Making the right technology choices is critical for student success, argue professors

social-media-classroomIn recent years, educators have witnessed an unprecedented acceleration of new and innovative technologies. It is not uncommon for educators to have differing opinions about which tools are helpful in their classrooms and which may bring unnecessary complications.

There is perhaps no better example of this disparity of opinion than the views that teachers espouse on using Social Networking Sites (SNSs), such as Facebook or Twitter, in the classroom. Although far less controversy exists in higher education than in K-12, the use of such platforms can still present challenges for students and faculty in college and university settings.

Bringing SNSs into the classroom has the potential to enhance some of the more desired elements of college classroom experiences, such as collaboration, motivation, networking, technology savvy, and expansion of content discussion beyond the classroom walls.

At the same time, SNSs have the potential to bring unwanted elements to the classroom, such as antisocial behavior, unneeded distractions, and inequitable educational opportunities based on socioeconomic and cultural differences.

Although there has been some research to suggest that Facebook can boost confidence for college students, and Facebook has also been positively linked to social adjustment, other research has found possible negative psychological and academic characteristics associated with heavy Facebook usage.

(Next page: Eight considerations when using SNSs in higher ed)

Research into the potential of web-based technologies will undoubtedly go in many new directions in the coming years, but the following eight questions offer some departure points to consider while planning for the use of SNSs in higher education onsite or online classroom settings:

1.  What is the impact of classroom SNS use on your students’ motivation?  Is that impact different for heavy SNS users as compared to infrequent users of the platform? Any motivational benefits associated with using SNSs would still need to be weighed against any negative effects that may accompany them.

2.  Do efforts at incorporating a particular SNS unfairly disadvantage certain groups due to their lack of proficiency in and/or familiarity with its interface and functionality? Decisions to incorporate SNSs in classrooms settings are not done in a vacuum, but rather they intersect with the digital inequalities that already exist in students’ lives.

3.  Do SNSs encourage inappropriate or negative social behavior amongst students in a classroom setting that would not occur otherwise? Psychologists, such as John Suler, have found that an “Online Disinhibition Effect” can lead to a host of antisocial behaviors, which can undermine collegiality in collaborative activities.

4.  Would incorporating a specific SNS into the classroom setting pressure non-users to adopt a practice that they might not otherwise consider? More specifically, would college students who are currently philosophically opposed to using SNSs feel pressured to include them in their technology repertoire, despite their personal reservations?

5.  Do the third-party or personal event components of the SNSs user interfaces result in more off-task activity when used in a classroom setting than would occur with Learning Management Systems (LMS), such as Blackboard or Moodle, that don’t include such components?

6.  Does the inclusion of SNSs in the classroom setting encourage increased formation of within-class cliques?  An instructor will want to examine whether these social divisions have a positive or a negative influence on the expected outcomes of the course?

7.  What are your views as an instructor on using SNSs classroom settings? Instructors will want to be aware of how their views influence their use of SNSs with their students?

8.  What are the implications of the above questions for educational leaders as they craft and write new and innovative programs, including blended and flipped classroom approaches?

Choosing the technological tools allowed in the classroom is not a decision to be taken lightly. As educators promote practices intended to close the digital divide that exists for many students, we must be careful that we aren’t unintentionally exacerbating that divide by incorporating practices that create additional inequities in the process. Making the right choices is what every student deserves from our educational leaders in policy and practice.

Keith E. Howard, PhD, is an assistant professor of secondary education at Chapman University. His research interests include technology infusion in K-12 and teacher education, equity in STEM related course-taking opportunities, and national longitudinal database analyses.

Nicol R. Howard is currently an adjunct professor and doctoral student at Chapman University. Her research interests include the use of social media and technology in schools, academic motivation and equity issues for underrepresented students, and educational experiences of female secondary students in STEM fields.

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