This blog post was written in conjunction with my esteemed colleague, Changying “Z” Zhang. You can follow her informative and elegant blog here.
Because of the rise of social media usage in work and daily life, there has also been an increase in the use of social media in higher education, both on campus and in virtual classrooms. Many educators have incorporated social media in their teaching, especially in the most recent years. Either they believe social media can be an effective tool, or they believe it is the newest trend worth exploring. Nonetheless, the use of social media in higher education is still in its infancy.
The definition of social media is rather loose. If we consider Instagram, Flickr, Vimeo, Meetup, YouTube, LinkedIn, Pinterest, blog websites and wikis, all as part of social media, then many educators and students would agree that they are effective tools in teaching and learning. Especially video sites such as YouTube have been proven to be the most useful tools. Both educators and students agree that using social media as a supplemental tool to a learning management system can create a sense of community. For online courses, video hosting sites such as YouTube and Vimeo can definitely contribute to the effectiveness of content delivery. Flickr and Pinterest can also enhance visual aids in online courses.
When could social media be used in an online course?
Social media tools should be introduced only as the supplemental tools to an effective learning management system (LMS). Students like the fact that they can anchor to the LMS to find information in one place rather than scattered across different social media sites. I believe the LMS should be the main portal for students to interact with each other within the course. Any social media tools we introduce to the course should be linked within the LMS. With an effective LMS, students are able to build the personal connection and participate in active discussions within the LMS. Plus, the LMS provides a much more secure and private environment for students’ interaction.
What value can be added?
Since the definition of social networking tools is so broad, the value of these tools really depends on the tool itself. Sites like YouTube and Vimeo definitely make online courses more human and engaging.
As with any new tools that are being introduced to educators, concerns arise as a result of using social media in higher education. The biggest question is, does its use in the classroom contribute to teaching and learning?
Despite the growing number of educators who are using social media in the classroom, educators should not overlook the fact indicated in Mathieson and Leafman’s (2014) study that over one third of both students and faculty members felt uncertain about their willingness to use social networking tools in teaching and learning. This finding suggests that when incorporating social media into classroom teaching, more information is needed about which specific social networking tool would be used, if the tool provides the user easy access, and what perceived value would be presented to the users before implementation.
In an online ESL education scenario, social media can become the lesson itself. Facebook and Twitter, and other sites like Yelp, all employ written communication, and instructors can guide students to practice their communicative competence in reading and writing English for these specific social media purposes. In this case, the lesson can be realistic and practical, and therefore, engaging. What’s more, students have online proof of their learning outcomes that they can point to and share — a Yelp review of a restaurant they like, for example.
This use of social media tools in ESL education employs the constructivist “problem-based learning” theory. By putting students in a real-life situations, such as a live social media platform. we can also teach them so solve real-life problems.
Students’ perceptions of using social media in higher education
From our own personal research, students are only using social media in their studies because it is required. Most of my students believe an effective LMS can create the learning community needed for the course. They feel that social media should be reserved for their personal lives, rather than their professional lives.
The students’ perceptions are also an indicator of if social media can be successful in teaching and learning. The above research definitely challenges us educators to use social media more effectively and creatively, so that when used, it is not a burden but an enrichment for students’ learning experience.
The social networking landscape is changing rapidly. Educators like to explore emerging technologies as tools to facilitate teaching and learning. Social networking sites have proven to be effective social communication platforms, yet they are still very new to the educational field. Educators have just begun to research the validity of using social media in the classroom. Much research conducted in the past five years showed encouraging signs of using social media as a supplemental tool for pedagogical purposes. Yet, there are still very many unknowns as to the effectiveness of social networking sites to be used to scaffold learning objectives and what legal challenges social media presents to educators. Can social networking sites be an efficient, effective tool for higher education in the classroom? Can social networking sites be a formal pedagogical tool to help students access Licklider and Taylor’s richness of living information (as cited in Kent, 2013, p. 664)? Educators are still searching for the answer. The bigger question is whether social media is simply a new technology in teaching and learning or if it has truly shifted the classroom from a teaching environment to a learning environment, by providing a platform, an environment and a community for students to communicate and collaborate.
Social Media in Education- Infographic
Kent, M. (2013). Changing the conversation: Facebook as a venue for online class discussion in higher education. Journal of Online Learning & Teaching, 9(4), 546–565.
Mathieson, K., & Leafman, J. S. (2014). Comparison of student and instructor perceptions of social presence. Journal of Educators Online, 11(2), 1–27.