Interview with Dr. Jimmy A. Young on Social Media in Social Work Education

About Dr. Jimmy A. Young, Ph.D., MSW, MPA: Dr. Young is an Assistant Professor in the Department of Social Work at the University of Nebraska-Kearney. He earned his Ph.D. in Social Work from Virginia Commonwealth University and his MSW and MPA from Eastern Washington University. Dr. Young teaches classes on social welfare policy and social media and digital activism. His research interests include nonprofit organizations, community engagement, and technology. Dr. Jimmy A. Young was compensated to participate in this interview.

[] How has the Internet and social media impacted social work education?

[Dr. Young] I think we are really just beginning to see some of the effects of social media in social work education. Generally, in higher education we have seen social media influence the way students access and process information. I think social media has a democratizing (to use a great buzz word) effect on education. I also think that it isn’t just social media, but also technology such as tablets and smartphones. I use to think it was awesome to have a laptop in class and Google something that my professor was lecturing on so I could contribute to the conversation. Now, with social media we can effectively reach out to experts and organizations for information instead of simply “Googling” about it because of mobile technology.

[] Which social media platforms are you currently using in your classes (Twitter, Pinterest, Facebook…) and how are you using those platforms?

[Dr. Young] I have actually experimented with several different platforms since I am fortunate enough to teach a class on social media and digital activism. A constant platform I use is Twitter, but I have also used Pinterest, Google+, and several different blogging platforms such as WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger. I also like to incorporate Wiki’s, although depending upon the way the Wiki is set up, it can either be open and interactive with others or closed and only interactive among the class.

I use Twitter to extend conversation beyond the classroom but to also facilitate classroom discussion. For instance, I have been using content from PBS and NPR to supplement the content in my social welfare policy class. I have students respond to questions and I try to encourage participation and conversation by responding to student tweets. One assignment I just experimented with this semester in my social media/digital activism class was live tweeting during a documentary. I have had students live tweet conferences, which we typically have several each semester, but I wanted to get a sense of students’ reactions to the documentary Pink Ribbons Inc. in real-time as well as after the film concluded. I recognize that research is mixed on the efficacy of multitasking but from what I see on Twitter and the incorporation of television, I assumed that students would be able to tweet relatively easily during the documentary. The tweets were amazing and the conversation after the film was enhanced because I was able to go back to those comments students had shared via twitter.

Another assignment I have used is a simple social bookmarking assignment. I have seen others use Twitter and other platforms for this assignment to gather information from the web collectively as a class. I used Pinterest by creating a group board and invited all my students to be “Pinners” and gave them guidance and permissions to pin to this board. The information students shared included things like Infographics related to advocacy campaigns and websites with more information about certain organizations. This was useful as students benefited directly from one another’s work .

[] What recommendations do you have for professors who are not currently using social media in their classes, but would like to get started?

[Dr. Young] The main point I like to remind people about when using social media and even mobile technology is that the technology needs to support the learning objectives. If we are just using technology because it is flashy and new, then we are doing a disservice to our students. Whenever I design a online course or think about implementing a new assignment I have to ask myself if using technology is the best way to accomplish the learning objective or if there is a better way.

Most importantly, don’t give up and play around with the technology or social media application before you implement it in the class room.

One will only understand social media by experimenting with it and as one continues to play, they learn and even develop skills that they can transfer into the classroom. Be creative and take risks, BUT be smart as well. I think it is important to do your research, learn from others mistakes, and take a little time to browse or lurk around before jumping into the deep end, so to speak.

Lastly, I would encourage people to keep an open mind about social media. Twitter and Facebook, liking, poking, and all the other things we do with social media may look like they have no value on the surface, but when we dig deeper we realize the vast potential these tools afford.

Thank you Dr. Young for your time and insight into the role of social media in social work education. We definitely recommend following Dr. Young on Twitter (@JimmySW) and visiting his blog, JimmySW .

Last updated: April 2020