“Social media” is a broad term, encompassing any form of website that allows people to connect and interact online. It includes profile sites such as Facebook and Twitter, forums and blogs.
Social media has a reputation amongst many for being a good way to waste time, collect misinformation or even become part of something dangerous. However, it has numerous educational applications which schools and colleges are making the most of.
Discussion forums in higher education
Students at many universities now have the opportunity to discuss their learning with others from their course while they are at home. This allows students to continue the learning process in their own time, in an informal way, while still receiving the support of tutors. The Open University in particular makes heavy use of forums as an alternative to traditional seminars.
Students can discuss their work with one another, ask questions and gain knowledge just as they would in a face to face teaching situation. For those at traditional universities, forums act as a way to support what is learned in lectures and seminars.
Home education networks
Families who home education risk being isolated. Social media provides an excellent way for them to connect with each other and find resources. For example, the Facebook page ‘Home Education Resources’ offers the opportunity for anyone involved in home education to post links to online resources for home educators.
The page, and others like it, makes it easier for home educating families to find the resources they need: rather than having to search through the internet, they can use social media to ensure that everything they need is in one place. It also helps them find others in the same situation that they can speak to.
Schools and colleges are increasingly using education blogging sites such as edublog to support learning and share information. There are numerous applications of blogging in an educational setting. Students can be given a blogging assignment, being asked to create a blog post about a particular subject rather than writing a traditional essay.
The fact that the blog will be seen and discussed by their classmates is a motivating factor which can help them perform. It also adds value for all, as students can learn from their classmates. Shy students who might not be willing to speak in class might be able to shine through blogging. Many schools also have their own blogs – for example, leading independent school Bromsgrove School.
Connecting with students
Schools and colleges can set up social media profiles as a way of keeping in touch with their students. These might be partly advertising – a way of marketing themselves to prospective parents – but they can also be a useful tool for existing students.
A Facebook page could be set up for a particular course, for example, on which students and teachers could discuss issues and share information. As many young people use social media sites on a daily basis, they are likely to be receptive to them in education.
Rachel is an Oxford educated freelance blogger on a variety of educational topics, with a particular interest in social media.