Instructors at Purdue University are putting social media to work in the classroom. Cale Bigelow, a professor in the university’s Turf Science program, uses social media tools as classroom learning resources to engage and connect with students.

In 2011 and 2012, Bigelow and John Kaminski (with Penn State University), surveyed turf students about their social media use and attitudes, according to a news release. “Although their motivation was to increase student engagement, their findings and experience provided a broader reach,” said the release.

Is this the #futureofeducation? For Bigelow, the future – and present – includes social media.

“It’s all about engagement—how can you inspire, stimulate, get them to ask a question, and want to learn more,” Bigelow said in the release. “There’s an aspect of enthusiasm. They’re paying attention, mentally chewing on something. They’re going to ask a question if the environment lends itself to that.”

College-age students are comfortable using social media, so why not use it as part of the educational process, thought Bigelow. Larger class settings can be intimidating, but social media creates a bridge to more personal connections with students. Those who are uncomfortable speaking out in a lecture hall may be perfectly fine with tweeting a question.

Bigelow surveyed students and found that more than 95% of them used social media to communicate. College-age learners have a “give it to me now” mentality, and Bigelow uses that knowledge to his advantage to foster cooperative learning.

Not every post will have a visible following, but Bigelow thinks there is value in starting a virtual conversation.

“Lurkers are out there who may not engage. I see that a lot with students. For example, we have an exam next week. I’ll post copies of old exams and students use them as a study guide. I’ll get a flood of emails asking questions that I’ll turn around and post. It’s almost like a message board, but may also cause someone who’s not following my feed to pay attention,” Bigelow said. He can be found on Twitter @BIGTurfTeaching and Purdue’s @BoilermakerTurf.