Students study social networking sites in new class

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    The new communication studies course introduced this semester will focus on understanding how online communication intersects with interpersonal relationships.

    The class, Social Networking Sites and Personal Relationships, is an independent study seminar taught by Andrew Ledbetter, an assistant professor of communication studies. The course focuses on understanding how online communication intersects with interpersonal relationships. 

    The Social Networking and Personal Relationships course was intended to be a seminar course, involving reading and discussing news articles, blog posts, academic journal articles and other outside sources. The readings allow students to apply knowledge while discussing social networking sites.

    The class, which allows students to explore social media sites such as Facebook and Google+, is targeted toward juniors. Students will have the opportunity to discuss how technology shapes communication between relational patterns and interpersonally oriented groups.

    Paul King, chair of the communication studies department, said the new class was created to meet a demand for classes about social media.

    “We hired Dr. Ledbetter because the interest in new media has just exploded in the last few years,” King said.

    King said he felt the course was necessary because so many people were using social media sites to communicate.

    “We need to get a grasp on what is happening there academically so that we can understand how it may change the nature of the things that we have historically studied, like the nature of communication in interpersonal relationships,” King said.

    Ledbetter first taught the course as a graduate seminar. The Social Networking and Personal Relationships course is now a part of the undergraduate curriculum.

    Online communication is one of his main research interests as a scholar, Ledbetter said.
    “Social networking is critically important for communication studies graduates to understand,” Ledbetter said. “Our communication landscape and power is continuing to change.”

    Although social media is becoming a large part of marketing and public relations work, that is not the focus of the course.

    “The focus is the interpersonal relationships, and those have certainly changed,” Ledbetter said.

    “The communication landscape I had in college is so different than TCU students have now. Facebook did not exist, and very few of my friends had cell phones,” he said “Basically, the way we maintained our relationships were different. ”

    Ledbetter used Facebook and the transition from high school to college as an example. When he went off to college out of state, he said, he did not feel as if that was the end of the relationship, but it was more difficult to maintain from a distance.

    “Now you can kind of bring your high school friends with you through social media like Facebook,” Ledbetter said.

    Mallory Herrera, a senior communication studies major, was one of the 15 students enrolled in the class.

    “Everyone has a Facebook—even parents—and interpersonal communications is interesting from a communication theory perspective,” she said.

    Herrera said she wanted to learn about what social networking sites do to our interpersonal relationships and what tools to use to process social networking and relationships.

    “After all, we are the first-generation Facebookers,” Herrera said.

    Ledbetter said he wanted his students to understand how people use social networking sites and technology in interpersonal relationships. He said he did not want the focus to be on social media like Facebook and Twitter, but what students think of it instead. In class, he explained the history of computer media communication and the evolution of the landline phone, postal mail and the telegraph.

    “I want students to take that and be able to make wise choices in how they use technology in their lives,” Ledbetter said.