The shortchanged generation Should teachers use social media for academic purposes?

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Many of my students often cite Facebook as one of the principal distractions from academic work, especially at this time of year when many of them are franticly preparing for their examinations. This is often seized upon by educators opposed to the use of social networking sites in schools, who use this apparent rejection of social networking sites by students to bolster the, in my view, erroneous notion that social networking sites are either just a fad or not worth the trouble.

However, this apparent rejection by students is not really surprising because schools and educators have, more often than not, shunned the use of social networking sites, even though they are quickly becoming the prevalent form of communication today – social networking sites are the C in ICT. If in doubt, ask any thirteen year old when was the last time they sent an email to a friend.

As we have consistently ignored the obvious educational potential of online social networking and communication, leisure has become the focal point of our students’ use of social networking sites. Using social networking sites for academic learning has simply never entered the equation.

And that’s not their fault, it’s ours. By ignoring the rise of online communities and online social interaction, we have essentially abandoned our students to teach themselves how to communicate in the 21st century, insisting instead on teaching them how to communicate and survive in a world that will not exist once they have left school.

No wonder then our students fail to see any relevance because, in this respect, we are irrelevant. If our job is to teach, then we have thus far not done a very good job of it.

If educators everywhere continue to ignore their students’ clear desire for peer interaction and communication outside the classroom, it begs the question: is this generation of teachers shortchanging the current generation of students?

What do you think?

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  1. Absolutely! I have worked as a Teacher/Administrator Professional Developer and Instructional Technology Integration Specialist and I have found more times than not that teachers are resistant to change and want to be the absolute purveyors of all knowledge. Some are extremely threatened by students that know “more” than they do and resent them for it. Why is that? When I was a classroom teacher I encouraged my students to prove me wrong, to question the history I was teaching if it didn’t fit with what their experiences were. If there were different ways of solving an equation, I expected them to show us all how they found their answers. Turning the tables on students and becoming the “guide on the side” is the most powerful teaching method for long term acquisition and retention of information. An old biblical saying is “If you give a man a fish he will eat for a day – If you teach a man to fish he will eat for a lifetime!” How can we, through our 21st century students, allow education to be transformed, to allow students to teach us how to fish as it were – to develop skills in ourselves and others around them to creatively problem solve and collaborate in ways we would have never entertained only a mere 25 years ago? We can do this through the power of social media. 

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