Effectively Using Social Media in Academic Settings

A major challenge is finding effective strategies to stimulation social learning for online adult learners. Twitter and Facebook both have good reputations as social networking sites, but utilizing either effectively in an academic environment is more challenging. Literature provides many excellent insights to ensuring academic implications for Twitter, and explains how to differentiate educational networking from social networking. Johnson (2010) discusses that often educators desire a social environment for their students, but fall into a trap rife with potential inappropriate actions and reactions when working with some social networking, such as Facebook, especially for students under the age of 18. However, networks are great tools for learning and discovering new resources.

Johnson makes the incredibly insightful point that we cannot confuse social networking from educational networking. After the presentation of other literature supporting his point, it is recommended that encouragement of collaborative online learning should be referred to as educational networking for social learning experiences. The clarification of these terms are badly needed in a booming environment where many industries are learning the barest edge of social learning concepts and thinking that the tools are the answers. In fact, this article calls for a difference between networking approaches. All networking is social at its root, but social networking is terminology applied towards recreation, while educational networked based on social learning theory provide substance and better reflect the intent. Terminology clarification can seem pedantic, but it should not be underestimated. As business and academics latch onto the social tools, the intent requires clarity.

Blogging is another excellent tool to encourage collaborative peer sharing while actually encouraging academic rigor through analytical writing that demonstrates critical thinking. However, as these particular brands of social media fall within Web 2.0 tools, viewpoint research from Gouseti (2010) presents the reality that educators fear the immediate social media solutions will not serve the bigger picture of education. Online student motivation has been strongly attributed to the ability to learn in a social environment, and Web 2.0 tools have provided an immense potential to not only address that motivation, but to provide a better environment for critical thinking in a peer setting. The problem is that educational technology has provided many promises and under-delivered on those promises. Additionally, as educators have eagerly embraced these social media applications, there has not been enough consideration of educational implications beyond the immediate implementation within courses. As such, the results have been varied dramatically depending on the educator’s personal experience sense of social structure with those applications. This lack of focus on long-term solutions despite the social media potential is causing a large sense of wariness with implementing the applications with courseware. The natural result is to look forward to the next major excitement. Positive attitudes and open minds must be maintained for new cutting edge educational technology, but there is a trend developing where if something is not completely researched, understood, or practically applied across a major educational population, it gets disregarded quickly. As with any tool or instructional strategy, Web 2.0 tools can be abused if not monitored and guided, and this is a major issue being identified. However, the solution is not to abandon the tools. Just as online education was initially disregarded as something out of the educator’s control; guidelines, expectations, and best practices must be established for social media in academic settings.

The social learning theory of Connectivism was specifically developed to address the digital age and how differently the learners submersed in online social learning interactions experience the learning process. The social media embedded with Web 2.0 technology is tightly connected with the social learning needs that online learners especially demand. This suggests that while some educators are not willing to embrace Web 2.0 technology, they need to have a better understanding of the learning implications of social media tools. Many of the tools that were earlier dismissed as disappointing lacked a very important component: collaboration. The interactive networked environment that current Web 2.0 technologies provide has started a wheel that cannot be stopped. It is important for educators to not dismiss the value of social media; rather, explore and implement best practices within their classroom, whether face to face or virtual.

The concept of social change is a difficult discovery process because of the challenges differentiating passing fad from future investment. However, Gouseti (2010) makes an excellent point in that a broad study of current literature and not just personal experience or opinion is what helps guide the knowledge of social media that has long term effect and how to best implement such tools into educational efforts. A full picture of the fast paced social media development is both demanding and required in order for instructional designers and faculty to effectively implement social learning in academic settings.

Gouseti, A. (2010). Web 2.0 and education: Not just another case of hype, hope and disappointment? Learning, Media and Technology, 35(3), 351-356.

Johnson, D. (2010). Don’t confuse social networking with educational networking. Library Media Connection, 28(5), 98.

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About Marian

My passion is centered around ensuring effective learning experiences that improve people's lives. Developing a learning mindset is my ultimate goal whether working with academic programs or corporate training; formal or informal learning practices. It is my belief that our potential for agility is limited only by our capacity for learning.

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