The Use of Social Media in Education

For quite some time our education system has been slow to adapt new technologies. Even back when the first calculators came out they were seen as cheats, and sometimes banned from classrooms. Now, as smart phones are becoming more and more used, most teachers are labeling this as a distraction, a way to cheat, and a nuisance to their classrooms. Fortunately there are some teachers who are adapting to the idea of using smart phones and social media in their teaching methods. The good and bad of new media in classrooms have been discussed on the web for years now. It seems that people who are fully immersed in social media are in agreement that this technology will be a benefit for learning and education, as it brings outside ideas and can create a community-based learning system. So why aren’t more schools getting involved with this?

The problem I’m seeing is that 1) Our education system is overrun with older teachers who haven’t kept up with current technologies, and 2) Social media is moving so fast that school board-wide initiatives are getting overwhelmed with the daily evolution of the technology. Since we can’t change #1, lets see how #2 could be fixed:

  • Focus on a few core platforms: blogs, Facebook, video, private social media, etc.
  • Understand how to monitor social media and how to work with the good and bad comments and outcomes.
  • Monitor but don’t ban after one bad incident. Students must learn what is socially allowed online without having the fear of it being taken away. Its going to happen with or without the educational monitoring, so smart steps must be taken.
  • Listen to what students are saying. They know more than the school board when it comes to new media.

There are many case studies of new media being used in education:

Calgary Schools Now Have Wi-Fi (via CBC News)

“The Calgary Board of Education is installing a Wi-Fi network for students in all its elementary, junior and senior high schools.

Curtis Slater, the board’s technology researcher, said the idea is to give kids better access to the most current information.
“The potential is there and the rationale for doing it is to allow students greater access to information that’s out there and greater ability to get a hold of some of these applications and online resources that are out there and use them in the classroom,” Slater said.”

Smart Phone Project in North Carolina (via Oreilly.com)

In the 2008 semester in various high schools in N. Carolina, a pilot project was tested by Qualcomm Technologies where students in math classes were given extra algebra problems directly to their smartphones.

“The outcomes are promising — classes using the smartphones have consistently achieved significantly higher proficiency rates on their end of course exams.”

The smartphone problems were seen as a better delivery system than a textbook because they contained multi-media visuals. The problem would be shown in video form, so the students could visualize the problem. The other enhancement from using a textbook is that each student’s problem was made to be slightly different, using different scenarios and numbers, but containing the same equation. This made it impossible to just copy answers, yet allowed them to help each other. Students then could record their answers or questions on a blog, respond to each other outside of school time and help those struggling come to an understanding without assaulting the teacher with questions.

So why aren’t smart phones and social media being used? Any learning resource, when implemented properly by a teacher who understands it, with the view of creating a more in-depth learning environment, is worth while to the learning generation. Teachers and schools cannot just ban this technology from classrooms. If a textbook is not allowed in the classroom, can you learn from it? Ignoring the power of new media is putting a distance between the teacher and the student.

How to make this work? First, teachers must evolve and learn. They are worthless as teachers if they don’t have the capability to adapt to the future. Second, embrace the new medias in classrooms. Banning and seizure of smartphones or laptops will create students who will be pushed away from teachers and the learning system, creating isolation and animosity. I’m not saying allow them to interrupt the class with calls; there have to be some boundaries. But if you limit the use, say turn the ringer off and no texting or Facebook, but Google searches about current topics are allowed during class, then we will allow them to open up ideas beyond the lesson. Imagine your teacher is talking about a current civil war in an African country, so you use your wireless smartphone to go to CNN.com, search the conflict and bring up info about the attacking leader and use that info to stimulate a conversation in the class about how communist governments are backing warlords. You’ve moved beyond just sitting there listening. You’ve moved into actual interaction and communication and debate, which stimulates new thoughts and ideas better than any textbook can.

Homer Spring, a high school teacher in one of the North Carolina schools in the Qualcomm trial, took new media to another level in the classroom. Using his iPhone’s video camera, he would interview people who he met outside of school, and have them explain how they use math in everyday life. Interviewing a construction foreman or a carpet layer would show how they have to calculate areas or angles. He then would post this to his blog and get students to comment on solutions to problems set forth by the interviewee. (source)

There are so many uses for social media and new technologies in the classroom. Teachers could live-stream their classes for students who are sick at home. These videos could be posted online for students to review if they forgot a point the teacher made, and conversations could happen on the video sites. Specific social media sites could be set up for each class for students to converse after school about that day’s topic if there are any homework problems. This already happens at the university level, so what’s stopping it for high school? If security is the issue, then passwords could be given out and only students of that class can talk to each other.

As in one of the case studies above, teachers could use smart phone apps to enhance their student’s understanding of problems. Maybe they could create a ‘bonus’ question on the smartphone where students could canvas the school or their parents or Google for an answer. This technology easily can broaden the student’s view of a class.

I really don’t believe this is a problem of distraction. The technology generation, which current school kids are in, are getting more adapt at multi-tasking than the teachers and therefore come off as having a short attention span or ADHD. Teachers must adapt and that means bringing technology into the classroom that is current and useful. Phones or laptops (or really social media in general) are one of the best way to collaborate and converse openly and with multiple people without having to travel.

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