Social Media in Education

By Dr. John Jennings (TESOL)
Dr. John Jennings is an educational theorist from Galway, he has a PhD in TESOL with research in Social-Media and Education. He has researched the perception that students have of Social Media in Education and how it affects their interaction with the academic world. He is also an avid virtual runner. Links:
Dr. John Jennings discusses some of the issues surrounding Social Media and its possible uses in the Classroom.
Dr. John Jennings shares his researched perceptions of the use of Social Media in Education.
Dr. John Jennings shares his researched perceptions of the use of Social Media in Education.

We are truly in an age of connectivity and accessibility. Everyone can communicate with everyone else by logging on to an app on their smartphone. With so many different Social Media platforms we are spoilt for choice. There seems to be no limit to the method, media, or presentation type that can be used to get an idea across. So, with all this technology, why not use social media in the classroom?

Social media could be a great place for students, especially shy students. When a student is beginning to learn a topic or a new area, they may not feel confident to speak out in a class or tutorial setting. Apps such as Facebook would allow them to post comments or questions without drawing too much attention to themselves. Also, when a student has a question, they could ask the teacher in a quick message instead of in a visible comments section. This would allow the teacher to see errors in real-time and prove to be a real asset to learning. Another benefit is that, if a teacher is using a live video to teach a topic on Instagram, the students could get a copy of the video from the teacher and review it in their own time.

These seemingly natural and casual interactions have their own issues. First, the teacher would have to set up a space on Facebook, such as a group, and invite specific students to participate. They would also have to make sure the group is strictly a private one. There would be nothing worse than having strangers or the public finding the class and popping in for a look, leaving the class open to ridicule and trolling. Also, there would be a need for some sort of moderation or supervision of the whole event and all the communication around it. So, this would not only require the  teacher and the students to be present, but also a moderator of sorts, and that would have to include the monitoring of private messages for student and teacher protection.

There is also the journey to the group on Facebook or to the Instagram video. When students log in, or when the teacher is logging in, will they be using their personal social media accounts? Or will they have to set up specific new accounts just for the classroom? If they are using their own accounts, students and teachers alike run the risk of exposing information about their personal lives. For example, while watching an Instagram video, a student could click on their teacher’s profile name and get a view of their summer holiday photos and vice versa. Also, the students could discover information about their classmates and subject them to ridicule.  Another issue is that when signing into social media platforms one is usually subject to advertisements, based on the user’s personal data, and this could also reveal details about the participants lifestyles they would rather keep private.

Hashtags could be used for learning in a classroom. As an exercise, a teacher could get their students to look up a topical hashtag such as #elections to spark a class debate. However, it must be noted that online there are no nations, and a hashtag search will produce results not only about the desired topic, but also every other reference to that hashtag, and even posts that just used the hashtag out of context. This places everyone at risk of viewing inappropriate or offensive material and that could derail the entire lesson plan.

Time management is a key issue, especially for teachers. If everyone knows the teacher’s social media accounts, where does the day end? Will the students send the teacher messages whenever they have an academic issue, day or night? During the lockdown there was the issue about remote workers’ right to turn off.  If teachers start using social media, this might become an issue again.

Social media is a great tool for learning and accessing both teachers and students, and if used properly it could provide a safe space for even the shyest student to find their voice and gain confidence. However, it cannot be entered into casually, there needs to be a focused moderation of all activity around the online instruction. Also, structures need to be set in place so that the teachers and students can interact safely, free from advertisements and free from the worry of exposing the teachers’ summer holiday photos.


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