Dr. Wendy Freeman’s critical take on social media in the university classroom
By Monica Batac, MPC 2015
MPC students and alumni will likely know Dr. Wendy Freeman and the many hats she wears at the School of Professional Communication. In addition to her research and teaching, Dr. Freeman has served as Graduate Program Director for the past two and a half years. From January to June 2015 she’s on sabbatical, continuing her research on the use of social media in and outside of the university classroom.
Staying true to our educational-technologist backgrounds, Dr. Freeman and I conducted this interview using Google Docs.
Monica: So you’re on sabbatical this term—a much deserved break—though I suppose it’s not really a vacation! Tell us a bit about the research you’re undertaking this year.
Dr. Freeman: Yes, I’m definitely not treating this as a vacation! My research focuses on the use of technology for teaching and learning in higher education, so I need to keep up. I am writing a couple of articles, and I am also working on a grant proposal. The article I’m really excited about presents an analysis of interviews with university faculty who use social media to support their classroom teaching. I hope to show how the choices faculty make about how they use technology is related to their experience with the technology outside the classroom.
Monica: Could you give us an example?
Dr. Freeman: One surprising finding is the amount of power students actually have when it comes to shaping the way their professors use technology. My goal with this current research focus is to take a more critical approach. It’s a complex issue and I’m looking forward to exploring this through some of the more philosophical thinking about technology.
Monica: For those professors who are more reluctant to try and test out social media for teaching, what’s stopping them?
Dr. Freeman: It’s complex. People tend to have hopes and expectations for technology, or they are fearful.
Monica: They’re afraid.
Dr. Freeman: Well, any one technology can be used in a range of different ways and there are always unexpected consequences. For me, I like the experimentation and uncertainty. I enjoy working with my students to learn new things, as long as I am sure that it won’t interfere with their learning.
Monica: So you don’t mind having cell phones in the classroom?
Dr. Freeman: I try to integrate them. For example, a few years ago I decided to use Twitter as a kind of backchannel during student presentations. Students could pose questions and comments during the presentation and then a student moderator asked the questions at the end. One thing I didn’t anticipate was that the presenters would rush back to their seats after their presentations to see what had been said. They had a record of all the questions and comments. This would not happen if students just asked questions orally, without technology.
Monica: Now, would you consider yourself a savvy social media user? What social media do you use for personal use?
Dr. Freeman: That’s a great question. I never feel like I know enough about technology. I am actually not very active on social media. I am more interested in using it professionally, to learn how it works so I can understand its uses for teaching and more broadly in society.
Monica: What advice do you have for students and professors regarding social media use?
Dr. Freeman: For professors, it’s important to try a platform outside the classroom first to see how it functions. That is really the only way to figure out how a tool can fit into the way a person teaches. For students, in my teaching, I tend to focus on activities that help students to find a professional voice on the social platforms they’re used to using to socialize.
Monica: Before you go, what’s next for your research?
Dr. Freeman: For my sabbatical, I’d like to learn a bit more about social network analysis and learning analytics, so I have to dust off my statistics training.
Dog or cat?
I have a cat, but I’d like to also have a dog.
Favourite meal of the day?
Red or white?
Mac or PC?
iPhone or Android?
iPhone. This is a fun question for me. I love gadgets. I’m thinking about getting the Apple watch. My favourite present this year was a littleBits starter kit. I’m looking forward to playing around with simple programming.