Benefits and dangers of social media in education

socialmediaThere are different schools of thought on the benefits and pitfalls of using social media tools for education, as I discuss in my previous article on social media in learning. And there is no real answer – yet.

It is true that there are downsides to learning using social media, and examples where it has hindered rather than helped. But the same is true of the written word, which people have used to do all manner of bad things. In general, most commentators agree that social media does bring positive tools to the table – they just need to be managed correctly.

Benefits

  • Ease of access to information: Search and click – save time and effort
  • Widespread access to information: Everyone with an internet connection can access the same resources, regardless of geographical location – particularly with mobile devices
  • Time-independent: Can communicate over a longer time period – compare a class blog discussion to a conference call
  • Media-rich: Allows communication not just of words but pictures, videos, even interactive projects or games
  • Diversity: Introduces student to a more diverse range of perspectives and ideas than the narrow classroom
  • Outreach: More students can participate than would be possible in a traditional classroom setting, e.g. MOOCs like Stanford University’s groundbreaking Artificial Intelligence course, which was delivered simultaneously to 160,000 students in 190 countries
  • Ease of publication: Students can more easily publish and share their own work e.g. on academia.edu, a social networking site for academics which everyone can join. Students can put their papers up regardless of whether they have been peer-reviewed – including work-in-progress papers and requests for comments
  • Widens perspectives: Aggregates more perspectives than in a traditional classroom – leads to a more comprehensive picture of the situation and perhaps alternative ways of problem-solving
  • Levels the playing field: Allows students in poor schools access to better resources than they have in their own schools
  • Social production: Not just social networking but social production – producing new ideas and new work through collaboration – if it is true that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts
  • Technology skills: The very skills of social media – digital publishing, podcasting, video-casting, photo-sharing, networking, searching – are vital for the workplace. The literacy of the future is digital literacy, and the ability to use technology effectively is a crucial skill
  • Simulations: Videogames and simulators can be powerful learning tools)
  • Up-to-date, current information and real-time data: More so than in books – or waiting months for survey or study results to be published in a journal
  • Participation: Makes learning more participatory – adds the “people” element which is missing from many online or distance courses
  • Backchannel: Allows shy students to participate in class discussions by way of a social media “backchannel” – see NY Times article by Gabriel Trip
  • Copyright: Teaches students early on about the need to respect copyright laws
  • Lifelong learning: Continually updating our knowledge by keeping up with the latest blogs, contributing to our own or others’ blogs, tweeting about our specialties or interests…informal, but important

Dangers

  • Just another fad: No – or little – empirical evidence to support the theory that it enhances learning
  • Distraction: From real study – most students have a Facebook window open while doing their homework and many are tweeting their friends while in class
  • Unoriginal thinking: Does social media spell the death of original thought? Argument that it turns students into dependent learners rather than independent thinkers
  • Shallow reading: Internet treated as an extension of our brains… so we don’t “take in” information as we did before
  • Plagiarism: So easy and tempting to copy-paste other people’s work and ideas, and more difficult for a teacher to detect
  • Cheating: Much easier to cheat in class with smartphones and instant messaging
  • Undermines authority of academic institutions: Danger that YouTube videos, TED lectures and Khan Academy may be seen as equivalent to university lectures, and Google Scholar the equivalent of a librarian and collection of journals
  • Too fast: Not enough time for students to reflect on their contributions
  • Chaotic: If not managed properly – lack of structure can hinder learning process and discourage students from participating at all
  • Lack of peer review: For articles on blogs and for papers on academia.edu – sometimes difficult for students to judge when an article is trustworthy or not
  • Devalues traditional learning methods: Technology is a tool for learning, not a replacement for learning. Perhaps we are being too hasty to adopt new and exciting tools – need a balanced approach
  • Too informal: Informality of social media detracts from time and effort spent on formal learning tools)
  • Irrelevant or offensive material: Chance of students finding pornography or other offensive material online while conducting research
  • Privacy and data security: Of students sharing ideas and information on a public forum. e.g. might be afraid to discuss or suggest an idea in a country where government censorship is a concern
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