Guest Post: Is Social Media Becoming Education?

Lindsey Wright has written some great new ideas on the necessity of social media to current learning that get right to the heart of all the issues with social media in this century that we must deal with. Thank you Linsey, for this great insight!
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According to the Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation, the average child between 8 and
18 years of age spends an astonishing 7.5 hours per day accessing social media and
entertainment devices. Much of explosive growth in media consumption is due to
massively increased ownership of smart phones among this age group. The Kaiser
Family Foundation also reports that 74 percent of 7-12th graders have a profile on
a social networking site. As such, integrating social media with education seems
inevitable. In the last 50 years, teachers have used filmstrips and movies, then video
and electronics as teaching tools. It seems only natural that new teaching methods
will spring from the technology that currently obsesses young people. As class sizes
increase, and as a growing number of students consider attending an online school,
teachers have less one-on-one contact with students, and must find ways to teach
more in less time.
Teaching was once a one-way street, with a lecturer feeding information to listeners.
As Web 2.0 rose in the aftermath of the dot-com crash of 2001, revolutionary
applications for information sharing began to pop up everywhere. Where personal
Web sites requiring knowledge of HTML coding and design once dominated, blogging
became a new, easy and intuitive form of communication. As such, Encyclopedia
Britannica was quickly outpaced by the somewhat controversial, user-generated
Wikipedia. At the same time, chat rooms were upended by the emergence of
monster social networking sites like Facebook, MySpace and Twitter.
These sites appear to be changing the way students learn. While deep learning still
requires active communication paired with context in order to “stick,” the context is
changing from the walls of a classroom to that of a virtual world with a truly global
reach. Thus social media, used creatively, can accomplish deep learning goals that
require connecting abstracts with hands-on processes that create competence and a
feeling of self worth.
Realizing this, educators are increasingly incorporating current technology into
their curricula. Many professors, like Scott Huette who teaches humanities at the
University of Oregon, conduct entire courses online, requiring students to blog
regularly. Blogging turns the lecture-and-listen model of teaching into a much more
democratic experience, increasing the give-and-take between teacher and students,
and between students themselves. Professor Huette discovered that over the course
of the semester, his voice was heard less and less, while the students participated
more and more.
Twitter, with its concise, limited-character tweets, is also used by teachers to
instruct and involve students as well as gather feedback from colleagues that can be
immediately used by posting to a group of followers. Another humanities professor at
the University of Texas at Dallas actually brought Twitter directly into her brick-and-
mortar class of 90 students, with positive results. In a traditional lecture to a group
that large, the teacher found that only three or four students could constructively
speak about the material at one time. Using a real-time Twitter feed onscreen, 40 to
50 students could contribute, comment, answer and ask questions at the same time.
Wikis, with their collaborative structure, are also useful, especially for supplementing
regular course material. Involving students in the building of “knowledge centers”
like this adds to the learning experience without fully replacing conventional
note taking. For instance, students can contribute and edit the content of wikis,
introducing the notion of personal accountability and ownership of information.
Social bookmarking is yet another social media tool finding its way into the
classroom. Through a process of tagging, linking and keyword use, students can
collect references to useful research from other sources on the Web without actually
downloading the material. The bookmarks can be kept private or shared with a
network of other students, who can then link to the material collected by others.
Social bookmarking thus creates a large library of information for community use
that is specific to the course.
On the other hand it seems that some social media are detrimental to a student’s
education. For instance although Facebook is overwhelmingly popular among
students and has nearly 700 million users worldwide, the site has found a great
number of detractors in the education sector because of privacy and safety concerns.
There is also a fear that Facebook will be misused by students during what is
intended to be instructional time. Many alternative but similar models like Think.com,
Ning, Diigo and Panwapa can do much of Facebook does, while excluding advertising
and allowing strict monitoring and control by the teacher.
It seems clear that social media can have a lasting, powerfully positive affect on
the student community. One teacher in a rural community was able to connect
his students with other student groups all over the world, something that would
have previously been impossible. Social media also builds students’ social cognition,
reinforcing networking and collaborative skills that are critical to their future success.
However, when integrating social media into the classroom, the learning curve for
teachers can be steep. While today’s children enroll in school with social media
already completely assimilated into their lives, many teachers are not at all familiar
with its functions. Yet the investment of time and effort appears to pay off, by all
reports.
What will be the next revolution in technology and education? One day, Facebook
and Twitter will fade as the next innovation rises. In fact, some people predict that
with its instant access to every bit of data from a person’s synched devices, cloud
computing may well be the next new thing. From the past of filmstrips and overhead
projectors to a future of personal and public “clouds,” education will undoubtedly
continue to evolve with technology into an increasingly social experience.
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With these inspiring words from Lindsey, I hope you can all go and make an effort to explore the many uses of social media in your own lives today! Thanks again, Lindsey!

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