Social Media in the classroom

IEEE member Crispin Andrews  weighs  the pros and cons of students making heavy use of social media

April 2 2016:  Most teachers will tell you they don’t want their students texting, tweeting, or posting on Facebook from their smartphones during class. But some argue banning smartphones or the use of social media while in school is not preparing students for life in the real world. So what’s the right answer?

Scott Hayden, a professor of creative media production at the Basingstoke College of Technology in Hampshire, England, said there’s one surefire way for teachers to ensure social media isn’t a distraction during class: use it as a learning tool. He gave a presentation on “Top Tips for Embedding Social Media into Teaching” at the Bett Show (formerly the British Education and Technology Show), held in January in London. The conference brings together educators to explore the latest technologies for the classroom. This year, some 35,000 people from more than 100 countries attended.

“Using social media gives students the opportunity to communicate in a way they are used to, and can help them with creativity, collaboration, and communication,” Hayden said. “As educators, we have an obligation to teach them these skills.”

Social media in the classroom opens up different avenues in which young people can access information, Hayden adds, such as through videos, articles, and blogs. These resources can expand how students understand a subject beyond what is taught from a textbook. They can share their knowledge in these formats as well. Instead of a book report, for example, students can create a 2-minute video and post it on YouTube.

But not everyone sees these examples as positive. Andreas Schleicher, director of the Organisation for Economic Co-operation and Development (OECD), is concerned that with so much technology available to them, young people will look for ready-made answers to questions instead of coming up with their own. This, he believes, will make them lazy thinkers and can interfere with the development of higher-order thinking skills, which requires more cognitive processing.

In September, the OECD published a report that showed technology not only distracts students but, if used frequently, can also lower academic standards. The organization expressed concerns about plagiarism whereby students copy and paste answers to questions. This is not likely going to help them become smarter, according to a statement from OECD, adding “Great technology cannot replace poor teaching.”

In 2013, research led by Larry Rosen, a professor at California State University-Dominguez Hills, in Carson, found that when students were doing homework, they spent on average only 65 percent of their time focused on those tasks, even when they were being watched. They couldn’t resist texting or using social media. So-called “on-task” behavior started declining at about the two-minute mark, the study found.

Social media is here to stay. And young people are more adept at using it than many adults, including their teachers. It’s up to the educators to get trained on these platforms so they can help students use them more effectively for learning. Only then can teachers help maximize its potential for the classroom.