Thursday, October 31, 2013

Engaging Students in a Social Media Age

Note: This blog post is an adaptation of a series I did on my website.

A few months ago, I attended the HI-TEC Conference, which brings together practitioners in a number of STEM and high-technology fields to talk about best practices, significant research, and other important topics. At the HI-TEC Conference, I was as a co-presenter with Julia Makela on our work studying applied baccalaureate degrees in STEM fields, as part of a National Science Foundation-funded project. That presentation was recorded and live-streamed, so it may be viewed at any time by clicking here.

At that conference, I had the opportunity to watch a presentation by Dave Sweeney, owner and operator of viz-bang!, an organization that promotes using social media and online media, such as video to help businesses reach consumers. The title of this presentation was “Where the Kids Are: How Teens Use Social Media.” In this session, Dave talked about some of the research released this summer by the Pew Internet and American Life Project, entitled “Teens, Social Media, and Privacy.” I recommend that everyone read this report. Much of what it highlights is what many educators already know: that teens in particular are increasingly using mobile technologies, social media, and other technologies. Further, today’s high schoolers are moving away from social media giant Facebook in favor of technologies such as Twitter, Vine, Snapchat, and others. This finding from Pew was not particularly surprising, as I’ve similarly found that students were less likely to prefer Facebook for a number of reasons, most notably because Facebook was not a space where students felt they had privacy. This is in large part because of the size of students’ Facebook networks, which commonly includes brief acquaintances, family, and others. For more personal interactions with a smaller network of close friends, students turn to other technologies, such as text messaging, Twitter, and others.

Social Media as a Distraction
Several attendees at Dave Sweeny’s session commented that students’ usage of these technologies provides “nothing more than a distraction” for students. Dave’s response challenged this belief, arguing that these technologies are the new reality of K-12 and higher education; students will continue to use such technologies, and as such, practitioners are tasked with finding ways around the detriments of such technologies. Here are my thoughts:

-       Students will always be looking for a distraction for the things in which they are not interested. Lack of interest is not a new thing.  When I was in high school and college, if I was not interested in a topic, I found a way to “zone out” of the content, and this was well before technologies such as smartphones provided an easy way to do so.  In addition, these technologies are not going away. Students go where their friends are, and their friends are on mobile and social networking technologies. Whether we want it or not, these technologies (or variations on these technologies’ themes) are here to stay.

-       Educators must be willing to meet students where they are. I understand how difficult it is to engage students who are used to 140 characters of Twitter, texting, other online networking. Students are savvier at communications than we often give them credit for. They are unafraid to e-mail faculty, employers, and other professionals to voice concerns, and consume media more than ever. If practitioners can find a way to reach students in online outlets, the same type of momentum that drives funny videos viral could also push your message to a wider audience. Today’s students are ready to engage! We just need to find the right strategies to meet them where they are.

The conversations at this conference and this particular session were quite engaging. They revealed to me the myriad viewpoints practitioners have toward online technologies and how to engage students, with some lamenting that such technologies stifle education, while others see such innovations as a way of improving education, employment, and other areas. With the advent and growth of massive online education (MOOCs), open-access journals, new social media platforms, it is evident that such tools for online collaboration, publication, and education are rapidly becoming mainstream. It is up to educators and practitioners to identify those that have the greatest potential for improving education and to utilize them in a way that engages each new generation of students that enters our doors.

I have other thoughts based on these conversations and others that I would love to discuss, either in future blog posts or individually. Feel free to comment on this post or e-mail me at to further engage.


Abdullah said...

yes definitely technology and social media, Google very helpful for students these resources solve many problems but many of kids use these things just a waste of time its depends of parents training

Maya said...

Excellent post Jameson.I agree that social media is useful for students but there are negative effects also of the social sites.So there should be some limits of using it.

T. Jameson Brewer said...

Post by: Collin Ruud

Faith said...

Nice discussion. I agree that if students use social media in right direction, then they get a lot of fruit of social media in their education field.