New COM class examines social media, relationships

Communication Studies / Undergraduate

By Jackie Adell, Communication Studies major, Class of 2017

Professor Tracy Proulx, far left, calls on one of her students in her Social Media and Interpersonal Communication class.

Professor Tracy Proulx, far left, calls on one of her students in her Social Media and Interpersonal Communication class.

Social media continues to change the way people communicate. People have various accounts to stay connected, but how is this constant virtual connection affecting in-person relationships?

Some recent studies (see Clayton, Nagurney, & Smith, 2013) have shown that social media can negatively affect relationships.

A new COM class – Social Media and Interpersonal Communication – addresses this very subject. Communication Studies professor, Tracy Proulx, designed a course that combines these two areas to teach students how their online use impacts their relationships with friends, family, romantic partners, and co-workers. The course was introduced into the curriculum this spring.

The aim of this course is to make students aware of how they use their social media, and explore benefits that will make them better communicators.

Proulx said that it is easy to jump to the conclusion that social media must be negative for interpersonal relationships, but that is not necessarily true.

“The research says it’s not all bad,” Proulx said. “There are positives that occur because of how we use social media and technology.”

Students are challenged in several ways in this course. One major assignment requires students to record their social media activity in a journal. In the journal, students track the social media accounts they use, how much time they spend on it, how it makes them feel, and how much time it takes away from their relationships. The results spark surprising class discussions, and Proulx loves watching her students go off on their own thoughts and bring new ideas and revelations to the table. Students also present individual and group projects on issues such as social media addiction, privacy settings, and deception. These collaborative projects allow students to investigate the pros and cons associated with these issues, and offer suggestions to their classmates on what to do when faced with these problems.

Proulx is most proud of how well her students have taken to the subject matter.

“I have the best problem ever,” Proulx said. “We can’t get through everything in one class.”

The class’ subject matter, which Proulx is currently trying to get approved as a general education requirement, will adapt each semester to keep up with the constant changes and new research in the field.

When asked to describe her class in a 140-character tweet, Proulx put the question to her students. Their response was simple – “the study of interpersonal communication and how social media impacts our psychological well-being and relationships.”