Over the last decade, social media has become an important means of communication, particularly for young people. In early 2013 social media giant Facebook reported that it had exceeded a billion monthly users, most of whom accessed the site through smartphones or mobile devices at least some of the time.
Facebook and other social media platforms are an integral part of how today’s students express themselves, organise their schedules and communicate with their friends. However, despite appearances, social media isn’t just for entertainment; social networking has educational applications, including helping students study for exams. A 2012 survey conducted by Online Colleges determined that two thirds of faculty members surveyed had used social media in the classroom. Here are just a few of the ways in which social media can help students with their studies.
One application of social media in the seminar room is scheduling: educators can create class Facebook pages which host announcements of upcoming assignments and deadlines, and a course Twitter feed can provide students with up-to-the-minute information on classwork and other relevant events. Creating social media spaces for courses also allows students to talk to one another about their work, which can be extremely useful when a test is looming.
Outside of class, most students who discuss work probably do so face-to-face, by email or using other person-to-person methods. This can result in a situation familiar to many teachers: the most enthusiastic students pull away from their peers, reinforcing one another’s success and leaving students who are struggling behind.
Using social media for class communication opens up class discussion to include all students – and possibly teachers as well. Students can use Twitter or Facebook accounts to talk about what they’ve learned in class, asking questions and providing each other with assistance. Dr Rosie Miles, Senior Lecturer in English, has even experimented with new methods of discussion online by asking her students to tweet ‘in character’ as characters from works of Victorian and Edwardian literature. For those who require more unconventional methods to help them revise, activities such as this can be of great benefit.
Educators who reported using social media often used it to provide materials students could both study in class and continue to use at home, which is often the case for those studying for a postgraduate degree. For example, video sharing sites like YouTube allow students to watch documentaries, scientific demonstrations, historical footage and more. A one-line link in a social media post can connect the student to this resource, something that would have been impractical prior to the advent of social media. Students can then discuss their thoughts or ask their peers questions by leaving replies under the link, which can be a fantastic way to expand on ideas prior to an exam. Other useful tools for this kind of task include photo-sharing services such as Flickr.
There are also thousands of blogs and social feeds that exist for many subjects and are excellent for bolstering existing learning. For example, museum accounts on Tumblr provide links to virtual collections, while science vlogs give experimental demonstrations that might be outside a class’s budget. A class social media feed allows teachers and students to quickly share links to these resources. Sites such as Tumblr or Pinterest make it easy for multiple contributors to share items to a single group space.
Like all technology, social media is not without its disadvantages. Some educators feel that social media messages can’t convey the complexity students need to master a subject. Academics Emma Rich and Andy Miah organised a Twitter seminar for students in February 2013; while successful, they worried that tweets had a tendency to oversimplify complex debates and that students would be unwilling to speak up in a public online environment.
Despite this, the numerous successful uses of social media in the classroom have already shown that it can be a useful tool for students both in lessons and while studying for a test. Getting the most out of social media requires a little extra work from educators and students alike, but the potential for improved communication and ease of research is well worth the perseverance.
Henry Marshall is an Information Technology teacher at a secondary school, with an interest in blogging, social media and it’s use in education.