How is Social Media Changing Higher Education?

Many teachers have adopted an everyday practice of incorporating digital technologies in the classroom and extending learning beyond the traditional boundaries of the Institution.

Distance education is high on the agenda of most higher education institutes and a great deal of effort and time has been invested into staff development to ensure that teachers are up to date and aware of how to teach remotely using new technologies.

It’s not only the role of the teacher that has changed. The embedding of digital technology into everyday study has also changed the way students learn. Now students can assume more responsibility for their own learning and design their own study trajectories. They are able to access a vast pool of knowledge through access to the World Wide Web. They can learn anywhere, anytime.

Since the web has become more social, students today share experiences and knowledge; they can communicate with their teachers after hours, they communicate with peers and enhance their learning experience.

Today’s students are multi-tasking, possessing the ability to access and decipher information. Students are more at ease with changing technologies. Social media enables them to be heard and provide feedback. Studying is no longer a one way street from teacher to student but a two way collaborative effort. Social media gave the students a voice in their learning process.

In many higher learning institutions blogs, wikis and social media tools ease the way to create collaboration between students. Social media tools support sharing and building of knowledge.  Projects given to students as a group are now easier to perform since the geographical restrictions have been removed. Blogs are used for learning another language, projects can be posted on Youtube for the whole class (and the world) to see and project descriptions are posted online with due dates. Social bookmarking is used by professors to list the reading requirements of the course and giving students the key to resources online.

Experts in any field are more accessible today through social media. An expert’s tweets about his experiences can provide a learning experience and insight into the professional world never possible before. A question can be posted for an expert on his social page or his blog and a dialogue started that would have taken weeks to arrange in the pre-social media world.

And it starts even before the learning begins. Some institutions, for example, use Facebook pages to reach out to student before they first arrive on campus. With many of them leaving home for the first time, knowing some of their classmates before they arrive can support them in this time of transition.

Social media and Skype enable face-time with a teacher for a one on one session. When there’s no time during school hours, it can be done during evening hours and across time zones. . Schools today use cloud storage that enables their students the use of an expensive program from home, for a limited time. They provide space for storage of group projects where all the group members can enter and make changes.

As part of Walden University’s Doctorate in Education program I was amazed and shocked at the learning process. While it was exciting to be able to work at a unique pace and have access to classmates and instructors at different times of the day, from the comfort of my home. I also found that the use of such technology was lead by those who struggle to understand it. Having academics try to lead topics citing the internet and multiple intelligence theory was horrifying because most could not relate or lacked an understanding of the base.

One of the most foolish policies I ever heard started from Michigan State University, repeated at Stony Brook University and then echoed in the Walden University’s DC residency, “Wikipedia is not a source and should never be used”.  

The shock and awe was outstanding, it was as if the professors just repeated something that they were told and never actually took the time to do any research for themselves. While you might not directly cite Wikipedia as a source, this collaborative site for knowledge has been found by research to be more accurate then the Encyclopedia Britannica. In research, a process that requires a starting point and is benefited by diverse experiences and information, it is hard to truly argue that there is a better source then Wikipedia.

Other uses for the new technology include text messaging and social media alerts are a relatively new ways for schools in the US to alert the whole student body to an emergency situation.

What new challenges does this pose?

Keeping teachers ahead of the curve with continued education regarding technological possibilities and with so much information, educating the students to know what is credible and what not, what is important and what not, and be able to figure out the source of the information they come in contact with.

Students were given the virtual key to the library and a group study doesn’t have to be done in one physical location or with just classmates. The digital era and social media revolution is in full swing, all they need now is guidance.




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