Using social media as a tool in teaching and learning can be exceptionally effective, but it also requires that instructors and students learn to adapt to the new environment it creates. For students, adapting to using social media in education requires understanding how online footprints can affect a student’s professional future, learning how to communicate effectively with classmates and instructors, and discovering new ways to deal with conflict.
The Internet is Forever
Facebook is only seven years old, but it’s already revolutionized the way we communicate with each other, as well as how we connect with the outside world. And its impact on education is substantial: both traditional and online degree programs are beginning to use social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter as a way to communicate with students.
Students who use social media on a regular basis are probably familiar—even comfortable—with the amount of sharing that happens. But remember that despite security settings and the ability to create closed groups, anything posted online is online indefinitely. So think twice before posting status updates, photos, and links to websites. And using social media for school interactions requires extra caution— you don’t want to appear unprofessional in your posts in case potential employers or clients decide to check up on your school’s Facebook page.
Communication in the Digital Age
It’s taken for granted that social media allows people to be less reserved than they might be otherwise. College students aren’t often formal with each other in a learning setting, but there is an unwritten set of rules for classroom conduct. Those same rules should apply to online learning and to the way students communicate with each other and with instructors.
E-mails and Facebook messages should be brief and concise—particularly if students are e-mailing instructors. For a teacher who deals with perhaps hundreds of students every day, the clearer an e-mail is, the more likely a teacher is to respond quickly to a student’s request. Using social media sites like Twitter can help students learn to be succinct—and if students use Twitter to share links to research or other websites, those messages should be clearly written as well. In courses with online lecture or discussion elements, students should take care not to monopolize conversation and, just like in a physical classroom, allow other students to speak.
Avoiding “Flame Wars”
“Flaming” is an Internet term used to describe hostile interaction between Internet users. And, depending on the course, college students might “flame” each other in physical classrooms during heated discussions and debates. Online, however, things like sarcasm can be misconstrued—and cues like voice inflection and body language are absent entirely.
Whether students are offering constructive criticism to classmates or just joking around, be sure to be as clear as possible. Instead of telling a classmate that something’s “wrong” or “bad,” use descriptive terms and be tactful. Being positive during class discussions can help avoid misunderstandings and conflict. It’s one of the best ways to engender good will with classmates—and building positive relationships should be a part of every college experience.
The utility of social media in education continues to be explored, and as its integrated into teaching and learning, students will have to learn to communicate effectively in an online setting. And since college students are already using social media in their everyday lives, it’s even more important that they learn to use in their professional and educational lives as well.