Social Apps in Education

The use of social-media for socialization and as a pastime (to the extent of "wasting time") is well known. But considering that many social media applications (e.g. Facebook) had their origins in the academic setting, it is interesting to assess the repercussions of social media on academia. Given that more than half of all students all over the world use at least one social media platform by the time they turn ten, can this medium be used constructively in education?

An online survey, co-sponsored by edWEb.net, MMS Education and MCH, Inc., was conducted in 2009 to benchmark attitudes, perceptions, and utilization of social networking websites and content-sharing tools by teachers, principals, and school librarians involved in K12 education. Librarians, who used social media the most, saw the highest value across a wide range of social media applications including peer networking, creating professional learning communities and improving school-wide communications. Most principals perceived social networking to be "very valuable" in terms of "creating professional learning communities, improving school-wide communications with staff, students, and parents and sharing information and resources with an extended community of academicians".

Pearson's Learning Solutions found that the use of social media in education increased by as much as 21.3% from 2012 to 2013. The survey also found that 59% of academicians subscribe to the efficiency of interactive e-learning, driven by social media. Social networking applications can ideally support teaching across the curriculum, enable learning out of school hours, encourage communication between students, teachers and parents and enhance the development of digital citizenship skills. The challenge to adopting social media in education lies in the range and variety of social media resources available. The multiplicity of resources is both stimulating and a source of dismay to the educator attempting to incorporate social networking into her curriculum. Of the five main tools of social media, namely blogs/wikis, podcasts, LinkedIn, Facebook and Twitter, blogs and wikis have been found to be most useful but many educators used all five tools in their blended system, wherein students were encouraged to create, add comments, read, watch, and listen to content in electronic format. Thus, the "flipped classroom", where lectures are given online, while face-to-face classrooms are used for interactive activities, is rapidly gaining foothold in the educational arena.

Several user friendly social media platforms are now being considered for use in classrooms. No single platform is best suited to a specific discipline and the choice of the social media app depends on the comfort levels of the teacher and students and the educational requirements. Most prevalent today are Edmodo, Google Classroom, or Facebook groups to post assignments, make announcements, and remind students about important deadlines. Teachers also avail of the Twitter format to keep their classes engaged and up-to-date on the latest lessons. Traditional writing projects are now being replaced or augmented by blog projects that can enable students to write and display their writing to the entire class.

The growing perception of applicability of social media in education has resulted in the rise of social network apps beyond the popular Facebook, Pinterest and such like, which are designed especially for educators. Some of those sites include ASCD Community, Classroom 2.0, edWeb.net, Google for Educators, Learn Central, Microsoft Teacher's Network, Ning in Education, TeachAde, We Are Teachers, and We the Teachers. Learning management systems such as Moodle, Blackboard and Edmodo are being increasingly used to distribute course notes and information, as a portal for students to upload assignments, and as a chat forum. Such applications can be easily integrated with conventional social media services that can be accessed through smartphones.

In the digital age in which social media is pervasive in all facets of life, it is important that school administrators develop constructive policies for the adoption and the use of social media in education. Flexibility and context are very important in creating effective social media policies. The social media policy adopted by any educational institution must reflect the organization, the users, and the comfort levels of the users. The challenge in adopting social media in schools is the wide range of stakeholder opinions. This challenge can only be met with effective communication among the stakeholders. In particular, educators adopting social media must necessarily have a constructive dialogue with those within the setting who advocate the 'lock and block' approach to digital media.

Another important challenge in the use of social media in learning and education is online safety and security, especially of children and young people. It is important to remember that keeping children safe online can be achieved, not by shutting down social media, but by educating students appropriately in how to use the tools and resources safely at all times. Social media policies must address the issues of harassment (employee and student), breach of confidentiality, and invasion of privacy.

All academic staff, including teachers and librarians must have the support of school administration and receive appropriate training in the use of social media tools to facilitate student learning. In addition, they should also periodically assess the outcomes of social media use to ensure that the intended positive effects on students is indeed realized.

A 2013 case study showed that social media alone cannot influence cognitive and metacognitive development in learners. A combination of the pedagogy in the course design and delivery, together with the technology is essential to create an ideally educative environment. Incorporating social media into teaching can undoubtedly empower the educator to disseminate knowledge better, but in order to fully exploit the medium, careful consideration must be given to the objectives of the learning activities in a holistic and pedagogically meaningful way.

Writing credit: Co-authored by Lakshmi, a Mobicip blogger who studies the complex web of technology, education, and their impact on children.

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