23 January 2013

Social Media As The Means, Not The End in Teaching and Learning

Considering the positive role that social media can play in contemporary education, should academics be automatically encorporating the technology into their own teaching practices?

The answer, in my view, is a resounding ‘no’. Unless a clearly pre-defined learning outcome has been determined, I think any such adoption is a mistake. Yet such is the desire among many to follow the latest trends, this critical assessment of potential benefits (or the lack thereof) doesn’t always occur. Indeed, there have been several instances where academics have adopted social media technologies such as Google or Google Hangouts, but haven’t really known why they’ve adopted it. While it’s true that both tools are potentially good for assisting group collaborations, it’s nonetheless important to proactively ask the questions: Why are we using social media in an educational setting? What benefits will these particular tools entail? What will they enable that conventional teaching methodologies will not?

The emergence of social media has ushered in a widespread belief that traditional teaching and learning methods have suddenly become outdated or obsolete. But this certainly isn’t the case. We need to remember that social media is not an end in itself, but merely a tool that enables us to facilitate or improve traditionally desirable teaching outcomes. I believe that the ultimate aim should be blended learning, where traditional notions of teaching are complemented by social media technology. This involves asking questions like: what forms of social media should we adopt, and to what end? Will it increase students’ ability to think critically? Will it enhance their group work? If no discernable benefit is evident, then encorporation is pointless. Remember: the adoption of technology needs to be proactive, not reactive.

For academics resistant to the idea of social media, a better effort to proactively understand new technologies is required. They need to understand that for children as young as four, this type of technology is a way of life rather than something that’s been learned at a later stage in life. As such, teaching professionals need to be open to adopting it in a proactive strategic manner. They need to strike that crucial balance.

Author: Dr Ranjit Voola – Senior Lecturer, Discipline of Marketing. University of Sydney Business School

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