Smart phones and social media are wonderful tools for communication and research, or are they? For several years now, I walk into my classroom and witness every single one of my students connected to their smart phones. Some are texting, some are viewing their Facebook page while others are sending tweets or sending memes via Instagram. Regardless their method of connection to their friends or family, research shows that they are disconnected from the social interactions enjoyed in the past. Gone are the days of long phone conversations or face to face discussions about the weekend romance, family, vacations, or school. Today, my students rely on Facebook for a look into a friend’s or family’s home or recreational life. Twitter allows 140 characters of dialogue without any sense of tone or mood. Texting asks, replies, and truncates communication while Instagram delivers memes instead of words. Social media is not only causing a social disconnect that might become irreversible but also affecting the way in which students research data, often gathering information that is unreliable or simply untrue.
Each of these “social” connectors may appear to socialize our youth, yet one would beg to differ. Recently, while having lunch with my husband, I observed several young women silently eating their lunch with one hand while texting either others or the very individuals with whom they were having lunch! I have also witnessed the nuclear family dining yet no one is talking, each person, including the young children, were immersed in their smartphones. The dinner table discussion has gone into the ether of the past. According to writer Katherine Hobson and researcher Brian Primack, today’s youth does not feel socially involved; instead, they have deep feelings of isolation. The study indicates, “people who reported spending the most time on social media — more than two hours a day — had twice the odds of perceived social isolation than those who said they spent a half hour per day or less on those sites” (2017). However, when I ask my students if they feel isolated, they answer with a resounding, “No!” It is my belief that this form of communication is all they know, so they may not think they are isolated. We, those of us born prior to 1980, know there is a different form of communication where one looks into the eyes of the other, or notices the mannerisms and expressions of the one with whom we speak. There’s comfort, we know, when the connection is tangible. It is my opinion that this is what’s missing, and an article written for Child Mind Institute confirms this belief. Author Catherine Steiner-Adair, a clinical psychologist states, “As a species we are very highly attuned to reading social cues. There’s no question kids are missing out on very critical social skills” ( qtd. In Ehmke, 2017).
As educators, how should we assess and handle our student’s preoccupation with social media? An empirical paper written by Paul A. Tess, conveys a multitude of research that has been conducted with findings that promote social media use within the classroom to the various negative aspects of such. According to the article, students refrain from using social media in learning because they view social media as their form of entertainment; whereas, if they were to use it for learning, it would be connected to their definition of work (2013, pg. A62). The appeal of Facebook, Twitter, and other social media tools for the student is most often the ease of communication and least of all the ability to handle class assignments (2013, pg. A63). What we usually see, when we walk into our classrooms, is not students fervently completing their assignments; instead, what they are most likely doing is learning what new post is on Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram. Or, they could be texting their friends from across the room, in another classroom, or outside of campus.
Social media, if used properly, may be used to enhance learning. Some instructors will incorporate social media within their classroom activity. In a study conducted by Northeast college, nearly 2,500 students were surveyed. The study wanted to examine if there was any “relationship between type of and frequency of Facebook use and student engagement.” The study seems to indicate that social media played a minor role in student engagement (Tess, 2013, pg. A63). One particular study found that the level of communication within Facebook was, “superficial… and exposed unsophisticated study skills (A64). It appears that unless a communication or learning activity is directed and guided by an instructor, the effect of social media on education is nominal and unproductive because students would rather follow a more carefree attitude toward their social media accounts and not view it as work.
Perhaps, instructors can apply these technical tools within the classroom because as teachers we want our students to use any if not all methods of learning available. The classroom can become the forum where students understand the positive application of technology, i.e., their smart phone. Facebook can be used to gather information for a survey and Twitter can be used to ask questions and receive quick, succinct responses in return.
A recent in-class assignment for my Composition class proved to be a positive implementation of this tool. The class had read, “Invisible Women” by Yun Yung Choi. After a lengthy discussion on Confucianism and the role of women in Korea then and now, I asked students to form groups of four. Once the groups were created, I passed out poster paper and color pens. Each group chose a writer and speaker. Then, they were to use their phones to research the progress women have made within the United States during the past 50 – 70 years. They were also asked to make contact via Facebook and Twitter if they wanted to ask questions of their moms or grandmothers. The subtopics included: educational, political, professional, social, and cultural changes. Students worked on this for nearly forty-five minutes. A few groups completed their research while others decided to take their project home for the weekend. Time was productive and cell phones were used exponentially for the sole purpose of research. I walked around, inquired about their findings, and discussed some of their surprise findings.
In a study conducted at the University of Adelaide. Professor McCarthy explored the way in which instructors can use social media for class assignments. He designed a lesson so students would incorporate Facebook to complete submissions and to gather peer critique on information found. His findings indicate, “that Facebook was the ideal host site for a blended learning environment. The researcher also found an increase in course engagement particularly with an assessment task as indicated by the Facebook activity logs (2010, pg. 1202).
There are many studies researching the positive and negative impact social media may have on students; however, there is one fact that will not change. Students will continue to check their smart phones for social contact, however minimal and barren it may be. We as instructors are able to design and create assignments that incorporate social media in order to introduce the ways it can be used for everyone’s benefit. Today, we can use Twitter within a classroom assignment (Literature, Composition, History, Sociology classes) to evaluate how political and social norms are changing the ways leaders maintain a connection with their constituents. Regardless the assignment, I believe that students who are taught that there is an assortment of possibilities for their Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram account.
ReferencesEhmke, Rachel. (2017). How Using Social Media Affects Teenagers. Child Mind Institute,
Hobson, Katherine. (2017). Feeling Lonely? Too Much Time On Social Media May Be Why.
McCarthy, J. (2010). Blended learning environments: Using social networking sites
to enhance the first year experience. Australasian Journal of Educational
Technology, 26(6), 729–740.Tess, Paul A. (2013). The Role of Social Media in Higher Education Classes (real and virtual) –
A literature review.” Computers In Human Behavior. Elsevier, A60 – A68.
© Natala Orobello