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Social media in the classroom

Of particular interest to me right now, and what may end up being a fascinating research topic is the use of social media in the classroom. I’m not sure the term ‘digital native’ is as accurate or appropriate as some might think, but in my experience, there are many learners in my classes that are using social sites such as Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Pinterest, and others to communicate with their peers. From a research perspective, we can’t say many. We have to ask, “how many?”, “how often?”, or more appropriately, “Is there anything to be gained from it?”

The epistemological implications need to go beyond just how social media is being used in the class, to some sort of reporting of any benefit to learning. It is fine for instructors or facilitators to make the class ‘cool’ by using these resources, but if it isn’t bringing improvements to learning, it may be increasing the facilitator’s workload for no reason. ImageI know in my program, that by setting up a facebook page for our students (in our face to face classes), as a forum for posting interesting articles, discussion topics, and class information, our contact with the students has improved. The students are online so often, that even last minute room changes are appropriate posted there, than via more traditional means.

This blog is an example of a school assignment, and it was assigned with specific criteria. While it may be a valid project for learning, a facilitator would have to be careful to guide the use of social media, if it were to be expected to be successful at contributing towards student success at meeting or exceeding learning outcomes. Of course, this is just speculation based on my personal experience with a certain group of students. But I do think it would be interesting to study the addition of a social site to work alongside more traditional online learning portals such as D2L or Moodle.

15 thoughts on “Social media in the classroom”

  1. I think this would be an extremely interesting area of research. I have read some discussion, (although I can’t remember where so lucky this isn’t an academic paper needing citations) about one benefit teachers have found in school classrooms is that by using social media in the classroom, it opens up for a discussion and work on appropriate use of social media and specifically regarding things like cyber bullying.

    Another aspect on the social media topic is if and how it can be used in research. For example, in a project I was working on we wanted to capture how students were feeling about the high stakes testing (Naplan) that happens in Australia in May. A good, although perhaps not scientific, barometer for this was following #naplan on twitter. If nothing else it provided good motivation to continue our project – reading the posts of distressed students and parents. I’m interested to know if there is anyway to capture this in a rigorous way.

  2. I could not agree more, over the last week I have spent time communicating with my kids via Tumblr and Twitter. Today in class I started to think about how my girls and their friends use those social media sites and how they communicate with each other and myself. What also struck me is how excited they are when a few of their teachers follow them on Twitter. I really spent much of the time this afternoon thinking about how to develop a Thesis question that could focus on the use of Social Media sites such as Twitter to increase the educational experience of kids. Granted this, I am sure has numerous issues, but to me just the ability to connect with kids on this level kids those teachers and advantage in class because they can speak their language as it were.

  3. A few things you say resonate with me (excuse my paraphrase if I’m off a bit):

    –the need for guidance on what the forum is for, otherwise it’s just noise and a nuisance, being “just one more thing” for teacher and student. And winning them back after a bad launch is more difficult than launching well – cool isn’t cool if it’s a painus in the buttus. (technical terms, I swear.)
    –the article critique I worked on spoke to the psycho-social and psycho-technical relationship to participants on computer-mediate-communication. This is so relvant here. Where most (not all) students will be fluent in the culture of social media, teachers may not, and that will effect how they engage online, or if they opt out. I’d suggest you read the article, but honestly, a convo with me would be far less painful. =)
    –kudos on using “epistemological” in your post. I’m a little impressed and a little appalled – conflicted really.


    1. I keep meaning to google-dictionary (that’s a verb, right?) that “e” word. I think it sounds like a scary hospital operation.

  4. Great post Ken. I too am very interested in the potential role of social media in the classroom. By stating this, it is implied that I am referring to the potential for enriching the learning experience. I fear the explosive increase in use of social media tools over the past several years is causing people to get overly excited by its potential without considering all the factors.

    There is more research becoming available every day since it’s a very topical issue, so let’s make sure we review the existing research, or do research to identify what the positive aspects of adopting social media in the classroom are. I fully support trying new methods or tools in the classroom and I don’t feel traditional tools are necessarily the best. I can see where some teachers may be concerned with the added workload that comes whenever changes are made, but that is a change management issue more than a question of media or delivery strategy.

    I guess my reluctance stems from the way many educators are misusing existing supporting technologies. Have you ever seen a weak PowerPoint presentation in a class? It’s a simple tool, with a specific purpose, that get misused frequently even though the concept of visual support has been around for a long time. These people give PPT, and other presentation tools, a bad name. How would these same people successfully implement the use of multiple social media tools into the curriculum? With the adoption of new tools there has to be more focus on how and why we are using these tools.

    There should be a sound educational rationale for using the new tools, which may mean a more deliberate approach initially.

    Btw Ken, I’d be interested in following your progress on this if this is what you are going to be doing your research on.

  5. Ken, I hope you follow your desire to pursue research in the area of Social Media in the classroom. My remark is somewhat selfish, because I would really like to know how to best use it in my online and f2f courses, so that it effectively enhances the curriculum and aides in achieving the learning outcomes. If you go this route, please keep me “in the loop” and I would be pleased to assist you if that is needed.

  6. I have enjoyed reading through this post with its follow up comments. I love to think of the potential possibilities that Social Media could bring to the classroom both online and f2f. The idea of connecting with students on a different level is incredible. Isn’t that something we all strive for, to reach out and connect in one way or another? I agree with Bernie that people overuse technologies they either aren’t comfortable with or use improperly. I hate some of those PPT presentations and believe that for many they have become a crutch to hide behind so we don’t have to be inventive in the way we deliver information. I also agree with Donna that it is nearly impossible to turn around a learning environment if you have a bad launch…been there, done that and never want to repeat it!
    Another point that keeps bouncing around in my brain is the concern of confidentiality when Social Media is introduced. It is already extremely difficult to set up and maintain trust in a learning environment. The use of Social Media adds the potential, even if only perceived that things could go viral very quickly. There was a case in my province a couple of years ago of a nursing student (not one of mine, thank goodness!!!) that took a picture of herself holding a recently delivered placenta and posted it on her Facebook page. She crossed enough lines that she lost her position in the program. She insisted to the end that she did not see how this was unethical. Do we need our students making these potentially life changing decisions without all the knowledge or maturity to fully understand them? How would you help them navigate those waters?

  7. I teach technology related topics and enjoy using many technological tools. I try to view these tools critically, considering usability, openness, cost and safety. Social media resources like Facebook and Twitter often benefit from a fawning coverage in the media. When discussing social media tools with learners, I feel it is my obligation to discuss privacy issues and user interface flaws in addition to political, personal and social implications. This is not to say my view is entirely negative, but I believe I have an obligation to discuss the subject in a more complete way than simply teaching the skills to use a platform. In this course we are utilizing WordPress as a social media platform. One significant implication of choosing this platform is mentioned in the assignment; it is subject to the USA PATRIOT Act. We are also subject to WordPress terms of service which lay out a set of rules, responsibilities and legal obligations. This has been a great way to share thoughts with members of our cohort, but it comes with a number of legal and political implications.

    See you all at the castle.

    1. Hi Ken,

      Excellent topic, questions and ideas. You may know the classic example of Michael Wesch from Kansas State University. He was one of the first systematic use of the Social Media in the Higher Education environments. It is incredible that it is almost 4 years old now, which is a lot in that area but is still so relevant. I am sure this is a classic.


      Wesch, M. (2008, Sep 28). Social Media in the Classroom. [Video file]. Retrieved from

  8. I agree that there are numerous ways to incorporate social media into the classroom, some of which you have mention. Social Media as teaching tools benefits both the instructor and the students by introducing various assortment of learning styles, as an alternative to the traditional form of learning. It also creates an online learning community by using tools such as forum, blog. This form of tools increase the flow of information among the users, it provides a space to personal inputs, opinions and creates the opportunity of communication, interaction between instructor, students and peers. As educators, I believe that we need to provide and deliver the content with most suitable tool or method to our learner’s learning style and our learning objectives.

  9. God, Ken, I think you might win the prize for most responses to a post. Aren’t you the rock star!

    I’m glad to see so many people engaged in this topic. When Bernie mentioned the issues with the misuse of PowerPoint, you know I swooned a little. And he makes a great point that if you are going to use a technology, use it to aid the core of teaching: to help the student learn. Much of what is done with presentations helps the presenter, not the audience. And the last think a teacher wants to do is add a burden to the student that gets in the way of learning.

    There are so many creative possibilities out there; success stories abound as well as those not quite so successful, and those that were complete failures. In many ways, I’m glad for the latter two more. It’s through trial and error that we learn, and we humans do seems to learn so much more through failure. I guess that’s something we have to accept as part of research: resounding success is in the veracity of our research, not the results. That’s quite the shift to make don’t you think? Not that I’m wishing for anything but crazy amounts of positive results for your work. Oh, did I say wishing? I mean expecting!

  10. I’m coming in so late to this party, but I too am fascinated at the use of social media in the classroom, so I want to weigh in, too! Prior to coming to RRoads, I was locating a number of resources on appropriate use of social media for physicians. What is appropriate? What is ethical? And where is the line drawn?

    I ran into this roadblock when Facebook first arrived at the institute at which I was teaching. Students were friending the other instructors and there were absolutely no rules or guidelines around appropriate use – the technology was so new and so “cool” that no-one looked for greater, and potentially dangerous, implications of using it. So, when one of the instructors posted images of a wild Vegas bachelorette party, all of the students knew what had gone on. And they looked at her and interacted with her in an entirely different manner.

    I’m all for using any tools that will engage our students, so please don’t think that I’m anti-social media at ALL. (In fact, I think we need way more technology in the classroom!) I just worry that we don’t know what we don’t know about the implications of using new technology tools until we have an “oops” moment. (I’m thinking about the development of cyber-bullying using the social media tools that were adopted for classroom use – again, in the early days, before we even anticipated that it would become an issue. This is no-one’s fault – in the early days of Facebook, who would’ve seen THAT coming? Massive “oops” moment, with tragic consequences.)

    Just to bring it home to the nature of this course (hi, Bill!), I think it shows a need for research in exactly the world that the MALAT program lives in. By all means adopt these tools – but ensure that we’re adopting them for a purpose, not just because they’re new and shiny and groovy. And, very importantly, make sure that the research bears this out – make sure that we can answer the “why?” And, above all, ensure that we’ve studied, and continue to study, the implementation and success of using them. I think that by having forward-thinking, technology-savvy, and (let’s face it) staggeringly good-looking researchers from the MALAT 2012 cohort we can make sure that we’re developing implemetation strategies that can help mitigate the potential “oops moments” and result in successful technology integration.

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