A lot has certainly changed since I became a college freshman 22 years ago, and one of the developments that has certainly changed the way students spend their time is social media. It thus makes a lot of sense to try and channel the widespread use of social media into something productive from an educational standpoint, but that is easier said than done.
There have been nice outcomes from the existence of social media and the internet in general, at least based on my personal experience with students from my University back home. Social media seems to take down whatever barriers students perceive exist between them and their instructors, and some faculty have used this to their advantage by connecting and interacting with their students on social media, setting up forums and opening themselves to questions related to coursework. Since office hours are not maximized and followed in my University at home as much as they are here, this has been a great way of providing students with timely and targeted feedback.
However, as in anything else, there is a down side to the technology, especially when the relativity of what is construed as “responsible use of technology” comes into play. For example, unlike the United States, we do not have FERPA regulations, so instructors are pretty much left to their own judgment when it comes to the privacy of students and what is appropriate for social media. Sadly, this has resulted in actions that, if done here, would have been seriously unacceptable: an instructor expressing frustration over the quality of student work by posting an actual photo of answers on a test paper on Facebook; another instructor posting the names of students who received an A in the class on Twitter, without their consent; and another who posted a photo of the class list, where student names and numbers are visible, on Instagram. While some actions come from good intentions (the colleague who posted the names of top students wanted to recognize students’ accomplishments and motivate others to aim high), faculty should carefully discern what is appropriate for public consumption, especially in the absence of regulation.
I do believe in the potential of social media as a tool in higher education (although I have to confess that I still do not have a Facebook account), but there are conversations that will need to be started, at least in my University back home, as to how this potential could be maximized in a positive way. I still do not know how to start these conversations, but maybe in two years I can figure out how…