Faculty Focus has released a report on Social Media Usage Trends among Higher Education Faculty [pdf]. To me at least, the results are not at all surprising. Social networking sites (the focus of the survey was Facebook, LinkedIn, and Twitter) are more popular than ever and continue to grow rapidly.
When the children of this technologically advanced generation enter the classroom, they expect to find many of the same elements as they use in their everyday lives. Can this technology be leveraged for use by the Academy? I assert that it can.
My first conference paper (which I’m not linking… I wrote it as an undergrad and it is quite obvious) discussed this issue. How can faculty utilize these “Pedagogical Portals” in a way which students will accept and yet still preserves the decorum and professionalism of the classroom? With the rise of electronic note-taking systems, where do the instructors draw the line at allowing technology to be utilized in the classroom? The first statistic which surprised me was while nearly 83% of instructors allowed laptops in the classroom, only 52% allowed smartphones (no mention was made of tablets, such as iPads). A 31-point difference in device which can cause the same distractions as well as be used for the same legitimate educational purposes.
Social media is not foreign to academics. Nearly half (44.6%) of survey respondents replied that they use Facebook daily. Only 14.6%stated that they never used the service. Now, I’m not going to walk through every single response (there’s a reason I posted the link…) but I did want to mention some of the quotes.
One of my favorites is “Facebook is a backyard barbecue, Twitter is a cocktail hour, and LinkedIn is a business luncheon” (p. 9). That is the best comparison of the three sites I have seen. But still, the detractors remain. One respondent stated that using social networking is a “Bunch of nonsense. Just use the telephone and e-mail is enough to communicate when not in class” (p. 19). While I admit it is a bit annoying to realize a student is bombarding you with messages – no matter the forum – at one in the morning, the educational paradigm has shifted. An individual exists and interacts in cyberspace nearly as much as they do in the physical realm.
Students come to campus. They live on campus. But they also exist in the land of technology. Study groups no longer have to be in the same room. In fact, they rarely are. I have both given and received tutoring over Skype, GTalk, AIM, and Facebook Chat. If you look at the acknowledgements in my thesis, one of them is to a friend who kept me company via instant messaging during many mutual late-night writing marathons.
To me the answer is clear. Faculty need to be involved in social networking. But there must also boundaries. The answer is not to run from the issue – say, by banning laptops or smart phones from the classroom –but to engage in the novel ideal of EDUCATING our students. We must explain to them what is appropriate and what is not. We must have clear expectations of appropriate behavior with technology. But, we should not, we cannot, fear the technology.
I had planned on discussing how I make use of social network and technology. But, given the length of this post already, I believe that is a topic for another day. Be looking for that post soon.