Geography instructor John Boyer, already known for his Plaid Avenger alter ego and his unorthodox teaching methods, has embraced social media in a way unmatched on the Blacksburg campus. Boyer and his 3,000-student World Regions class persuaded actor Martin Sheen and his son, film director and writer Emilio Estevez, to include Virginia Tech on their cross-country tour to promote their new movie, “The Way.”

The class created a YouTube video, which received thousands of hits in a matter of days. After additional campaigns on Facebook and Twitter, Estevez and Sheen couldn’t refuse. “It took our breath away,” said Sheen. “This video went viral and we couldn’t ignore it,” added Estevez. The pair’s bus tour rolled into Blacksburg on Sept. 28 for a screening of the movie and a question-and-answer session for an audience of more than 2,500 in Burruss Hall.

The saga began when Annie Hesp, an instructor in the Department of Foreign Languages and Literatures, initiated an in-person appeal to Sheen and Estevez at a conference in February 2011. Hesp wisely enlisted Boyer in the effort. “‘The Way’ is an empowering experience,” said Boyer, “and we wanted our students to experience it.”

Soon after their success with Sheen and Estevez, Boyer’s class posted a YouTube request for a Skype interview with Nobel Peace Prize winner Aung San Suu Kyi, the Burmese political activist who spent 15 of the last 21 years under house arrest. She agreed to the interview, which took place just days after her historic meeting with Secretary of State Hilary Clinton. In what EdTech Digest called “the best use of Skype ever,” Suu Kyi patiently answered students’ questions, saying she was encouraged by the democratic spirit she saw in the classroom.

Boyer’s efforts have solidified his belief in the power of social media. “Because of technology and the Virginia Tech community, we in this day and age can make contact and communicate with people who before this everybody said, ‘That’s impossible, you can’t talk to Hollywood stars, you can’t talk to prime ministers and presidents,’” Boyer explained. While some professors may question the value of social media, Boyer recognizes the opportunity it gives him to connect with students and make their learning more interactive.

Boyer has used social media to facilitate a number of other events, including a visit from Jason Russell, co-founder of Invisible Children; an appearance by the stars of award-winning documentary “Bouncing Cats,” which profiles Breakdance Project Uganda, an organization formed to empower disadvantaged youth in Uganda through hip hop; and a presentation by retail wine store and marketing agency owner Gary Vaynerchuk to discuss his Wine Library TV video blog and his success in the industry through social media and Internet marketing.