Does social media belong in the classroom?

Social media, when used for teaching and learning encourage student-to-faculty, student-to-student, and student-to-content interaction and thereby have the potential to increase learner engagement.

CC-BY-NC-SA by Espacio Camon on Flickr
CC-BY-NC-SA by Espacio Camon on Flickr

A few years ago, Rey Junco researched the effect of Twitter on college student engagement and grades and found that “Twitter can be used as an educational tool to help engage students and to mobilize faculty into a more active and participatory role.”

Although use of social media has increased for both students and teachers their preference is for personal rather than for educational purposes.

The Social Media for Teaching and Learning report by Pearson & Babson finds faculty use of social media has increased in all areas: personal, professional, and educational. However, most faculty still have some strong reservations when it comes to use in the classroom. Although it appears that both faculty and students see the value of integrating mobile technologies into teaching and learning, both groups are concerned with privacy and prefer to keep their personal separate from their academic lives.

“Concerns about privacy, both for themselves and for their students, and about maintaining the class as a private space for free and open discussion, have been at the top of the list of concerns in all of the reports. Until faculty feel that this issue has been addressed, the wide-scale adoption of commercial social media tools in the classroom will remain limited.”

– Pearson: Social Media for Teaching & Learning

The very nature of Social media is highly interactive and therefore engaging – permitting us to share our stuff – news articles, blogs, videos, photos, etc. – with our connections in practically real-time.

shareThe advantage of social media over LMS tools like the discussion forum is the convenience of sharing directly from the media to our connections – like the difference between email and texting.

“This is cool! I’ll share it. There – I shared it!” …five people liking it and three comments later and we’re engaged in a conversation.

So how do we get around this privacy thing?

The critical thing about social media when it comes to privacy is the social network. Some social networks can be made either open or closed, public or private. For example some Google Plus Communities are made available for anyone to join while others are by permission only.

Our campus uses Gmail for student email, so virtually every student has a Google Plus account whether they know it or not. They just need activate it. As an instructor I can create a private community in Google Plus for my course, email the students in my class and invite them to join. Content shared within a private Google Plus community is visible only to those who are members of the community.

There – we have a private social network. Now what?

The latest ECAR study on undergraduate students and information technology shows that students are willing to use their mobile technologies for educational purposes, they just need some instruction on how to do so.

With a little orientation students can quickly get up to speed.

Students need to know how to manage their networks or “circles” in Google Plus and then how to like (+1)  and to share media when they find it. As the community owners, we need to set some guidelines for our community so students know what is appropriate to share and how to engage in the conversation. We also need to show them the mechanics of the tools.

Categories can be created within the community. By using hashtags (e.g. #edtech) when sharing or posting media, the content and discussions can be organized into various topics and forums. This works great for managing small group discussion and assignments or for topically organizing the media and other content.

Students can share various media (location, photos, video) directly from their phones, tablets, or computers. Hangouts (live chat and video) permit up to ten students to interact remotely in real-time with desktop sharing, audio and video. This is especially helpful with collaboration in small study groups.

The Hangouts on Air feature permits the instructor or guest speakers to join the class from a distance and to stream, as well as record lectures, which are then automatically posted to the community timeline.

The private community is not limited to the classroom but permits the instructor to decide who can join the community. By expanding the network students from multiple sections, upper-classmates, alumni, and experts in the field can engage in classroom discussions.

Google Plus communities permit the faculty and students to share documents, spreadsheets, presentations, etc. anything stored in Google Drive – permitting students to collaborate in the development of class projects or share their portfolios.

Does social media belong in the classroom? I would say yes, depending on what you hope to achieve. There are many ways of engaging students by extending the classroom using social media if you are willing to invest a little time and effort to set up a private network.

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