We live in a world where there is an application on our mobile phones and tablets for everything from shopping for clothes online, to finding a suitable partner. Social media permeates the society we live in. The Pew Internet and American Life project reports that as of February 2014, 74% of all adults on the Internet utilizes social networking sites. This percentage increases to 89% when looking at the cohort of 18 – 29 year old individuals i.e. those of typical college age (Davis, Compton, Farris, & Love, 2015).
Individuals within this age group are also known as “digital natives” in reference to their overwhelming presence on social networking sites and lifelong engagement with digital technologies (Davis, Compton, Farris, & Love, 2015). However, this has led to an ongoing debate and an emergent line of research on the effects of social media in general and social networking sites in particular, on both academic performance and student’s overall experiences in higher education settings.
Some of the most commonly used social networking sites are Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr, Instagram, YouTube, etc. In fact, business have used these platforms successfully not only to market their products and services but, also to engage customers and employees. The president of UPS North California District, Rosemary Turner uses Twitter to connect with her team of 17,000 employees who don’t see much of each other. That’s because they are in trucks, on loading docks or making sales calls. She uses Twitter to share updates, recognize employees, etc. as, she says her employees are already comfortable using Twitter (Li, 2015).
Also, the famous coffee shop Starbucks uses Facebook to connect with nearly 5.5. million fans. There is an embedded discussion board where everything from rumor control about product discontinuation to advice about how to get a job at Starbucks is covered (Ewbank, Foulger, & Carter, 2010). There exist many more examples of how businesses have used social media in innovative ways. These models can be adapted by higher educational institutions. For example, Leicester University in the U.K. uses Twitter.com, to post interesting academic updates throughout the week. This was so successful that the university incorporated micro – blogging platform into its courses for pedagogical purposes. Therefore, the use of appropriate social media can not only lead to marketing success. It can transform the way teachers teach and students learn at the university (Ewbank, Foulger, & Carter, 2010).
Facebook, Twitter, YouTube....and the list goes on
In a survey conducted by Pearson amongst educators in higher education institutions in the U.S, 90% of the participants reported that they were aware of sites such as Facebook, Twitter, You Tube, Myspace, etc. 30% used a variety of social media sites in their personal lives and 40% engaged by posting pictures, comments, etc. (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011). Although faculty are well aware of social media and the majority use it in their personal lives, do faculty also believe that social media sites have a place within their course?
As per the research, nearly two-thirds of all teaching faculty have used social media in their class sessions. 30% have also posted content for students to view outside class. Over 40% of faculty have assigned students to read or view social media as a part of course assignments, and 20% have assigned students to comment or post to social media sites (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011). Overall 80% of faculty reportedly use social media for some aspect of the course they are teaching (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011). Faculty who teach online are more likely to use social media in the courses they teach. However, not all social media sites are used equally within a given course. Facebook and Twitter, are rarely used as part of a course. Online videos, podcasts and blogs were most widely used in class and posted outside class for students to use (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011).
The findings above provide an interesting insight in the use of social media by faculty in teaching. There are a lot of other social media applications that can be used like Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc. These can be widely used by educators to connect with students outside the classroom. Facebook provides users the opportunity to develop closed groups where information like pictures, videos, links, etc. can be shared and discussed among members, Twitter can be used as a message board to post updates like exam dates, class cancellations, etc. Pinterest is also gaining popularity. It uses a blog format where users can create and share boards on different topics and, the list goes on to include other sites like WhatsApp, LinkedIn, and many more.
These social media applications are user friendly and are increasing used by the “digital natives” or Millennials. The Millennials, born after 1980 who experience the world through their smart phones and tablets, have Facebook and Twitter profiles and, send and receive as many as 50 texts every day (Barnes & Lescault). This poses an enormous challenge for those targeting this hyper connected group. Using social media and new communication tools within and outside the classroom can increase engagement in learning among this group of learners.
Social Media and Teaching
There is a sea of social media applications that educators can use in their course provided the learners are willing subscribe and participate. Educators can choose an application that is widely used by the learners. This can be identified by taking a quick poll at the beginning of a course. It is also important to develop some ground rules along with the learners. Learner must comply with the ground rules while participating on social media sites.
Although there are several advantages of using social media in higher education, there are barriers to its use in higher education. Using these apps can be time consuming for educators taking into account their workloads. Many play multiple roles to stay afloat. Using social media can be time intensive depending on the type of application and its usage in the course (Reuben, 2008). For example: If an instructor creates a group on Facebook for discussions on course related topics. He / She will have to go through content to ensure students are making valuable contributions related to subject, being respectful of each other while posting comments, etc.
Secondly, most social media applications are limited to certain functions only. Therefore, it is unlikely to take the place of something at already exists. In fact, in can be used to complement other tools for learning (Reuben, 2008). Most higher education institutions already use Learning Management Systems like Moodle and Blackboard to share information. These portals allow students to upload assignments, participate in discussion forums, receive feedback and communicate with the instructor, view extra learning material, etc. However, these platforms allow for easy integration with social media services so lecturers can post content automatically on Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, etc. (BBC Active, 2015)
Lastly, privacy concerns that learners and educators may have can discourage them from using social media applications. However, privacy settings can be used on these sites to ensure that only learners and the instructor can access the information posted or shared. Most Learning Management Systems offer a safe environment for students to engage with other students and the instructor. Students might not be comfortable using public domains due to lack of privacy and confidentiality (Reuben, 2008).
However, social media applications allow instructors to avoid bombarding students with information via email. Educators can share lecture links, videos, and other classroom communications like deadlines, short communications like reminders about upcoming event, etc. in real time (Reuben, 2008).
Engaging learners through Social Media
Over the past couple of years, universities and other educational providers have increased social media marketing for the courses they offer to attract students (BBC Active, 2015). But, are they harnessing full power of the medium by engaging and interacting with those same students once they begin their studies? Does social media have a place as a teaching tool or is it simply a distraction?
Research shows that on one hand social media used in general correlates with lower grades, less engagement while on the other hand, social media in the classroom provides a host of benefits (Davis, Compton, Farris, & Love, 2015). As educators we know that learning outside of the classroom helps students retain information both short term and long term. Supplementing in class instruction with social media engagement can be viewed as an important learning tool, while the social component can help create a community of learning. For example, in a research conducted to look at the effects of a course – based Twitter account on student engagement and grades, students who participated on Twitter reported both greater engagement and received higher grades (Davis, Compton, Farris, & Love, 2015).
As a future instructor, I believe using appropriate social media applications is important as it creates a cooperative learning environment for students where, they are engaged in knowledge sharing, collaborative work, and community building. For the digital natives, most of their learning takes place on line. They are more likely to look up a step by step video on You Tube if, they need to learn how to trouble shoot the printer than look through a catalog.
Social Media has become part of the higher education landscape, changing how teaching and learning works. Some educators are beginning to tap into the potential benefits of social media in education by effectively using it as a teaching tool. Using hashtags for individual courses on Twitter to share content, encourage debate and answer queries thereby creating online discussion communities for students. Some educators believe that this allows students to provide more thoughtful responses. The idea being that when they know their comments can be read by their peers and not just by their lecturer they not only are more careful but, pay more attention to how they write and take more care with grammar, spelling and punctuation (BBC Active, 2015).
Most distance learning models are ahead of their campus based counter parts in terms effectively integrating social media applications in teaching and learning. However, distance learning providers are obliged by the nature of their courses to keep pace with trends and technological advances which promote communication with students and enhance the learning experience. Successful MOOCs indicate when social media platforms are integrated with the learning program, student participation is greatly increased and drop – out rates reduced (BBC Active, 2015). While MOOCs may be a relatively new to the education landscape, these findings indicate that introduction of social media can have a positive influence, one which Higher education institutions cannot afford to ignore for long.
Barnes, N. G., & Lescault, A. M. (n.d.). Social Media Adoption Soars as Higher-Ed Experiments and Reevaluates Its Use of New Communications Tools. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth, Center for Marketing Research. University of Massachusetts Dartmouth.
BBC Active. (2015, July 08). How social media is changing education. Retrieved from http://www.bbcactive.com: http://www.bbcactive.com/BBCActiveIdeasandResources
Davis, J. L., Compton, D., Farris, D. N., & Love, T. P. (2015, May). Implementing and Analyzing Social Media in Higher Education. The Journal of Faculty Development, 29(2), 9 - 16.
Ewbank, A. D., Foulger, T. S., & Carter, H. L. (2010, October ). Red bull, starbucks, and the changing face of teacher education: colleges of education should be leading the way in using the new social media for education. Instead, they just don't get it. Phi Delta Kappan, 92(2), 25.
Li, C. (2015, April 07). Why No One Uses the Corporate Social Network. Harvard Business Review.
Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2011). Teaching, Learning, and Sharing: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media. Pearson, Online Learning Solutions. Boston: Pearson .
Reuben, R. (2008). The Use of Social Media in Higher Education for Marketing and Communications: A Guide for Professionals in Higher Education.