If you are thinking of using social media in a class to help build useful collaborative connections, retire the fears of shy students and introduce the same engagement you see in sites like Facebook, think again. A recent study by the Lab for Social Computing at Rochester Institute of Technology suggests that the use of social media in classrooms might yield little effect in improved communications and enhanced connections between students. The study into the effects of social media was conducted as part of a course on the use of social media and tools. It included contributions from online learning and course management systems and discussion groups that were proposed to enhance instruction, improve communication and facilitate connections between the students and course content. The results indicate that poor social acumen in the face-to-face interactions might be mirrored in the (more) virtual social medium. What’s more, echoing teacher and educational social media researcher Michael Wesch, the RIT study suggests that the educational use of social media may have to be learned:
“…the educational use of social media may not counteract poor social connections that are seen in face-to-face communication or elicit the same impacts seen in the use of social media sites such as MySpace and FaceBook.”
Researcher and team leader Susan Barnes comments on the hopes and goals of social media in the educational environment relative to her team’s findings:
“Many social media advocates have argued that the use of these tools in classroom settings could greatly enhance interaction and learning and assist shyer, more reserved students in becoming more involved, as has been seen in other online environments. However, our findings show that the incorporation of social media had no measurable impact on social connections, to the point that students did not consider other members of the class to be part of their social network.”
The RIT research team plans to expand the study to consider different educational formats and additional social media applications in an effort to determine the effects and differences of social media from traditional classrooms. The intent is to help educational planners and instructional designers better use social media in course development and delivery.
“The issues surrounding poor social network construction within online educational environments points to greater opportunities to examine how technology and mediated software can be better designed to suit the types of communication and interactions desired by our students.” – Christopher Egert, co-author
Jacobs, Stephen, Egert, Christopher A., Barnes, Susan B., “Social Media Theory and Practice: Lessons Learned for a Pioneering Course,” 39th ASEE/IEEE Frontiers in Education Conference, T4J-1, October 18 – 21, 2009, San Antonio, TX.