Are All Social Media Platforms Created Equal?

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.

Twitter:

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.”

Facebook Groups:

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,
William

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5 thoughts on “Are All Social Media Platforms Created Equal?

  1. Great arguments here and overall great blog post!
    Before reading your blog, I’d tell you that I could never justify using Facebook appropriately in my classroom. However, I actually love the idea of creating a group for your students to interact with one another. I don’t know why I hadn’t thought of using Facebook groups in the classroom because I’ve had professors do it before at UNO. A few questions come to mind, though: would utilizing a Facebook group in a high school classroom require a teacher to “friend” their students on Facebook? And still the question, what happens if all of your students do not have a Facebook account? If they don’t have one, can you really require them to make one? What if parents have an issue with their child (your student) having Facebook?
    I also like that you point out Twitter’s character limit. This does limit a students’ ability to express higher level thinking. To effectively use Twitter in any classroom, I think it should be paired with another social media platform (like a blog).
    To answer your question, I believe teachers should have more control than not when utilizing social media platforms in high school classrooms. If you give high school students an inch, they’ll take a mile. I don’t think high school students are mature enough to use social media appropriately. However, in a college class like ours, I think having that openness is great because it creates a rapport within the classroom. In this case, it’s a way for us all to stay connected since we only meet four times. Students tend to bond over topics that they might not have necessarily thought of before.

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  2. I would like to start out by saying I appreciate how much though you put into the usage of social media as a classroom tool. For example, when you mentioned the quote about one third of students would become bored or tired of using the platform for education. I feel that teachers using social media in the classroom walk a fine line when deciding between making the use of social media mandatory or simply optional or recommended. If made mandatory, students will use the website, however, they will indeed become tired of being forced to use it and put in the minimum effort. On the other hand though making the website optional could result in students not using the website at all because they consider it non-important.

    I believe in order for students to effectively use social media in the classroom, the teacher must not make the usage mandatory, but have tools or postings that could help the students. Examples of this would be hints regarding the next quiz, or extra help on homework from home. Another thing that I would like to comment on is your question as to whether or not I have used social media as a learning tool. To answer this, back in high school English I had to create a Facebook page for one of the characters in Canterbury Tales and make posts as if I was that character. My class had a fun time reading each other’s Facebook’s and learning about the characters in the poems. Creativity can play a huge role in the participation of social media.

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    • Hi Jacob and Bill. As a digital, immigrant, myself, I can see both sides of the coin. If it was made mandatory that we use social media in the classroom, of course I would use it (as I am now), However, it would bring me anxiety (as it is doing now) because I am so unfamiliar with the art of using it. I know that many students breeze right through, but, I do not. I don’t really enjoying blogging or using Twitter, simply because it is unfamiliar and as humans, we tend to fear the unknown. However, if there could be a little workshop or just some time devoted from the tech savvy students to an old school kid like me, I think i could grow to like it. I just need some time to adjust.
      I feel that when technology comes so easy for one, it is easy to think that it must come that easily to everyone. Sadly, that is not the case. It can cause frustration and couple all this learning with having to do work from other classes as well, it can bring straight- up tears. I am drying my eyes, focusing, and looking forward to the feeling of accomplishment and pride that I will have gained at the end of this semester having mastered the art of tweeting and learning to become an expert blogger. All experts started out as novices at one point…

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  3. Fascinating point of view that you leave here! While I’ve never experience using Twitter in a classroom as a student, I have had experience using Facebook in a classroom as a student and a teacher. In high school, I never had many teachers who were incorporating social media and technology into the classroom setting.
    However my senior year English class had its own Facebook page that was used primarily for communication. By this, I mean that my teacher would post due dates and reminders on the page. This I found to be ingenious because in that time Facebook was the bees-knees! Now a days I can’t see it being as effective as it was then.
    Twitter is headed down the same path as Facebook. Instead it would be better to use something along the lines of Instagram or vines! Can you imagine? Create a scene of Macbeth as a vine? Fabulous!

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  4. I feel conflicted about technology in the classroom, and found your Twitter discussion balanced and agreeable. Having had to live tweet for another class, I can attest to the fact that the live, fast paced use of twitter wouldn’t fit in most classes if used all the time. And as you and the article over Internet identity discuss, students don’t want every classmate, and even some teachers to see their feed. It is a private place, and in the clashes were technology was used that I’ve had, many students created a new profile just for the class. While openness is something to be warranted, it is hard to have it with 15-30 students in a class and many, many things to do in a 50 minute period. And the question then becomes what is more important and how do you balance exploration with behavior expectations and objectives. And for those students who did tweet regularly, they got bored. Overuse can be as harmful as underuse, and I think that to make it mandatory during class everyday/ week might be too much for a high school class. We use google docs and Facebook groups in my methods and media storytelling groups, and I think those are easy enough to understand and keep up with, and allow more time for a fuller more thoughtful discussion. So I’d say that if your looking for a quick quiz, answer or just want to get info out Twitter would be fine, but for bigger, deeper, more meaningful discussion use FB.

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