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The Advantages and Disadvantages of Student Social Media Use

The Advantages and Disadvantages of Student Social Media Use

“In “Only Disconnect,” Andrew Reiner, writing for The Chronicle of Higher Education,   lamented the state of American youth, particularly their preoccupation with  social media. By the end of his article, Reiner advocated for social media  Sabbaths, in which students would disconnect from their networks in order to  more deeply engage with each other and their academic pursuits. While there are  certainly negatives that can be associated with social media overuse, it is  also a valuable part of the way our society functions.

Here are some of Reiner’s negatives about student social  media use, counterbalanced by some potential benefits to help educators take advantage  of this valuable resource for student learning.

The Negatives of  Social Media Use for Students

  • Distraction – In his article, Reiner is talking  not about the momentary distraction of an isolated text message, but rather the  way in which social media involvement provides an acceptable diversion from  intellectual pursuits. Essentially, he is arguing that it is socially safer to  stay connected to peers through always-on social media, than it is to put  oneself out there by having a legitimate opinion about a serious topic and  disconnecting from the social networks long enough to put it out there.
  • Pressure to Conform – Reiner cites examples of  students confiding in him that one of the main reasons behind their 24/7  connection is a fear of not keeping up with peers or appearing “like a  loser in public,” as one of his students confided in a class journal.
  • Risk Aversion – Reiner is unclear about whether  students’ aversion to taking risks is a symptom of social media use or is  directly caused by it, but the point is no less important either way. Social  media engagement supports a culture of avoidance which operates in direct  opposition to the idea that students need to take risks and fail in their  academic endeavors in order to become successful innovators.
  • Shallowness – This is an addition to Reiner’s  points, but social media does promote a kind of intellectual and social  shallowness that could have long-term negative consequences for learners.  Twitter, text messages, and other social media tools focus on brief, quick,  “shallow” interactions that do not encourage either deep social  engagement or intellectual exploration. There is, after all, only so much  information that can be obtained in 140 characters. While the option to dig  deeper may be present through embedded links in Tweets, for example, there may  be little reward in pursuing those connections for students.

The Positives of  Social Media Use for Students While Reiner makes many valid points for negative effects of social media on  students, particularly their level of academic risk taking, he fails to  acknowledge some very positive effects that might make participation in social  media a real benefit for students. While all of these may not be the mainstream  ways that students use social media, they are important benefits that can be  realized if educators are willing to embrace disruptive technology in their  classrooms.

  • Social Constructivism – In the age of Wikipedia,  knowledge is increasingly becoming a social construction rather than the domain  of an individual expert. Social media provides an easily accessible tool for  helping students to work together to create their own meaning in academic  subjects, social contexts, or work environments. Social media platforms are  regularly used in business to enhance the connections between workers and to  allow for seamless collaboration across distances. Supporting the development of  this skill for students prepares them for real working experiences.
  • Breadth of Knowledge – While  “shallowness” of knowledge and connections was listed as one of  negatives of social media, the flipside of that shallowness is the broadness of  the knowledge and connectedness that students can experience through social  media use. It is now easier than ever to know (or find out) something about  almost anything in the world through connected media. Additionally, students  can be connected to a broader base of opinions and world views through  instantaneous global connections.
  • Technological Literacy – All social media relies  on advanced information and communication technologies that seamlessly work to  build and support technological literacy. Simply put, one cannot be engaged in  deep and meaningful uses of technology without developing the sorts of rich 21st  Century skills such as information evaluation, troubleshooting, mediated communication,  and others that will enable connected  learners to become valuable contributors to a connected global economy.

All three of these aspects of social media use are excellent  matches to employer expectations and help to develop the 21st  Century skills that students will need to be successful in a globally connected  economy.

What Can the  Skeptical Educator Do? In the post “Taking Advantage of Disruptive Technology in the  Classroom,” I  proposed several ways for educators to use the power of social media to their  advantage to promote student engagement rather than mandating social media  blackouts in higher education. Here are some suggestions:

  • Guided Connectivity – Encourage students to use  social media to connect to experts outside of the classroom to conduct  first-hand research which they can share with the class.
  • Knowledge on Demand – A wealth of static human  knowledge and information is available online. Encourage students to provide  support for their arguments or to refute your assertions.
  • Covert E-reading – Student can, by some  estimates   save up to $600 per year through using e-books on their portable devices. While  that’s not specifically social media, it’s on the same device.
  • Encouraging Silent Reflection – Through social  media platforms, every student can have the opportunity to express their  opinion, share insights, or make counter arguments. This can also spark greater  conversation in the classroom or in online forums.
  • Lesson Rewind – Instructors can post recordings  of lectures online and circulate them via social media, share links to relevant  resources, or answer questions via Twitter or other social mediums. All of  these can invite deeper learning and support those who learn at different paces or who require remediation.

There is no right or wrong answer about social media in our  educational systems. It is an evolving method of communication and one that is  only more likely to gain acceptance and prevalence. Rather than rail against  it, it makes more sense to embrace it, minimize the negatives and teach  students new ways of engaging with social media, their instructors, and each  other that will support them in becoming connected learners with the skills to  become successful connected workers.”



Posted on: November 16, 2012, 6:31 am Category: Uncategorized