Getting Social with Rebecca Newman — Faculty Highlight

By Dani Moritz-Long

Reach. Impressions. Engagement. Changing algorithms. Emerging channels.

Keeping up with the ever-changing social media landscape can feel like an impossible task, but, as the instructor of Writing for Social Media, it’s Professor of Mass Communication and Journalism Rebecca Newman’s job.

It’s a challenging role, Rebecca explains, but it’s also one she’s come to enjoy.

The class, which serves as an introduction to using social media professionally for business, marketing, journalism and public relations, is the brainchild of Communications Dean Linda Neal, who approached Rebecca about creating the course a few years ago. Reluctant at first, Rebecca says she was concerned about her ability to teach a course on such a rapidly evolving topic.

But, Rebecca acknowledged, “she (Linda) was absolutely right. We needed to have this course, and, now, it’s being developed into an A.S. degree, New Media Communications.”

In helping to shape the course, Rebecca relies on the age of information by accessing online articles about platform changes, new applications and social trends, as well as attending conferences and connecting with people from other institutions. You’ll also find her frequenting job boards, looking for job descriptions for social media coordinators, analysts and strategists, in order to design her curriculum based on employer needs. Plus, she relies on the experts in her classroom.

“Students sometime know more about a particular app or what’s trending or popular,” she said. “I’m trying to help them be a better writer, pay attention to their audience and use social media professionally,”

Essentially, Rebecca covers the fundamentals, and students reciprocate by offering their own insights and ideas — making the course an engaging learning experience for teacher and student alike.

What you won’t often find her relying on is the use of textbooks — and for good reason. While she does use textbooks about the fundamentals of writing, finding an up-to-date book on social media is virtually impossible. The last book she considered, for example, referenced an app that no longer exists in the very first sentence.

Rebecca is also passionate about inspiring fellow faculty members to integrate social media into their teaching practices, although she acknowledges the challenges of doing so.

“I think sometimes people fear it for legitimate reasons,” she said. “Social media is 24/7, and no one wants that. I was challenged by that at first too and needed to set boundaries.” For Rebecca, these boundaries include virtual office hours (she makes it clear she isn’t obligated to tweet back at 10 p.m.), not personally friending students until they graduate Valencia and helping students understand that, while social media never sleeps, she does.

Fortunately, once these boundaries were set, Rebecca found using social media to communicate with her students made her accessible and relatable as a person.

“My philosophy has changed,” she said, referring to her previous hesitation to open Pandora’s Box of social tools. “We need to be where the students are, so we can connect with them quickly and easily. We have so many students at Valencia who are working full time, they can’t even contact me until after 7 at night because they’re working all day long. We just have to change our mentality a bit because we’re not a 9 to 5 business.”

This, of course, doesn’t mean Rebecca recommends friending all of your students on Facebook. It just means finding the right tools for your purposes. For example, Rebecca has created a professional Twitter handle, @ProfessorBec, to connect with students and colleagues, and she creates private Facebook groups for her classes to share information and host dialogue.

If you’re looking for ideas, Rebecca is happy to help.

“If you are a colleague interested in using social media for your classes — for assignments, a way to connect with students and colleagues, etc. — please feel free to contact me,” she said. “I would be happy to meet with you or even present a workshop for you and your students on using social media professionally.”

You can reach Rebecca at rnewman@valenciacollege.edu.

Do you know a faculty member doing great work? Or, perhaps you’d like to share the work you’re doing? Send the colleague’s (or your) name to us at The_Grove@valenciacollege.edu and include Faculty Highlight Nomination in the subject line of your email. We might just feature your colleague (or you) as an upcoming Faculty Highlight.

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