As I mentioned in my last post, being a part of “the Internet Generation” means that I have had a lot of experience with social media in my personal and professional life. In studying to become an educator, I have spent a considerable amount of time thinking about how the social media I use is going to effect our teaching environments, and how it can be proactively integrated in the classroom, rather than being tacked on arbitrarily. Keeping these ideas in mind, I decided to analyze two of my most used (and very popular) social media tools, and formulate some opinions on how they can best be used in the classroom.
As a heavy Twitter user, I really genuinely appreciate the platform in its ability to foster communities and create discussion. However, there are a myriad of problems and eccentricities with the platform that would actually prevent this from occurring in the classroom.
For instance, most advocates for Twitter argue that it is the best platform for real-time, on-the-fly interaction between users. While I agree that Twitter is exceptionally good at this, I think that a real-time platform is really counterproductive in the classroom. If you are a teacher, accessibility and lack of complication is key to integrating technology in instruction, as students will have differing times for when they will be able to access technology and social media. Unfortunately, Twitter can become complicated and unwieldy very quickly, making it hard for students to find the information necessary to complete assignments and participate in conversations. Plus, the character limit severely limits the ability for students to have sprawling, higher-level conversations with each other. While Twitter is good at encouraging concise word choice because of this, I think it wouldn’t be ideal when requiring students to engage in conversation.
The main thing that gives me pause to integrating Twitter in the classroom is that I think it is a platform that only allows you to reap what you put into it. In a classroom, students who are already familiar with the platform will likely thrive in communities that are meant to communicate outside of class, but students who are not used to Twitter or do not see its utility would probably be hard-pressed to actively contribute to the conversation. In Brian Croxall’s article about integrating technology and social media in the classroom, he found that voluntary Twitter use led to a similar scenario, stating:
“In the first class, a group of six or seven regular users emerged, and they would tweet occasionally throughout our class periods where I displayed the Twitter feed for the class. They posted links to material that extended our class discussion, asked one another questions, and poked fun at me. A good time was generally had, although less students ended up taking advantage of it than I had thought.”
One way to remedy this would be to make Twitter use mandatory for all students, but I feel like this is a misguided attempt to force students to build a community, rather than actually fostering a community that students want to participate in. Croxall found similar problems in his mandatory tweeting model, noting, “the participation was high. About 1/3 of the students quickly tired of the platform, but kept using it out of concern for their grades.” While Croxall certainly saw benefit in requiring students to tweet everyday, I bristle at the idea because students would likely see the exercise as imposing on their social lives. While adults in college would likely grin and bare it, I think students in schools would definitely struggle to see its utility, if they don’t see it already. Croxall recognizes this problem, conceding, “I don’t know that it was anything that I did so much as it was the particular group of students. It just wasn’t a tool that clicked for many of them. And when most people weren’t playing along, everyone else abandoned ship as well.”
While Facebook may be known more as a place for your racist distant relative to share their opinions on EVERYTHING nowadays, there’s a lot of potential within the “Groups” feature to enable instructors to effortlessly create communities for students to participate in. Facebook groups, in essence, crib a lot of their functionality from old-fashioned message boards, where members can post text, pictures, links, etc. and create threaded conversations in an easy-to-read format. The simplicity of these features isn’t novel (considering how there are still very lively message board communities that exist to this day), but the integration within the larger Facebook platform makes it an invaluable tool for educators. Administrators of Facebook groups can “pin” posts to the top of a group (creating easy access to important posts for students), push notifications and messages directly to students’ Facebook accounts, or check which group members have read certain posts, among many other features.
The biggest benefit to come from Facebook groups is the closed, self-contained experience it gives classes. A Facebook group can be created as a closed or private group, which gives administrators control over who is allowed to post, comment, or participate in the group. This prevents possible distractions that other open platforms can enable, like an advertiser spamming users or an abusive user harassing students. Rather than using a real-time format, like Twitter or Facebook’s news feed, groups use a relatively slow-moving timeline that emphasizes popular and curated posts, which would allow students and educators to keep better track of posts. Because students will only see their classmates and instructor’s posts in the group (in contrast with Twitter, where students can see class posts interspersed with content from other accounts they follow), the experience becomes a lot less overwhelming and more focused, as students only have to look on one page to find all the content associated with their class. In my opinion, I think students will be more engaged with possible assignments you can administer through Facebook groups simply because the experience is so much more focused and single-minded than having them interact with a less-controllable platform.
So, what do you think? Do you think that we should emphasize control over openness when integrating social media platforms in the classroom? Have you used either of these platforms to aid with learning? What other social media sites have you had success with?
Until next time,