Social Media and the Classroom

Social Media and the Classroom

Social Media in the Classroom

Reprinted from Guide to Online Schools



Social media is a trend on the up and up, and it’s still very unclear what long-term place it will have in our lives. However, if you interact with pre-teens and teens, the first generations to have grown up with web 2.0, the evidence is compelling that social media is changing the way we live in a pretty deep way. So what does this mean for educational institutions, those pillars of learning that are usually attempting to reach these same tech-savvy young adults?

Has Technology Changed the Way We Think?

The whole debate about incorporating social media into education stems from a presumption: that technology has changed the way we think and process information. Different researchers, psychologists, and educators have been discussing the evidence of this for a while now.

Some, such as distinguished technology researchers John Seeley Brown and Richard P. Adler, put it this way:

“… instead of starting from the Cartesian premise of “I think, therefore I am,” and from the assumption that knowledge is something that is transferred to the student via various pedagogical strategies, the social view of learning says, ‘We participate, therefore we are.’ ”

They argue that technology, and social media in particular, has changed learning from an individual endeavor to one that is fundamentally collaborative.

Ken Robinson, a British creativity expert and education speaker, speaks a similar mind in his TED talk about how schools kill creativity. In his mind, technologies like video games and social media allow students to endlessly interact and create their own learning experience, whereas a school’s traditional approach is entirely static.

One study done in 2005, just prior to the web 2.0 boom, considered how laptops affected the learning styles and grades of middle school students. The researchers found that students with laptops learned more collaboratively, did more project-based learning, and were more likely to readily engage in problem solving endeavors.

Social Media as a Boon to the Classroom

If the ubiquitous technology in our lives is truly changing the way we learn, is it time for schools to jump on the bandwagon and incorporate it into their curriculum? Some think so.

A recent study published in the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning looked at Twitter’s effects in the classroom. The study compared student performance and engagement in two college classes, one in which the professor used Twitter to communicate with students, and another in which they used a bulletin board.

At the end of the semester, the Twitter students had higher classroom engagement based on a nationally used scale, not to mention higher GPAs.

Another recent study done by University of Minnesota researcher Christine Greenhow showed that high schoolers who engaged in social media had better technology skills, something that could make them more attractive to employers. Greenhow discusses her findings on Youtube.

Social Media as an Unnecessary Distraction

This isn’t a topic without debate, however. Some educators and researchers argue that social media in the classroom is ultimately a distraction, one that reinforces students’ immaturities rather than helps them grow out of them.

Pearson Social Media Survey

A recent poll of higher education faculty revealed their reasons for trepidation. 80% of educators surveyed stated that “lack of integrity of student submissions” was a barrier to their use of social media in the classroom; 70% said they were concerned about their students’ privacy.

For some teachers, asking their students to leave an electronic trail of their time in class comes with too many question marks. And perhaps those privacy concerns aren’t totally unfounded. Recently, sociology researchers at Harvard have been charged with endangering students’ privacy, after they began researching an archive of 1,700 Harvard undergraduate Facebook profiles.

Future Trends in Education & Social Media

Even if current educators have their reservations about incorporating today’s wave of social media into their classroom, there’s really not much question that there is great potential in the use of technology in the classroom. The real question is, how can technology be specifically developed to be more helpful in the educational context?

Some think that mobile learning is the answer. As our smart phones become smarter and e-readers and tablets become more widespread, augmented reality and other on-the-go educational tools could become the next big thing. The barrier here has been developing apps and uses specifically for phones, which researchers say are students’ preferred mobile gadget.

Or maybe teachers will become keen on having students collaboratively share their questions and upvote the ones that they want to hear answered the most, through technologies like Google moderator. Another approach, called voicethread, allows for easy sharing and commenting on multimedia presentations.

What’s Your Take?

Are social media-averse teachers being stubborn Luddites, a modern version of Plato and his critique on the value of the written word? Or is social media in the classroom ultimately more distracting than it is helpful? Fad, or underexploited educational resource? Chime in below.


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