Barbara Bickart

Faculty Voice: Enhancing the Course Experience Using Social Media

Can professors use social media to increase connection with students and students’ engagement in the course content? As described in this New York Times piece, a teacher’s emotional connection to students has a significant impact on learning outcomes. In addition, student engagement is positively related to learning outcomes. Creating connection and engagement can be particularly challenging in courses taught at scale. When I developed the Strategic Social Media Marketing MOOC on edX with Stephanie Leishman (part of the BU Questrom Digital Product Management Micromasters Program), we used social media to create connection and engagement with our 10,000 learners per run. Here are some of our take-aways from that experience.

Student Connection

First, social media allowed me and my teaching team to connect directly with our learners, creating a sense of community and excitement around the course content. We used a class Instagram account (@profbickart) and a Facebook group to share profiles of the teaching team, guest experts, and learners. We also used Instagram stories to welcome students and remind them of key milestones in the course. Instagram stories allowed me to speak directly to the students in real-time, which was not possible in the context of the MOOC. We felt like we got to know many of the learners through their engagement on these platforms and have stayed connected after the course ended.

“Social media allowed me and my teaching team to connect directly with our learners, creating a sense of community and excitement around the course content.” – Barb Bickart

Crowdsourcing Responses

Second, we were able to use social media to crowdsource answers to questions that went beyond the course content. For example, learners were able to post questions about how they might apply the course content to their own businesses in our class Facebook group. These questions were crowdsourced by other learners and our teaching team. Not only did these interactions provide valuable information, but they also allowed learners to connect with each other and build their networks.

Broadening the View

Third, we used social media to draw on external sources of information that could enhance students’ knowledge and increase the relevance of the course material. Learners were encouraged to establish Twitter profiles and to follow influencers in the social media space to both build their own connections and to learn from these influencers. While our course content focused on social media, this approach would work with almost any topic, as well as on other platforms – for example, LinkedIn or Clubhouse. Using social media in this way allows students to hear different perspectives on an issue, provides the opportunity to question, comment on, and share those perspectives, and to see how the course content might apply in other contexts.

Consider the Caveats

There are several caveats to consider when using social media to engage students. First, not all students want to participate in social media due to privacy concerns, and alternatives need to be offered if social media engagement is a course requirement. There could be FERPA concerns if social media is a course requirement. Finally, some students may not be able to access specific platforms, particularly if the course has a global audience.

Even with these limitations, leveraging social media allowed us to connect more closely with our MOOC learners and to create a sense of community that continues well beyond the end of the course. Engaging with students in this way enhanced the value of my teaching experience, as I was able to connect with students as individuals—transforming a large class into something more personal and meaningful.


Barb BickartAbout the Author: Barbara Bickart is Senior Associate Dean of Graduate Programs and Associate Professor of Marketing at the Questrom School of Business at Boston University.  Her research examines how the context of communication influences consumers’ judgments and decision processes. She was the lead designer of the Strategic Social Media Marketing MOOC on edX, which enrolled over 100,000 learners.