I am sharing the full-text of my recent talk at the #TEDxUTampa event on February 3rd, 2018 at The University of Tampa campus:
Making Social Media Work for your Educational Advantage
Enilda Romero-Hall, Ph.D.
In the year 2005, I was an undergraduate student living in a small college town in Kansas. My classmates and friends had recently started using this website called Facebook. It was: “ a better version of MySpace,” which I had never used. Of course I started using Facebook, friending others, and posting picture of my social life. It took three years but eventually, I became overwhelmed with Facebook. So, I proceeded to delete my Facebook account.
A year later, I had moved to a different state and city, started a doctoral degree, and was volunteering as a graduate student at an international conference. I noticed in my interactions with other graduate students that I felt out of the loop. For example: many of my colleagues had participated in a MOOC (massive open online course) about statistical analysis taught by a well known scholar in our field that they found out about through a Facebook group posting. I had never heard of it. At the end of that conference, I really started to wonder if I needed to reconsider my decision and re-join facebook.
It took me about six more months but eventually, I started to use social media AGAIN and made a conscious decision to use it for both personal and professional reasons. Not only did I join Facebook, I also joined other social media platforms with online communities that allow me to exchange information with others, connect with people who have similar interest, and informally learn about the topics that interest me.
Now, let’s fastword to 2018:
Today social media is ingrained in the way our society communicates, for good or bad. There is evidence that the use of social media will continue to grow as applications expand and new ones enter the market in the near future. Users are eager to try applications that offer engaging and unique ways to communicate with others.
I bet many of you are Snapchat, Instagram, and Facebook users?
Well, if you are a Snapchat user, you are one of 166 million daily active users. According to the Pew Research Center, social media adoption in the United States has grown from 5% in 2005 to 69% percent in 2016. This adoption rates are a global trend.
The great majority of social media users access this platforms for informal, social interactions with friends, family, and acquaintances.
However, is not uncommon to see “concerning” headlines and research about social media in the news. For example:
- Meghan Markle just quit social media. Here’s why you might want to as well!
- Facebook admits that social media can be bad for you!
- Social media is changing how we think, and not necessarily for better
- Stop over-posting your vacation photos
Because we have all seen pictures of our friends and family in their amazing vacations! Everything just looks so picture perfect. The kind of vacation that you dream of. Just recently I also had a picture perfect vacation. My husband, my two-year old, and I embarked on an adventure to our sunny destination: Cartagena, Colombia. The pictures did not disappoint. But let’s be honest my husband and I were traveling with a two-year old. His behavior was not always picture perfect.
Yes, he had temper tantrums.
Yes, he cried.
Yes, he was loud when asked to be quiet.
He is a two-year old after all!
So to some extend it is true. Social media can be harmful (and affect our mental well being), difficult to manage and overwhelming, too public, distracting, and influence and miss inform us. So I am not here to tell you that it is all rainbows and unicorns, Nor it is doom and gloom. But what I want to share with you is that we have to find ways to positively use this mediums that are not going anywhere, anytime soon. There are a large number of research efforts that hope to better understand and analyze the use of social media for teaching and learning purposes. As an educator and researcher myself, I have experienced and investigated how social media can be used for informal learning purposes.
Since 2013 the graduate students in the program in which I teach have been actively using social media online communities to informally learn more about our field, instructional design. We have both public and private online social communities. In this social media communities students exchange articles, post jobs and internship opportunities, ask questions and seek recommendations, and simply stay connected. Through my research, I found out that this online social media communities have helped keep the conversation going outside of the classroom and as one graduate students mentioned: “Some posts have triggered the students curiosity and in turn has led to exploring different topics and developing skills.”
But this informal learning experiences are not unique to the graduates students in the instructional design and technology program at the University of Tampa. As a knowledge seeker, I wanted to know if graduate students in other institutions of higher education are also using social media online communities to post, share, network, and connect. Here is what I found:
- Students in other institutions perceive social media online communities as a quick method to help support social and knowledge communication
- This communities help “break the ice” because it provides a relax way to communicate with others since conversations happen in a far more spontaneous and candid way
- For students in fully online programs social media groups provided a sense of community… a sense of belonging…
- To me what was really striking was that not only did students in this social media online communities appreciate sharing with others who have similar interest but most importantly they participated and valued the interactions with others who shared a different perspective because it challenged their views and allowed them to reflect, rethink, and in some instances re-shape their of own knowledge.
- Of course, not all students are quick to post and share their thoughts with the world or their online communities. What I found is that some students enjoy lurking around and quietly participating while reading and consuming information provided by others.
So you may be wondering, why is this important? Why is it important for me to invest my time to listen to this lady talk about informal learning in social media communities?
Because, instead of solely focusing on the “bad” or “thinking of social media as a waste of time” it is imperative that we find innovative ways to use and repurpose this online social environments in a manner that is safe, ethical, and beneficial to us.
And how can you do that?
- Become a self-directed learner. Use social media to gather information about trends related to your field or area of interest:
- What are new and emergent topics in your field?
- Who are leaders in your field that you should follow?
- Where can you find rigours research related to your field of study?
- Use social media to connect with individuals outside your network
- It is good to connect with others who have the same ideas as you
- But it is also good to breakout of your network because this interaction can lead to innovation
- What it boils down to: using social media to engage in transformational learning opportunities in which you:
- Engage in critical reflection
- Engage in discourse
- Take action to transform your frame of reference
Don’t get me wrong! I am not saying “stop posting your favorite funny cat videos and memes” or “stop sharing selfies of yourself.” I am also not saying that we need to overlook the challenges that social media present for our social, mental, and physical well-being. We absolutely need to find ways to deal with this challenges.
What I am saying is that there are other ways in which we can enrich social media environments. There are educational aspects that we should consider. We, as users, have the power to control: what we post, when we post, who we interact with, and how we interact with others. You cannot rely on social media developers to provide healthy ways to use this platforms. It is our responsibility to make it work for us!