Monday, February 6, 2012

Why educators should embrace social media in the classroom

The jury is still out on whether social media should be used in the classroom to foster education and enrich learning. Advocates typically cite students' ability to become digitally fluent and hone their technical skills. Critics often say social media is a distraction and safety risk, inviting inappropriate material into the learning environment.

Karen Lederer broke down some of the major pros and cons of bringing social media into the classroom in a recent Campus Technology article. When I read it, I was nodding in agreement to all of the pros she listed. I'm in the camp that social media has a valuable place in the classroom, and should be incorporated into our schools. I summed up why in the comment I left for Karen (which you can read if you scroll to the end of her piece).

In addition to those pluses, I think there are several other major benefits to using social media in education, namely:

1. Students gain digital literacy. Fluency in social media and social networking are key skills that students must have to be prepared for a career in the 21st century. A few years ago, social media skills were a key asset that could help job seekers stand out from other candidates. Now employers across a variety of industries are increasingly requiring social media skills. And some employers are using social media to find talent. It is incumbent upon us as educators to help arm students with the skills and abilities they need to be successful in their career and life goals. Helping them hone their digital literacy skills is a crucial component to that preparation.

2. Students learn how to communicate and collaborate online. Professionals today are expected to be able to communicate and collaborate with colleagues across offices, states, countries, and time zones. Depending on the position and industry, this might require using traditional communications technology -- phone, email -- as well as social technologies -- Twitter, Facebook, Yammer, etc. Learning how to communicate and collaborate through social media is transferable to the workforce.

3. Students learn how to network. Networking is the lifeblood of business, yet it's an often-neglected skill. Social media is a natural conduit for teaching networking, as students can meet and interact through LinkedIn group conversations and Twitter tweetups, for example. San Jose State University is among the organizations at the forefront of this. It partnered with IBM last year to pilot The Great Mind Challenge program to help students turn their social networking knowledge into real-world business skills.

4. Students can make social media mistakes now, before they cost them their job. We've all heard about candidates not getting a job because of their inappropriate Facebook page, and employees being reprimanded or fired after improper behavior on social networks. How many of these job seekers and employees had the opportunity to learn from their social media mistakes as students? Now we're able to teach future job seekers and employees about how not to use social media now when they're students, before their mistakes become costly.

5. Students can learn how to apply their social media skills across professional contexts. By using a variety of social platforms to accomplish different objectives in the classroom, we are training students to apply this same logic and problem-solving in other real-world and professional contexts. Knowing the different features and functionalities of a variety of social media platforms will help students understand which ones to use to collaborate on short-term projects versus long-term projects, for instance. This helps them learn valuable habits on how to work effectively and efficiently, and be productive.

The pros of using social media in the classroom far outweigh the negatives critics see. While there are some valid concerns to using social media in the classroom, it's important to realize they're not absolute stopping blocks. They're challenges and growing pains to overcome -- as with the introduction of nearly any new technology or teaching method in the classroom.

The benefits of using social media in education extend far beyond the classroom, and that's what we should be squarely focused on.