#EngagedStudents: Boost skills with social media

These fun projects encourage more professional communications.
By Anita Dennis

Introducing social media into your classroom can help to better engage students with their coursework and demonstrate the right ways to interact online in a professional context. And it’s a familiar platform for students, since college-age Gen Zers spend about three hours a day on social media. Here’s a look at three social media-related activities that are being used with great success in accounting classrooms.

Using Instagram to interact outside the classroom

Christie Novak, CPA, DBA, assistant professor of accounting at LeMoyne College, Syracuse, N.Y., uses Instagram in her introduction to financial accounting class, the first course that business majors at the college take. The platform gives her a vehicle for bringing real-life experiences to the course, and lets students share material about business and accounting online.

“I chose Instagram because they're already comfortable with the platform and using it daily,” she said. “They don't need to log onto another website or open their email to contribute.”

Novak posts accounting-related questions to Instagram and asks students to answer her directly on the platform using text, videos, or pictures. For instance, she will ask what the basic accounting equation is, or ask students for examples of various types of accounts. She will sometimes post these questions in the form of a video, and to give them an approachable feel, she has recorded them in her home and her backyard.

Students aren’t required to answer the questions, Novak said, but many take advantage of the chance to test what they’ve learned. Because she doesn’t share their responses with the entire class, the activity is a great way to reach shyer students or the ones who don’t talk in class, she said.

It can also help students recognize problem areas. “These questions give them a chance to identify whether they know what they’re doing,” she said. Since she began the activity, she has seen more students coming to office hours knowing they need help. At the same time, the students who are doing well are happy to get some positive reinforcement.

Novak also uses her Instagram account to post video interviews with accountants in public accounting or in industry. “I ask the accountants what they do and what a typical day is like,” she said. For her freshmen and sophomores, her class is often their “first interaction with accounting,” and she wants them to see what it’s like to have a career in the field.

A LinkedIn assignment promotes professionalism

For the past 10 years, Kimberly Swanson Church, Ph.D., assistant professor of accounting information systems (AIS), at University of Missouri–Kansas City, has used LinkedIn in her AIS and managerial classes as a professional development tool and to teach online professional etiquette. She believes it can be used in any class. She works with students to help them develop a professional profile, and then they use LinkedIn as a communication medium for the remainder of the semester.

The LinkedIn project is a 10-step assignment. The first five steps involve making a good first impression by setting up a professional profile, followed by four steps that involve professional engagement through passive and active LinkedIn participation. In the last step, students write a memo reflecting on the experience. Students are graded on the assignment and receive a rubric that sets expectations for their work.

The effort makes students more aware of their digital footprint and more mindful of what they post on social media platforms, according to Church. “This is very important for a generation that has grown up online often ‘oversharing’ their personal experiences on Instagram, Snapchat, and Twitter without realizing the long-term consequences of their actions,” she said.

It has also proved helpful in their careers. “LinkedIn emphasizes professional networking, which has resulted in many job offers for my students over the 10 years I have used the project,” she said. She uses the platform to share opportunities with students — such as internships, scholarships, and on-campus speakers — that they can follow up on long after they have left her class.

In fact, her page has become something of an alumni network: Former students post to her LinkedIn page about milestone events in their careers, she said, and tag her on topics they think she might want to share with her classes.

Best practices for discussion boards

Amy Pilcher, Ph.D., assistant professor of business administration at Wartburg College in Waverly, Iowa, uses the discussion boards on her school’s learning management system to get students talking about the material outside her classroom. For each chapter in the textbook, students are required to answer questions related to the topics they’ve learned. If a chapter covers internal controls, for example, students must describe what that concept means and give an example. “I want them to explain the material to each other in their own words and not just repeat something out of the book,” she said, to enhance and demonstrate their grasp of the material.

Pilcher also asks students to post on what they saw as the most interesting content in the class that week. She said she enjoys watching them make discoveries, such as their surprise that accounting is more than just tax, or when someone makes an observation that other students hadn’t noticed.

Pilcher recommended that faculty who use discussion boards be clear about their expectations for posting. For example, she asks students to use full sentences in their online communications and to discuss what they’ve learned in plain English. “Communication skills can be just as important as business skills in many business environments, and that’s a message I try to consistently give to the students,” she said.

A fresh look

While social media offers new ways to approach learning, using it for active learning and professional development also gives students who have grown up online a fresh look at how digital media can be used. They may be experts at putting it to work for social engagement and branding awareness, but bringing it into the classroom helps them understand the importance of being mindful of what they post and maintaining an appropriate level of professionalism in their online interactions.

Anita Dennis is a New Jersey-based freelance writer. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact senior editor Courtney Vien at Courtney.Vien@aicpa-cima.com.

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