What happens when academia and Facebook collide?

If you were to poll a classroom of students right now about their use of social media, I’ll bet nearly all of them would say they’ve used it to communicate with their peers about a school-related topic.

Maybe they’ve updated their Facebook status with the latest homework they’re doing. Perhaps they’ve tweeted about a grade they got on a test. Or maybe they’ve IMed with a classmate about a group project. Whatever the tool, social media is an integral part of most college students’ lives, so it’s natural that they’ll integrate it with their academics.

In fact, a new study by the Educause Center for Applied Research (ECAR) looked at just where this trend stands today among America’s undergraduate students. Its researchers found academia and social media — Facebook in particular — are merging on a widespread basis.

Fifty-eight percent of students reported they feel comfortable using Facebook to connect with other students to discuss homework assignments and exams. And one out of four students said they think Facebook is “valuable” or “extremely valuable” to their academic success.

ECAR researchers surveyed 3,000 students from 1,179 colleges and universities. They published their findings in the ECAR National Study of Undergraduate Students and Information Technology 2011 report, which you can peruse for more data and analysis on how technology is affecting students’ college experiences.

Alexandra Rice also covered the report in The Chronicle of Higher Education. She featured several education professionals’ viewpoints on the findings, which I think are worth a read. One of the professionals she featured was Kevin Roberts, Abilene Christian University’s CIO. He said this about students: “I don’t think they just want technology for technology’s sake.”

Kevin makes a crucial point. While Facebook — and any other social media tool for that matter — might be a good solution for some educational activities, it is not the sole answer to most pedagogical needs. It’s important to consider students’ needs, and use the right technologies to hone their skills.

That said, the possibilities to do more in the classroom through Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, and other social media and web technologies are vast. Students can sharpen their networking and professional development skills through LinkedIn, for instance, which are fundamental to any industry.

That is just one specific example of social media’s potential in academia. There are also many overarching opportunities for educators and students alike. I outlined three of the primary ones that I see in a comment I left on The Chronicle of Higher Education article. You can click over to get my thoughts.

I’m also interested to hear what you think. What are your thoughts on the collision of academics and social media? Where do you see it going in the next year or so?

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