social Media for the Higher Education Classroom

  1. 1. Note: This is the last author’s copy prior to publishing. The final, definitive version of this book chapter has been published in G. Mallia (Ed.), The social classroom: Integrating social network use in education. Hershey, PA: IGI Global. © 2014 New Visual Social Media for the Higher Education Classroom ABSTRACT This chapter examines how next-generation visual social platforms motivate students to capture authentic evidence of their learning and achievements, publish digital artifacts, and share content across visual social media. Educators are facing the immediate task of integrating social media into their current practice to meet the needs of the twenty-first century learner. Using a case study, this chapter highlights through empirical work how nascent visual social media platforms such as Pinterest are being utilized in the college classroom and concludes with projections on ways visual networking platforms will transform traditional models of education. INTRODUCTION While social media is permeating our personal and professional lives (McWhorter, 2010), students are arriving in higher education classrooms technologically connected and community-oriented (Friedrich, Peterson & Koster, 2011). According to the New Media Consortium (2012), students’ instant access to networks and social media has facilitated a rise in their level of expectations for the higher education classroom to embrace collaborative learning and content creation. This new paradigm is changing “the nature of the way we communicate, access information, connect with peers and colleagues, learn, and even socialize” (p. 6). As social media has migrated to the mainstream, higher educators are increasingly interested in harnessing its engaging features for learning (Joosten, 2012). For example, studies of Facebook and Twitter usage in the classroom are emerging in the academic literature (Dyrud, 2011; Rinaldo, Tapp & Laverie, 2011). Also, Pinterest, the number three social media platform is showing promise for learning (Delello & McWhorter, 2013). Through the use of these and similar social media tools, instructors are realizing increased communication, visual literacy skills, and student engagement in the classroom. ST VISUAL LITERACY IN THE 21 CENTURY Communicating with visual images is not new. From early cave dwellers to present day civilization, history has shown that people use images to communicate ideas. If one wants to recognize the influence of visual images, one would look no farther than Michelangelo’s Biblical representations painted between 1508 and 1512 upon the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel. “For Michelangelo, faith and creativity— liturgy and art—are inseparably linked by a shared power to transform the viewer” (Romaine, 2006, p. 23). According to the National Education Association (2001), Western civilization has become dependent upon visual culture, visual artifacts, and visual communication. Visual images are formed from pictures, maps, statues, illusions, diagrams, dreams, hallucinations, spectacles, ideas, and even memories (Mitchell, 1984). As children, many of our first images came in the form of symbols or picture representations in books. All of these visual imageries demonstrate the lived reality and cultural values of mankind. The term visual literacy originated in 1969 from John Debes who defined the term as “a group of visioncompetencies a human being can develop by seeing and at the same time having and integrating other sensory experiences… the development of these competencies is fundamental to normal human learning” (p. 27). Visual literacy, according to Gray (2008) is “the ability to both read and write visual information… to learn visually; to think and solve problems in the visual domain… as the information
  2. 2. 2 revolution evolves, [it will] become a requirement for success in business and in life" (para.10). Associated with visual literacy is visual communication and technology. Burmark (2002) defined visual literacy as “a person’s ability to interpret and create visual information…to understand images of all kinds and use them to communicate more effectively” (p. V). Technology, according to Jonassen, Peck, and Wilson (1999) refers to “the designs and environments that engage learners” (p. 12). In an interview, American film director Martin Scorsese responded that “Today, our society and our world are saturated with visual stimulation… to reach younger people at an earlier age…to shape their minds in a critical way; you really need to know how ideas and emotions are expressed visually” (Cruickshank, 2006, para. 6). Defining visual literacy in the midst of new media technology is challenging as it encompasses a wide variety of meanings. According to Oblinger and Oblinger (2005), “The Net Gen are more visually literate than previous generations; many express themselves using images. They are able to weave together images, text, and sound in a natural way. Their ability to move between the real and the virtual is instantaneous, expanding their literacy way beyond text” (para. 15). Although visual perception seems to precede any textual explanations, the combination of images, media, and new technologies will require students to be multi-literate. This new literacy will fuse visual literacy with innovative forms of technology and digital communications. As we are in the beginning of a new millennium, it is evident multimedia visual imagery is essential to our culture (Kellner, 2008) wherein, visual technology is connected to the communication needs of the current generation. MULTIMEDIA AND THE DIGITAL REVOLUTION The development of the Internet has revolutionized the world as we know it. The title of a recent article written by NASBE (2012) Born in Another Time referenced the fact that there is no divide between technology and students of today. “The long march of visual culture to hegemony continues a pace in the multimedia terrain of the Internet and cyberspace where images quickly joined words and sounds to help constitute a new digitized and interactive multimedia culture” (Kellner, 2008, p. 3). “Daily, [students] are bombarded by a constantly changing torrent of messages from billboards, architecture, magazines, fourcolor newspapers, television, and films” (Williams, 1995, para. 6). Prensky (2011) suggested that the millennial students are digital natives and spend the majority of their time watching television of playing video games. In fact, the Visual Teaching Alliance (2012) asserted that 65% of our students are visual learners. For these students, an image communicates more meaning than print. As students become more adept users and creators of digital media, they will expect the classroom to follow suit, in that, digital media will be used as a primary mode of delivery (Henke & Latendresse, 2005). As today’s students become untethered from their computers, mobile, digital technologies such as iPhones, iPads, iPods, and other tablet devices are increasingly prevalent. Touch screen devices, bursting with digital applications, are being distributed and used in classrooms across the world. New multimedia, according to Veenema and Gardner (1996), “may enable ordinary students to gain an understanding that may have been accessible only in the extraordinary classroom in years past” (p. 72). Christensen, Horn & Johnson (2010) recommended competency-based digital learning as a tool to intrinsically motivate students. In addition to motivating students, digital media targets an individual’s learning style. Howard Gardner (1983) provided a framework for classroom learning through his theory of multiple intelligences (MI). These include: logical mathematical, verbal linguistic, musical rhythmic, visual spatial, bodily kinesthetic, interpersonal, intrapersonal, and naturalist intelligences. According to Brown (2002), “the Web is the first medium [to] honor multiple forms of intelligence” (p. 63).
  3. 3. 3 THE SOCIAL PLATFORM As educators consider the use of digital technology in regards to student engagement and motivation in the college classroom, paradigms are shifting towards the use of social media. Since its inception, the Internet has created vast opportunities for communication via the World-Wide Web through image-based social networking sites such as MySpace (2003), Facebook (2004), YouTube (2005), and Twitter (2006). These social platforms connect individuals and encourage users to share digital content. The NMC Horizon Report: 2013 Higher Education Edition reported that mobile applications are also tightly integrated with social networks, making tablets effective tools for collaborating and sharing (Johnson, Adams Becker, Cummins, Estrada, Freeman, & Ludgate, 2013). However, with the multitude of different social media tools and the pervasive use across the globe, little is known about the benefits of social media in higher education as a tool for learning. Social network sites, defined by Boyd and Ellison (2007), are websites that consist of (1) a public or semi-public profile within the system, (2) a list of other users with whom they are connected, and (3) the ability to view others’ lists of connections (p. 2). Before the invention of Web 2.0 technologies, twentiethcentury psychologist Lev Vygotsky’s (1962) principles involved socially constructed meaning where members of the community contribute to learning. Likewise, Gunawardena, Hermans, Richmond, Bohley, and Tuttle (2009) described social networking as “the practice of expanding knowledge by making connections with individuals of similar interests” (p. 1). These socially constructed connections lead to what Garrison, Anderson and Archer (2000) defined as social presence. Social presence is the “the ability of participants in a community of inquiry to project themselves socially and emotionally, as ‘real’ people (i.e., their full personality), through the medium of communication being used.” (p. 94). The literature suggests that “social presence is one of the most significant factors in improving instructional effectiveness and building a sense of community” (Aragon, 2003, p. 57). Spencer (2000) noted that social presence supports the individual’s cognitive growth through interaction and satisfaction leading to the construction of new knowledge and increased learning on the part of the students. Additionally, Kehrwald (2007) related that the development of social presence must be considered in designs which incorporate interpersonal interaction and collaborative learning. These learning environments, as perceived by Witmer and Singer (1998), require both involvement and immersion in meaningfully related activities and events. Junco, Heiberger, and Loken (2010) noted that social networking websites have become a significant part of U.S. college students’ lives. In fact, students spend a great deal of time online developing a presence or identity in order to represent themselves and network with their peers (Greenhow, Robelia, & Hughes, 2009). The Pew Internet and American Life Project reported that 86% of Millennials (18-24 year olds) use a social network site to stay connected with others (Madden & Zickuhr, 2011) while the Babson Survey Research Group, in collaboration with New Marketing Labs and Pearson Learning Solutions, reported that 80% of faculty members used social media in the classroom and over half of that use is for instructional purposes (Blankenship, 2011). In a recent University of Massachusetts Dartmouth study, researchers found that 100% of four year college campuses were using social networking in one form or another (Barnes & Lescault, 2012). Through social media and Web 2.0 technologies, opportunities now exist to connect and communicate across geographical regions through the Internet. Across the world millions of people currently use social networks. Although Facebook is the current leader in the social networking market with 1 billion monthly active users globally (Grandoni, 2012), other platforms are bringing people together. Solis and Thomas (2009) demonstrated the magnitude of the communication taking place in their infographic The Conversation Prism ( which is a visual representation on the everexpansiveness of the social web.
  4. 4. 4 These social technologies can be described as a personal web environment, which represent a “collection of technologies that explicitly supports one’s social, professional, learning and other activities via highly personalized windows to the networked world” (Solis & Thomas, 2009, para. 3). In terms of higher education, this ubiquitous access to a multitude of platforms will reform institutions in terms of how knowledge is disseminated. The next section presents evidence of the dramatic increase in the integration of social media with images resulting in a new phenomenon, visual social media. The Shift from Social Media to Visual Social Media A powerful social media trend is the blending of visual tools with innovative digital technologies such as Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Instagram. For instance, Facebook with a new visual timeline, Twitter with an image-focused header, Pinterest with visual-based pin boards, and Instagram with instant photostreams, have emerged as the most popular social platforms in the world (Experian, 2012). To further enhance their visual image, Pinterest plans to install new tools called “News” for improved content discovery and faster image navigation in 2013. Not only will visual pictures become larger, but the adage with Pinterest is that a picture [or pin] will “speak a thousand words” (, 2013, para. 2). Facebook is adding the new Facebook Graph Search where one can “start a book club, find a gym buddy, or connect with friends who like the same activities—and meet new people, too” (Facebook, 2013). Social networks are capitalizing on “a picture is worth a thousand words” and educators are realizing that students want social platforms that connect to real life examples. Figure 1. Going Visual ©2013, S. Long, Used with permission. According to Vaughan (2012), as humans we have “an innate attraction to visuals” (para. 1). Recent research noted that images on Facebook generated higher engagement than a traditional link-based post (HubSpot, 2012). The most popular social media platforms have been transformed into visual social media (VSM) that share visual messages rather than traditional text alone. According to Walter (2012), social media sites (Pinterest, Instagram, Facebook, and similar) have “ushered in visual marketing…learning to show, not tell, and visual content sites are fueling our desire for beautiful photography and sensational design” (para. 2). Further, he noted that this trend from text to visual media has been greatly influenced by the shifting habits of technology users such as the increased use of social media on smart phones. Leading advertising agencies have picked up on this trend and have recognized that pictures are the most efficient way to convey a brand or concept. Also, Moritz (2012) commented that the evolution of the visual shift began with websites then blogs that provided collaboration and community-building that eventually pushed for shorter communication offered through micro-blogging such as Facebook updates and 140 word tweets. Currently, the visual shift includes the convergence of social media and visual media which has resulted in the emergence of record-breaking platforms like Pinterest and Instagram where the images carry the message. The Visual Web is here. Virtual Worlds: A New Visual Social Media
  5. 5. 5 Traditional learning occurs in physical spaces—but we now have the ability to also connect to, through, and within the technology in significant ways (Kapp & O’Driscoll, 2010; McWhorter, 2010). An example of VSM is virtual worlds such as Second Life ( Virtual worlds have been described as “online communities in which users take the form of avatars (3D graphic representations) to interact with others in a computer-simulated environment” (Mancuso, Chlup & McWhorter, 2010, p. 681) and these digital spaces offer a venue for social presence whereby “you feel like you are present in the same physical space due to the 3D media richness of the environment” (p. 689). Figure 2 depicts a historical landmark on the Texas A&M University Second Life Campus, a replica of the Aggieland Water Tower that was a common sight on the campus in real-life for decades. The virtual campus opened in 2009 and remains a “centralized, shared virtual space for students and instructors alike to discover, connect, and learn in a unique educational environment” (Texas A&M University Instructional Technology Services, 2009, para. 1). Figure 2. Replica of Aggieland Water Tower in Second Life ©2009 Texas A&M University. Used with permission. Activities in a virtual world are media-rich and creative (Gregory, 2012). A study in the interactive and integrated 3D environment of Second life found it to be conducive for online adult learning activities: “SL creates a space allowing for movement, experiential learning, and real-time group meetings” (Delello, Everling, McWhorter & Lawrence, 2013, p. 5). Also, virtual worlds are spaces that facilitate data visualization—allowing data to be seen and experienced in three dimensions—students can walk or fly around molecules and 3D bar charts and look for patterns “that aren’t apparent inside a 2D Power Point slide” (Gronstedt, 2011, p. 822). Virtual worlds are unique in that these 3D spaces can facilitate experiential learning experiences (McWhorter & Lindhjem, 2012, 2013) that would be cost-prohibitive or not possible in real-life (Fazarro & McWhorter, 2011). AvayaLive™ Engage (formerly is another 3D space that is gathering attention of business educators for its web-based platform connecting “participants from around the globe in collaboration sessions featuring 3D visuals, video and spatial audio” (Avaya Inc, 2012, p. 1). According to Gronstedt (2011) the 3D media rich environment is conducive for the practicing of interpersonal skills in a safe environment. Due to its web-based platform, it is able to almost seamlessly connect global participants as they interact in an environment with 3D visuals, and video and spatial audio.
  6. 6. 6 [Figure 3. Web Meeting in AvayaLive™ Engage ©2012 Used with permission.] Interactive Visual Media Content Mobile technologies, especially smart phones with internet capabilities have spawned fascinating learning opportunities such as the introduction of interactive media content within the higher education setting. These interactive media content are highly visual and include QR codes, barcodes, and digital watermarking and will be discussed in the following sections. QR Codes. Students can interact with classroom material through Quick Response (QR) Codes, a “square composed of black modules on a white background with encoded information that can be scanned by web-connected smart phones” (Dadez, 2011, para. 2). QR Code Generators (to create a code) and QR Readers (smart phone application to scan the code) are available free on the Internet and Device Application stores. QR Codes are evident in higher education appearing on posters that advertise upcoming meetings or university information. They are also a great way for faculty to establish and maintain engagement with students by connecting students with mobile access “to the information they seek instantly” (Dadez, 2011, para. 9). In the classroom, eye-catching QR codes can be used in syllabi to direct students to supplemental course material or could be placed around the room or in course materials for a scavenger hunt to introduce a new module. See Figure 4 with a QR Code embedded in a teaching slide to prepare students for a practice “mock” interview in a capstone class. Figure 4. Example of QR Code for Teaching. ©2013 Used with permission. Other Interactive Visual Content Digital objects such as QR codes, barcodes, and digital watermarking can be embedded to allow a digital reader to detect and interact with additional media such as video clips. Magazines like House Beautiful and Sports Illustrated are already embedding these invisible codes for print-to-mobile technology (Smith, 2012). For instance, Digimarc® Discover (2013) utilizes “multiple content identification technologies…to give smartphones the ability to see, hear and engage with all forms of media” (para. 1) that allow users to launch an app, view a video, share on their social media, or make a purchase. According to Herbert (2012), educators should consider adding interactive media content in online education through the use of digital watermarks and QR codes that can be scanned and take users to exam review videos, and homework assignments. Also, educators can use the Digimarc® Discover application to “create interactive study guides and practice tests that utilize the digital watermarks to mask the
  7. 7. 7 answers until the student is ready to review” (Herbert, 2012, para. 5). Another perk is that the digital watermarking allows instant tracking of how often materials are being accessed. One technology that is gaining traction in educational settings is augmented reality (AR). According to Wang (2012), augmented reality is “a novel way of superimposing digital contents into the real context, and is impacting the mobile communications industry by providing a radical shift in human-computer interaction” (para 3). Since many mobile AR applications are location based, subjects such as astronomy (i.e. overlaying the constellation patterns onto the night sky) and geography can be facilitated through AR applications. Also, researchers have posited five educational applications for AR technology: discoverybased learning, object modeling, skills training, AR books and AR gaming (Yuen, Yaoyuneyong & Johnson, 2011). AR can also bring people together in community events. For instance, National Geographic used augmented reality to give mall goers a virtual experience with live and extinct animals (See Haynes, 2011). A video archive of this event sponsored by National Geographic can be found on YouTube, the visual social media site (See: AppshakerLtd, 2011). Higher education classrooms can use augmented reality applications “apps” to utilize the GPS and geodata already available on laptop and mobile devices. Figure 5. The Infographic Age ©2013, S. Long, Used with permission Using Infographics for Data Visualization According to Lankow, Ritchie, and Crooks (2012), humanity is using more data than ever before; we are living in a world of information upload. This age of information requires visuals that make sense of large sets of patterns. Information graphics (Infographics) make sense of complex information and communicate a story in a visual manner. As educators look for ways to integrate tools and applications to meet the needs of the visual learner, infographics are finding their way into classrooms. The New York Times, famous for their infographics, has dedicated an entire online section to teaching with infographics affirming that it is “important for students to be able to read and interpret visual representations of information” (Schulten, 2010, para. 2).
  8. 8. 8 In addition, Heer, Bostock, and Ogievetsky (2010) stated that “the use of well-designed visual representations can replace cognitive calculations with simple perceptual inferences and improve comprehension, memory, and decision making” (p. 59). Educators are moving beyond just the reading of text and interpretation of data. They are using the power of infographics as a means of communication. Mark Smiciklas (2012), author of the book The Power of Infographics: Using Pictures to Communicate and Connect with Your Audiences, stated, “Infographics relay the gist of your information quickly, increasing the chance for it to be shared and fueling its spread across a wide variety of digital channels (p.7). MacQuarrie (2012) suggested that students can use existing infographics for class discussions or create their own to share in class or online using a variety of tools. Furthermore, communicating visually through the use of infographics has shown increased student engagement, conceptual understanding, and collaboration (MacQuarrie, 2012; Smiciklas, 2012). Pinterest: A New Visual Social Media TIME magazine named Pinterest as one of “50 Best Websites of 2011” (McCracken, 2011). Created in 2009 and launched in March of 2010, Pinterest is a new class of social platforms where users can visually share, curate, and discover new interests by pinning images to an online pinboard. Now ranked third highest social network site behind the social platforms Facebook and Twitter (Experian, 2012), the visual platform is being used for personal pinning, individual branding, business opportunities, and career advancement. Pins are created by linking to visual images from online websites. Users create and curate content by choosing and organizing specific images from the Web and communicate with other users using up to 500 word character descriptions of their image. The goal, according to the site, is “to connect everyone in the world through the 'things' they find interesting” (Pinterest, 2012a, para. 8). This contributes to what Wenger, McDermott and Snyder (2002) defined as a community of practice where “groups of people who share a concern, a set of problems, or a passion about a topic, deepen their knowledge and expertise in this area by interacting on an ongoing basis” (p.4). According to Drake University’s Aaron Jaco, Pinterest is one of the most popular accounts in the world of higher education (Lytle, 2012). Currently, colleges and universities are using Pinterest as a social marketing and recruitment tool. However, educators are still struggling find the site appropriate for authentic classroom learning. With minimal words, video integration, and high quality images, Pinterest, according to Sundar (2012), “has all the elements for a right brain, visual thinker” (p. 1). Visually-Enhanced Learning Examples One of the authors of this chapter utilized Pinterest within the College of Education at a four-year University to illustrate how students could be both content creators and content curators of information while building relationships with their classmates in an online environment. According to Downes (2005), the Web is shifting from a medium where information is transmitted and consumed to a platform in which content is created and shared as part of a community of practice (Downes, 2005). The visual social media platform Pinterest was chosen as a means of instruction for 40 elementary preservice teachers. According to Delello (2012), many pre-service teachers do not have the experience needed to create plans for students they have not seen or manage classrooms, in which, they have not taught. In order to inspire and support the students, the visual social platform Pinterest was chosen as a means of gathering ideas through images. Prior to the class activity, the students were given an initial pre-experience survey to measure their technology use. Eighty-three percent of the students surveyed reported they were from Generation Y, also known as the Millennial Generation. Many (46%) of the students reported using social networking sites
  9. 9. 9 daily. The social platforms most widely used were Facebook (64%), Pinterest (31%), and Instagram (18%), each of which, visual in nature (see Figure 6). Seventy-eight percent of the students used a Pinterest account for personal interests (crafts, cooking, and home décor). Figure 6. Social Network Use in Teacher Education Course Much like an art curator selects particular works of art, students were required to select 20 resources from the Web that they planned to reconstruct or utilize in their own classrooms after graduation. These items were pinned onto boards the students created, located within a larger group site (see Figure 8) set up for the class by the instructor. The students were required to comment as to why they believed their chosen pins would be valuable to them as a future teacher. In addition, students were required to review and collaborate on 20 pins their peers had posted. Students were encouraged to re-pin their images to their own boards at the completion of the assignment. Figure 7. Student pinboard on Pinterest. Source: Classroom Management, Pinterest (2012b). Retrieved from
  10. 10. 10 Upon completion of the assignment, the students were given a follow-uppost-experience survey. Most of the students (96%) were enthusiastic about the activity and viewed the platform as a beneficial tool to classroom learning. Ninety-eight percent of the students noted that they would use continue to use Pinterest after graduation. One student commented, “My first impressions were that this is something I will be able to keep with me forever. Since everyone in the class got to collaborate together, there are so many great ideas”. Another student shared, “Two of my aunts have their own Pinterest account and saw what pins I'd posted on my board and our classroom management board, and they absolutely loved them”. Although the majority of the students were digital natives (92%), certain students still found the use of social media challenging at first. One student remarked, “Pinterest blew my mind, because I had never tried to do it before. Once I started playing with it, I loved it! I now have my own Pinterest account, with all sorts of boards. It's GREAT!” The initial one board and one pin, which served as examples for the students, turned into over 35 boards with 900 pins. The themes that emerged from the participants’ openended responses on a post-experience survey indicated that the platform promoted student engagement, a sense of community, and personal meaning to the students (Delello, McWhorter & Camp, 2013). By allowing students to showcase their learning visually, students made valuable connections from the social aspect to one of personal relevance. Visual Media in the Workplace Today’s workers are challenged to be both collaborative and relevant. Employers recognize collaboration through social media as a critical skill in the workplace for innovation whereby “silos in the workplace and at school are being abandoned in favor of collective intelligence” (Educause, 2012, p. 4) and higher educators should prepare students for the contemporary workplace by facilitating the discussion of new ideas, teaching them to locate resources, and build their social skills for networking in the business context (Chen & Bryer, 2012; McCorkle & McCorkle, 2012) and utilize social media skills for the business and organizational context (Preston, 2012). Shuler (2009) remarked: “the current generation of students will enter a workforce where they will be expected to share responsibility with diverse, global teams working together to accomplish common goals as never before” (p. 19). And, as students enter the fiber of the workforce in organizations, they must have the right skills to understand and utilize social media (Bennett & McWhorter, 2014). For instance, digital creation (development of original digital content) is a valuable skill in the workplace for creating content on organizational blogs, LinkedIn professional pages and Twitter and other organizational social media accounts. Also, digital curation (compilation of relevant digital content) is very useful for selecting business-related topics for posting on social media sites and is a valued skill in many businesses (Delello & McWhorter, 2013). See Table 1 for a listing and further description of these skills. Table 1: Four Social Media Skills for Contemporary Workers 1 Skill Name Digital Creation and Curation 2 Content Dissemination 3 Crowdsourcing 4 Business Analysis Application Creating original content for social media sites as well as selecting engaging content for posting Leveraging the strengths of social media platforms to distribute digital content Utilizing the power of the crowd to roll out new initiatives or garner digital feedback Synthesizing social media and trend data to inform decision-making efforts in an organization
  11. 11. 11 Preparing students for the contemporary workplace should be a goal of higher education (Kim, 2013) necessitating the need for higher education to embed professional social media skills into the curriculum. Visual Personal Branding The use of visual social platforms gives rise to social marketing. Visuals are now being used by both individuals and businesses in their social media sites. In a study by the ROI Research Team, 54% of respondents were more likely to respond to brand posts involving pictures (Lauby, 2012). Capstone courses are offered in a number of disciplines that instruct students on building their personal brand through their strategic use of social media (McWhorter & Delello, 2013). Further, Quast (2012) recommended that students define their unique abilities and seek to understand how they are making impressions on others. Social media are facilitators for professional networking, identifying and discussing current trends, and professional branding (Gerwig, Johnson & Epstein, 2011) therefore the building of professional social media skills is facilitated through the use of professional networks such as LinkedIn ( and Twitter, and also the curation of digital resources and collaboration through Pinterest and Facebook Groups (see Bingham & Conner, 2010, Joosten, 2012, Kimm, 2012). Such preparation includes documenting formal and informal experiences across lifewide and lifelong settings through creation of a visually rich professional ePortfolio (Pathbrite, 2013a) and documenting innovative ideas through various forms of visual social media (McWhorter & Delello, 2013). The Visual ePortfolio For years, artists have created portfolios to showcase their work. Extending beyond the domain of visual artists, today’s students are creating electronic portfolios (ePortfolios) to demonstrate their learning while creating an archive of their accomplishments. An ePortfolio shifts the traditional print portfolio to a digitized, personal collection of text-based, graphic, and multi-media artifacts archived on a website (Greenberg, 2004; Lorenzo & Ittelson, 2005). These artifacts are defined by Barrett (2006) as a “collection of work that a learner has collected, selected, organized, reflected upon, and presented to show understanding and growth over time” (p. 4). The United States Department of Education National Education Technology Plan (NETP) (2010) described ePortfolios as: …part of a persistent learning record and help students develop the self-awareness required to set their own learning goals, express their own views of their strengths, weaknesses, and achievements, and take responsibility for them. Educators can use them to gauge students’ development, and they also can be shared with peers, parents, and others who are part of students’ extended network (p.12). Applied to Gardner’s Multiple Intelligence Theory, the NETP (2010) referenced the fact that learning through the use of ePortfolios is individualized, differentiated, and personalized. An ePortfolio moves from a digital repository to a personal learning space; students are not just showcasing their learning, they are creating a digital identity through Web 2.0 platforms. The ePortfolio allows students to use new technologies in a positive way by combining them with traditional methods of teaching, but also allows students to showcase their site in written, visual, and auditory means (Auburn University, 2012). Barrett (2011) noted that although there are differences between ePortfolios and social network sites, the lines are becoming more obscure as technology continues to shift. As the digital generation moves towards the use of visual images, ePortfolios may be as Cohn and Hibbits (2004) stated, “The show and tell of the millennium” (para. 1). While social media sites (e.g. MySpace; Facebook; Twitter) are more informal ways to communicate a message, an ePortfolio can be used more formally, documenting the progression of learning. Additionally, according to Chen and Bryer (2012), social media, used as a tool
  12. 12. 12 for learning, connects informal learning to the formal learning environment. Thus, educators must harness this information to create a learning environment that allows students to “show what they know” (Herring & Notar, 2011, p. 788). This innovative technology, according to Chatham-Carpenter, Seawel and Raschig (2010), will provide higher education with new platforms to enhance learning, meet accountability standards, and increase student employability. The Use of Visual ePortfolios in Higher Education One example of a next-generation visual ePortfolio platform is Pathbrite Web Portfolios (See Founded in 2008, Pathbrite offers their ePortfolio as a cost-effective way for students to capture authentic evidence of their learning and achievements and publish digital artifacts into a single place (Pathbrite, 2013a; PRWeb, 2012). As a standalone, cloud-based product, the platform can be shared across social media sites including Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn (PRWeb, 2012). Pathbrite’s longterm goal is to see its tools being used across age groups where life-long learners can aggregate all their achievements and credentials. According to Pathbrite, “No one’s life should be summed up in bullet points… it should be viewed in color; not read in black and white” (in Bass, 2012). In a higher education course, one of the authors of this chapter utilized a beta version of the Pathbrite platform as a means to showcase the knowledge and skills university pre-service teachers had gained throughout a course in classroom management and behavior. In order to document their prior knowledge of ePortfolios, students were given an initial pretest. The results indicated that overall, the students had little knowledge of ePortfolios. In fact, 58% of students had never used an ePortfolio and 41.7% of students were uncertain as to what an ePortfolio was. However, 83% of the students reported being somewhat interested in creating one. As the culminating course assignment, the pre-service teachers generated their own ePortfolio site using the Pathbrite platform. Students wrote a personal philosophy of classroom management and created a seven-point blueprint for managing their own classroom based upon what they had learned in the course. Additionally, students linked each point in the blueprint with three visual artifacts of their choice. These artifacts (text, photographs, art, digital media) were created by the student, collected from other Websites, curated, and reflected upon within the online ePortfolio (see figure 8). The selection and reflection components were important in that they allowed the instructor to assess the student’s comprehension of the assigned topics.
  13. 13. 13 Figure 8. An example of a Pathbrite student ePortfolio. Retrieved from By allowing the students to customize their ePortfolios, the platform supported individual learning styles. One student remarked, “It made it more fun instead of just a boring black and white” while another noted, “There was lots of freedom!” Additionally, the platform gave students the opportunity to organize and showcase learning while making a valuable connection to their future career. One student stated, “I really like it and can't wait to add it to my resume”. A different student said, “I think that it is going to make me that much more marketable to future employer”. The findings are encouraging to teachers who are considering using ePortfolios for authentic assessments of learning. The platform allowed students to weave together their personal, school, and career ambitions, creating a kind of integrated ePortfolio. Through the collection, selection, and reflection element, the ePortfolio became a showcase of “life-long” learning (Barrett & Garrett, 2009). In addition, the learning environments allow students to share and collaboratively reflect on their chosen artifacts creating a constructivist classroom. Solutions and Recommendations Even though the current chapter offers promising insights into the use of visual social media for the classroom, challenges exist. The sad reality is that while digitization is transforming the world around us, many of our classrooms are disengaged from the lived experiences of the student. For many educators, social networks are seen as a threat to a student’s ability to learn. In a Stanford University Study (2009), researchers found that students of today are flooded with information, leading to a lack of attention and an inability to concentrate in the classroom. However, as Prensky (2001) so boldly pointed out, perhaps it is not that Digital Natives cannot pay attention; it is that they choose not to as they tune in just enough to get the gist and be sure it makes sense. To make schools relevant, connected, and meaningful, educators must first understand how students use these social networking technologies (Greenhow, 2008) and then make the course content connect to the student’s life. Students need an opportunity to find purpose, meaning, and personal relevance while documenting their learning in a digital way. Educators must bear in mind that the digital generation needs strategies that not only incorporate their individual differences but also involves them in the learning process. Used in this way, social media tools can move from a possible classroom disruption to a platform for learning. Through the incorporation of new visual social media into the classroom, researchers have revealed that student engagement, technological proficiency, collaboration, and communication increased (Delello, 2012; Greenhow, 2008; McWhorter, & Delello, 2013). Higher education must accept the notion that as more courses take the digital leap, social platforms will become necessary to connect and engage students in the 21st century. This will require institutions of higher education to shift the way they do business. Piaget foretold of this when he stated, “The principle goal of education is to create men who are capable of doing new things, not simply of repeating what other generations have done - men who are creative, inventive and discoverers” (in Jervis and Tobier, 1988). Within schools, visual social media transforms a teacher-centered environment to a learner-centered one where students actively construct new information. These new tools allow students to have a high degree of ownership while reinforcing authentic knowledge. The National Education Technology Plan (NETP) called for improving learning through “connected teaching” by having teachers “connecting to content, expertise, and activities through online communities” (DE, 2010, p. 42). In order to create meaningful experiences in a world dominated by visual images, training and support for college faculty in both digital literacy and new technologies is necessary. This will require faculty to take part in “hands-on experiences” integrating, and applying new technological tools. Educators need to use 21st century tools to prepare students for a globally connected
  14. 14. 14 society. As John Dewey stated,"If we teach today's students as we did yesterday's, we are robbing them of tomorrow" (1944, p. 167). Educators need to consider how social media can complement a classroom and perhaps, consider retooling their curriculum for the millennial learner. Organizational policies on the use of social networks must be created and privacy issues must be addressed. Chen and Bryer’s (2012) research documented the primary concerns of using social media for learning related to security and privacy issues. Additionally, Kaplan (2012) noted that the “digital footprints” left on the pages of social network sites may negatively impact a student’s chances of being accepted into college. In order to protect both faculty and students, strategic planning for college administrators and a shared vision among all stakeholders must take place. Moving from privacy to transparency, educating students and faculty on how to use social media to network effectively is essential. Technology has made the access of learning resources and experiences for students and faculty as never before known in recorded history. Unfortunately, the ease of locating information has also made it very easy for students to cut and paste without properly attributing the intellectual property. Students need direct instruction in what constitutes plagiarism and how they should properly cite and reference digital sources. Higher education students should be taught directly from the style manual whenever possible. For instance, the Publication Manual of the American Psychological Association (APA), 6th edition devotes an entire chapter to Crediting Sources (Chapter 5) that discusses plagiarism, self-plagiarism, direct quotation of sources, paraphrasing material and similar issues. In addition, many institutions are utilizing plagiarism detection software to try to curb these academic dishonesty problems. Although legitimate concerns exist, new visual social media tools have been shown to promote social presence, increase engagement, and support individual learners. Still, instructors must establish expectations, set the tone, and interact with students. Instead of wondering whether social media should be used in the classroom, educators should be considering “how” to use these platforms to increase learning in a visual world. FUTURE RESEARCH DIRECTIONS With the emergence of Web 2.0-based social networking sites (SNS), learners have developed a social world that is parallel to and often interlinked with their everyday work and study activities but other SNS can (and should) also be explored, the unique characteristics of each explained, and how these can be adapted for educational use. Many of the visual technologies explored in this chapter are just beginning to have a profound effect upon students in higher education. Educators must begin to utilize these new directions in technology and embrace the evolving visual nature of social media while using it in the classroom to capture student interest. Rather than seeing social media as a distraction, higher education must consider new applications which create student-centered learning environments that encourage social collaboration and the exchange of ideas. In order to achieve these goals, faculty will need training in understanding how imagery-evoking strategies and social media platforms can be integrated into the curriculum. More than just a digital platform, these visual strategies will create a constructivist classroom where meaning is personal, students and faculty are connected with one another, and information is retained. The challenges associated with social media platforms need to be well understood. New technologies are continually evolving and it is important that learning remains the critical focus of course content. Instructors must recognize that integrating visual social media into coursework takes time to create and to monitor. Also, to meet the demands of increased online media use, institutions should make sure that the infrastructure including increased access and better broadband networking are incorporated into planning
  15. 15. 15 and budgets. With advances in social media, institutions of higher education must put in place effective policies for use including guidelines on privacy issues, responsible use, and copyright regulations. Finally, higher educators should instruct students how to utilize visual social media for their professional use. For instance, as resumes have become more visual, students are building a personal brand—a digital footprint and an online presence. More research is needed to determine the effectiveness of these visual platforms through student perspectives but also through potential employer perspectives to establish its usefulness in the workplace. CONCLUSION Over the last century, education has witnessed the proliferation of instant communication and online opportunities which enhance teaching and learning; yet, in many regards, conventional classroom practices have remained largely unchanged. As twenty-first century learners enter the classroom, all connections to the outside world—mobile devices for communication, music, gaming and Internet are extinguished; thus, they walk “out of the light and into the darkness of an old-fashioned classroom” (Prensky, 2008, para. 11). Students must be afforded learning and creativity opportunities through the use of authentic experiences through contemporary tools and resources (ISTE, 2011). Through the utilization of visual social media, instructors can enhance social classroom interaction in powerful and relevant ways. REFERENCES Anderson, T. (2005). Distance learning—Social software’s killer ap? Proceedings from Conference of the Open and Distance Learning Association of Australia (ODLAA). Adelaide, South Australia: University of South Australia. Anderson, T. (2009). Teaching and learning in a net-centric world. Retrieved from AppshakerLtd (2011). National Geographic Channel, Augmented Reality. Retrieved from Aragon, S. R. (2003, Winter). Creating Social Presence in Online Environments. New directions for adult and continuing education, 100, 57-68. Auburn University (2012). The ePortfolio project. Auburn University Quality Enhancement Plan 20122018. Retrieved from Avaya Inc (2012). AvayaLive Engage. Retrieved from Barnes, N. G., & Lescault, A. M. (2012). Social media adoption soars as higher-ed experiments and reevaluates its use of new communications Tools. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth. Retrieved from Barrett, H. (2006). Using electronic portfolios for classroom assessment. Connected Newsletter, 13(2), 46. Barrett, H. (2011). Blurring the boundaries: Social networking & E-Portfolio development. TEDxASB Conference, Mumbai, India. February 2010.
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