Education Innovation: Social Media as a Classroom Tool


Nov 5, 2013 (3 years and 9 months ago)



Education Innovation: Social Media as a Classroom Tool

Anthony B. Shelton

Radford University



Innovation is important in every field. The ability to continue to develop and adapt to the
changing world is essential. Nowhere is this more true than in education. Slowly dying are
the days when an instructor lectures to a class who is eagerly waiti
ng to soak in the information
presented. The Millennial Generation prefers and excels when more of a two
way dialogue is
provided. They also prefer and succeed in situations that allow them to create their own meaning,
with the instructor helping to guide
and lead learning, rather than producing it.

Parallel to these changes is the compatible technology known as social media. Social
media is any media where people are able to create, share, and excha
nge ideas digitally,
specifically the sharing of what is
generally termed ‘user generated content’ (Watts, 2003). In an
environment that favors personal creation of meaning and dialogue in education, social media
seems particularly suited to use in the classroom.

First we will examine a rudimentary (but not exh
austive) history of social media and its
progress and then discuss some technologies and their uses in education. Particular focus will be
given to Twitter, as research seems to suggest that it is particularly useful in the classroom.
However, blogging, Fa
cebook, video games and augmented reality are also addressed.

The Internet has been around since the seventies. It was not until CERN donated the
rights to World Wide Web technology to the world

in 1993

that it began to become
widely used

by the average
The next year, was launched. They allowed your “run
mill” consumer to
create their own presence on the internet. This was the fore
runner to
social media as we understand it, as it is the first platform available to a large numbe
r of people
which allowed them to generate their own content.


A few years later in 1997, the first web
logs or “blogs” were launched

(Curtis, 2013)
This was a pla
tform similar to webpages but was focused on allowing users to post their thoughts
and feel
ings on whatever they pleased, with the option of receiving comments about it from
viewers. Not long after that the world saw its first true online social network in Friends Reunited,
a website dedicated to helping people find their old school friends.

fter the turn of the millennium “wikis,” such as Wikipedia, began to crop up. They were
websites that allowed any user to come in and edit or add content. Next the social networking
sites began to rise, such as Friendster, MySpace, Facebook, and LinkedIn (
for business
networking). These websites allowed users to create profile pa
ges and to intermingle
, network,
and communicate digitally with other users. The next step was the integration of other media
the social realm. Sites like Flikr (for photos), Y
ouTube (for videos) and Digg (for news) began to
become popular (Curtis, 2013). Along with these sites, the practice of “podcasting” (or creating
downloadable, episodic audio recordings) and massively multiplayer
role playing games also
became popular.

urrently there are many forms of social media available to people all over the world.
From wikis to blogs and even augmented reality, people can connect and share ideas or create
content on a level never before seen. The history and breadth of social media

is a task that could
encompass an entire paper. The information presented provides a good basis for understanding
the progress of social media and especially its most important feature; the ability of users to
create and share content amongst themselves.

Not long after social media got into full swing, it began to be integrated into education.
Even a cursory search into its use will find that research strongly supports the positive effect of

its use in the classroom. Social media allows for the personal c
reation of meaning and
understanding which is essential to learning as well as helping to foster a strong sense of
community and collaboration.

Warren and Wakefield (2013) looked at learning and teaching as various communicative
actions. For example, they

discuss how social media could be useful for constantive action,
where a professor would make a statement which can then be ac
cepted, rejected or negotiated.
Students and the instructor ideally will challenge and discuss the claims of any other member of
the class and in this way learning is socially constructed. Conversely, through dramaturgical
action, class members are expected to express themselves through some type of creation, which
relies on application of learned principles.

Warren and Wakefield c
reated a case where Twitter was used by different individuals in
different classroom scenarios and determined that this type of media can be especially effective
in the classroom by forcing class members to express themselves concisely (due to the restrict
of character by Twitter) and that Tw
tter’s nature invites others into classroom conversations,
which can make the entire experience more rich and diverse.

Another study aimed to look at student collaboration and engagement through Twitter.
They found that Twitter can encourage collaboration and engagement in the course and material
in general. However, just like almost all other studies involving Twitter, th
ey provided some
caution and direction for instructors. First, they caution faculty to structure the course using
relevant criteria, not just as a flashy gimmick. Second, they encourage instructors to have a
pedagogical basis for incorporating Twitter, rei
nforcing and idea found in many social media

studies into education. Lastly, they tout the importance of actively engaging students through the
platform in order to fully engage them in its use
(Junco, Elavsky & Heiberger, 2013)

Of course there are some
challenges with using a platform such as Twitter. Kruger
Waters & Farwell (

created a study in which they looked at three different perspectives
: a
time “Tweeter,” a graduate teaching assistant, and a proficient Tweeter. They focused on
ree characteristics of the medium: the impact on privacy, discussion, and workload.

Privacy is always a concern of instructors where their students are concerned. This study
found that since Twitter is difficult to compartmentalize, it opens up students
to mockery from a
global audience. Related to that concern is that if there is a student with a legitimate reason to not
use Twitter (say, a harassment issue) then are they able to opt out and how would that affect
other students in the class, as well as t
he participation of that student? Lastly, it can blur the
relationship between teacher and student, which always presents
the opportunity for

In addition to privacy there were some concerns about discussion as well. These concerns
stemmed from
two sources. The first was promoting discussion among students.
They noted that
engaging students in class discussion in real life is difficult enough and that this can be
compounded by the move to social media, especially if the students are not previousl
y familiar
with the platform. The second was the engagement of other professionals. One of the best uses of
Twitter in the classroom is the ability of professionals in the field to become involved in the
conversations. However, since class discussions are
meant to go on at some length, it leaves
people bombarded with Tweets and may discourage participation from those on the outside,
decreasing the richness of the experience.


The last concern for Twitter is over workload. There were concerns of students in
permeating nature of Twitter use in their education. They now had to log on frequently to check
their tweets and to continue discussion. This concern is compounded by any learning curve that
may exist for new users of the platform. This same issue beco
mes a concern for instructors as
well, as many of them are already spread thin and having discussion that extends beyond the
time of the class just adds to that problem. One of the other significant concerns was grading.
How do you grade the quality of twe
ets? The nature of using Twitter in the classroom is
subjective and
by extension the grading is as well. When putting together a plan for Twitter in
the classroom, all of these areas need to be considered.

Besides engaging students in discussion, reflecti
on is also useful in learning.

aids students in their personal creation of meaning as well as reinforcing what they have learned.
A group of researchers looked at
year law students who are required to keep a journal in a
particular class f
or reflection. Their study focused on if the use of blogs can enhance in any way
the quality of reflection. They found that blogs can facilitate and enhance the quality of
reflection, though much care should be given to instruct the students on how to stru
cture their
posts and what the expectations for the assignment are
(Krishnaiyer, Mushahar & Ahmad, 2012)

Facebook is another social media technology that can be looked at for education. In
contrast to some of the other social media innovations, Facebook
may not be as useful for
enhancing learning. Selwyn (

found that students are more likely to use Facebook as way to
negotiate their identity as students than as a directly educational tool. Facebook’s application in
education seems to be limited to th
e just the basic exchange of facts among participants.


However, one thing that could be particularly useful for
Facebook (as well as other social
networking sites) is the ability to glean information about students. In a recent study, researchers
found that they could determine intensely personal information about students from Facebook,
specifically their tendency
toward depression
(Youn, Trinh, Shyu, Chang, Fava, Kvedar &
Yeung, 2013)
. While this is an extreme example and would not be particularly useful in and of
itself, it does show that many things can be learned about students, possibly even their
engagement an
d experience with certain topics and aid in the construction of classroom material.

Another form of social media, video games can be useful in the classroom as well. Video
games provide students with the opportunity to experience real world situations in
a virtual
context, which is especially useful for situations that cannot be as usefully recreated in the real
world. Balicer (2005) used the ‘Corrupted Blood’ plague from the massively multiplayer role
playing game, World of Warcraft as a case study. ‘Corr
upted Blood’ was a plague that affected
higher level players in the game. However, after a glitch the disease became transmissible to
players of all levels. The disease began to spread through the game in a similar way to the way
viruses spread in the real

world. The most useful aspect he believes

is in how the
participants reacted socially to the disease. The social
reaction of people during an outbreak are
highlight unpredictable but Balicer found that the reactions of players in World of Warcraft

mimicked what they knew about real life viruses in the past. It is easy to see how video games
could be used to train students on how to handle real world situations.

Another form of social media which is truly in its infancy is augmented reality. AR is
use of technology to augment (supplement) the real worth with the digital. This technology
allows one to bring digital models into the real world, or to use devices (such as smart phones) to
interact with digital information about something that exists

in the real world. Lee (2012)

believes that AR can provide a more interactive education, while helping to simplify training
experiences, and aiding in providing contextual information that could not normally be achieved
in the classroom. Applications such

as Google’s Ingress and Field Trip show the potential for
such technology. Field trip, in particular, could allow someone to look at something in the real
world and inquire about it in real time (Calore, 2012). This technology could be useful for

actually engaging a ‘field trip’ type scenario where they needed to take notes or learn
about their environment, as well as obtaining more information to supplement what they are
learning in class. The possibilities for this technology are sky high in its

infancy and it will be
interesting to see how it develops in education.

Clearly social media has a vast and palpable effect on education. Above are discussed
only a few social media formats used in education. This does not even begin to mention popular
ormats such as YouTube and Instagram which could be very useful in education, especially in
the fields of Media Studies and Art. Some benefits and pitfalls have been discussed, with one of
the prevailing ideas being that for any of these technologies, care

should be taken by the
instructor to see that the technology directly addresses the goals and objectives of the class, as
well as ensuring that there is a solid pedagogical basis for the use of the technology.

As social media develops and becomes more en
trenched in our society and as more
students become familiar and immersed in its use, the ease, effectiveness, and usefulness of
social media in the classroom will increase and become more apparent.
It will be especially
exciting to see how these technolog
ies develop and change the way in which we learn in and out
of the classroom. One thing is certain, as educators aim to be innovators in their field and as they
strive to better serve their students, social media will grow to be an invaluable classroom too



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