Social media has very much become an integral part of modern society, but with teachers across the globe unable to deter students’ eyes away from the screens of their smartphones, it’s high time for education professionals to view the mobile app as more than a mere distraction.

If used effectively social media can be a useful learning tool, and the integration of social media into daily lesson plans is an interactive way to bring the “real world” into the classroom. Last year, an eduTopia blog post argued that the use of social media not only brings current technology into the learning environment, it also helps bridge the digital divide among lower-income students.

“Stop pretending that you’re helping low-income children overcome the digital divide if you aren’t going to teach them how to communicate online,” the blog states. “Social media is here. It’s just another resource that doesn’t have to be a distraction from learning objectives. [It] is another tool that you can use to make your classroom more engaging, relevant and culturally diverse.”

A study from the University of Glasgow’s School of Education sought to examine the student perception of social media in higher education. An online survey was administered and students from across the College of Social Sciences were invited to respond.

Results from the college-wide survey demonstrated that 92 percent of students regularly used at least one form of social media, and that undergraduate students are 30 percent more likely to engage with social media than those enrolled on postgraduate study courses (65 percent compared to 35, respectively).

Approximately 80 percent of respondents reported using at least one social media platform for personal use at home, while 33 percent indicated using their account to network with other professionals, and 24 percent use social media to aide research for their studies.

When participants were asked where they would prefer to use various mediums of social media, 21 percent reported that they’d like them to be incorporated into lab work and tutorials; 19 percent within seminars and 17 percent in lectures. While 47 percent reported that they would not use it in these situations, 41 percent said they’d use social media to engage with staff outside of the classroom.  Overall, the survey found 68 percent of students to believe that the use of social media in the classroom would enhance their learning experience.

“Yes, social media, especially Twitter, is a valuable tool to use within Higher Education,” stated one respondent. “It can enhance learning as students can be connected to tutors, peers etc. 24/7. The hierarchies are broken down and everyone can share ideas.”

With this in mind, here are three powerful ways social media can be used in the classroom:

1. Facebook

Creating a class Facebook group is an effective way to keep students up-to-date with assignments, announcements, deadlines, and also to connect them to useful online links simply and efficiently. It creates an easily accessible digital network that can even connect with parents, and allows students to actively engage with important content from their course.

The majority of students already have access to the app either on their phones or on their tablets, providing a digital learning tool they have constant, instant access to without the hassle of logging on to an independent system.

2. Twitter

Twitter is great for creating a topical discussion feed; students should be encouraged to Tweet articles and ideas relevant to the subject they are studying, so that students, peers and faculty alike can engage in discussion and debate without the social pressure that can be felt in a forced learning environment.

Lecturers can later use student quotes for reference and as a means to inspire lively classroom discussion and help students feel connected.

3. Snapchat

This popular photo messaging and video app allows students to engage with learning materials in real-time. Dr Beryl Jones of Kingston University began incorporating the app into her lectures at the start of the academic year.

“It’s meant the students are more actively engaged,” she told The Guardian. “What I hadn’t envisaged was them taking screenshots of my slides while in the lecture hall and annotating them before sending to me. They used this to address things they didn’t understand, as well as answering the questions I posed.”

It’s high-time for education professionals to banish the view of social media as an educational diversion, and instead embrace these platforms as innovative and creative ways to deliver memorable learning material. We live in a technological world that is rapidly evolving, making it necessary for higher education to adapt accordingly or risk being left behind.

Image via Shutterstock.

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