Use of Social Media in Higher Education

The evolution of technology has made its use an indispensable one in education nowadays. As new technologies are been developed the access to information generally increases, of course, this is dependent on the resources individuals have to access it. Today, we are not going to directly address the accessibility to new technologies, but the role technology, in particular social media plays or could play when incorporated as a tool of instruction in higher education. Including social media within the curriculum can be beneficial to increase the engagement of students but could also become a distraction for them, so we need to be careful when incorporating these.

After browsing the web, I came across a blog on the Schoology Exchange website that discussed the use of social media as a tool to increase student engagement in the classroom. Some of the major things addressed in this post were as follows: (1) social media as a virtual “classroom”, (2) keep students involved during days where there is no in-person instruction, (3) the encouragement of collaboration and group-work, (4) continue class discussion, (5) improve writing skills and, (6) global learning.

The usage of social media as a virtual classroom is a very realistic scenario, specially during these days given that most academic instruction around the globe is being held remotely.  This is a way to improve accessibility in cases where students are not able to make it to the actual classroom. Being able to develop or structure a course that serves the needs of a broader student body allows to increase the reach and opportunity for higher education by making it more accessible.  Using social media as a tool to continue and increase the involvement and participation of students in class discussion is a great way for further engagement and not have the conversation or interest in the topic die after class is over. This blog post captured my attention because it reminded me that I have had professors that have use some of these tools to promote the usage of social media as part of the course they are teaching. This is something I had not considered before and I find it quite innovative.

During my first semester as a master’s student in the University of New Hampshire I took a class that required students to create a Twitter account and ‘tweet’ weekly about aquatic ecosystems. Each week we had to post an original tweet (with the class hashtag)  and comment in at least 3 posts from our classmates. The posts could cover any aspect regarding aquatic ecosystems. This at first seemed challenging to me particularly because I am not very active on social media. However, this class requirement made me stay up to date with news, scientific articles and general information on freshwater science issues. In addition to fulfilling a class requirement, this later became a tool for networking and increased my visibility as a scientist in social media in a not so traditional way. It was in fact through what is commonly now know as ‘Academic Twitter’ that I found my current position at Virginia Tech.

I think there is a lot of value in the usage of social media as a learning tool. It provides more opportunity to further explore, learn and engage. It is a great way to expand your network and reach a broader audience because you are posting things online that can become public to anyone in the world if you decide so, which serves as a platform to connect with future colleagues, find jobs and increase your overall visibility (if you want). I think is important to recognize the big role social media is playing on our education, especially in terms of how information (true or false) is being disseminated. Social media can be the first source of information anyone has access to, given its popularity nowadays. Therefore, I think if more academics become active on social media the potential for increases in reliable information are greater.


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