The Social Media Classroom
What happens when you take Web 2.0 tools like blogs, wikis, chat rooms, video conferencing and forums; mix them with a popular open-source CMS and apply this solution to the education environment? This is exactly what Social Media Classroom (SMC) is doing in hopes of bringing two-way dialogue and interaction to the education field.

What is Social Media Doing in the Classroom?

We have seen how Web-based collaboration has helped work groups and enterprises discuss and foster new ideas, communicate amongst geographies, and provide an online home for projects. Social Media Classroom is an effort to bring these same concepts to the classroom environment. According to the project's Web site: "The power of social media in education and elsewhere derives from their affordances for forms of communication and social behavior that were previously prohibitively difficult or expensive for more than a tiny elite to benefit."

Components of the Social Media Classroom

The Social Media classroom is made up by two sub-parts, the Classroom and the Collaboratory. The Classroom provides tools such as: integrated forum, blog, comment, wiki, chat, social bookmarking, RSS, microblogging, widgets and video commenting.
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Social Media Classroom Interface

Additionally, the Classroom also gives teachers and educators useful resources, such as circular material, syllabi, lesson plans, screencasts and videos that are focused on helping teachers organize materials for their classes and programs. The Classroom project utilizes the open source CMS Drupal (see related story). The install files are available for download onto your own server and will soon be offered as a hosted service as well. I imagine many teachers will opt for the hosted version, as this will help them avoid engaging IT or worry about the particulars of setting up their own Drupal server. The Collaboratory is a tool to give teachers guidance on how to best leverage social media tools in their classrooms. In addition to the Collaboratory, a Community of Practice is another resource to help teachers to understand the theory behind using social media in the classroom.

Why SMC May Work

The Social Media Classroom is a fantastic toolset for teachers who want to try integrating social media into their learning toolbox. The ideas of using blogs, forums and other tools inside a classroom is not a new one, but the SMC represents a bundled package that is easy to deploy and administer. Teachers' time is a precious resource, so enabling them to deploy a tool quickly and easily might be a catalyst for getting social media tools into classrooms. Building the solution on Drupal is a wise one for a few reasons. First, it's open source -- therefore, licensing costs are not an issue. Secondly, Drupal is a popular CMS choice in the educational field because of its functionality, low cost and ease of administration. While there's nothing groundbreaking in this new offering; hopefully, with its ease-of-use and value to students, many teachers and professors will take advantage of the SMC to even further engage their students.