I believe social media’s use, as a research tool is a valid form of content aggregation. The categories of social media users as well as the intended use of their networks are as varied as the opinions of those attempting to merge education and social media. However, there are educators and researchers alike in their dislike of sites such as Wikipedia. Those individuals who see social media as a negative impact site the lack of authority on these sites and they are hesitant to buy into amateur community generated content. The opposing viewpoints of the debate are the foundation of this paper however my bias is towards the use of social media in education.
Social media is a web-based tool for sharing and discussing various forms of online media. The media can be referred to as user generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM). Social media integrates technology, telecommunication, and social interaction based on the concept of generating shared meanings within communities (Melluso, 2010). One such community is housed at PBS where a tech savvy crew of journalists sought out to explore the use and cognitive effects of technology in education ranging from elementary students through university students.
Frontline: digital nation explores the role of technology in various applications and delves further into the digital world and the human experience of learning with technology. As a student’s education leads them further into the digital world one can begin to see web 2.0 tools as a viable means to enhance learning. As students are exposed to networks and various web tools, most often user generated it is evident they are developing multitasking abilities. Partnering this assumption is that students can develop higher order skills because of this new multi-task skill set. While reading online text if a student was to come across a word or concept unfamiliar to them she/he can click the hypertext and satisfy their curiosity or attempt to gain a deeper understanding of the topic. In web 2.0 socially based research any student can grab a link through a hash tag on twitter, scan through their delicious account network via tagged content, or scan over their Google reader subscriptions and all of these may yield resource material for their project. However, as I reflect on this there are positives and negatives associated with multitasking in the digital realm. First off I find myself distracted by other posts on twitter and I get side tracked while looking for one piece of information and end up on a journey in the opposite direction. How then do I combat the distracted nature of the new digital world in the classroom? I believe educators should approach the use of new social media with purpose. Educators must remove the excuse of distraction and help students focus on the intentions of learning and the learner. Why are we on a particular site in the first place? Fun, education or business? I acknowledge that there is a variety of reasons why an individual would visit a website and to list only three categories is quite limiting. As to the purpose of this paper I am trying to limit the distractions of more than three categories as I could go and research those further and include more resources and content around those as well and yet another 2.0 distraction in thought emerges. A distraction embedded in the content itself (Rushkoff, 2010).
As teachers in the digital age I believe our role is not to exploit technology in hopes of adding a wow factor to our lessons but rather teach through modeling the focused use of social media as a research tool. There are times when listening to music, texting, IMing and video chatting can take place concurrently but not when academic pursuits are the purpose in using technology. There is nothing new to this idea of undistributed focus. So, as teachers we need to meet the students where they live in the digital world and cater to their needs in the new social learning environment while facilitating the networking skills needed to exist in the new domain of research.
The acceptance of social media as a valid form of aggregation and dissemination of information is pursued by the “Wikimedia Foundation, a nonprofit organization that does fund-raising and back end support for the popular open-source encyclopedia” (Kolowich, 2010) where several colleges have adapted coursework including social media particularly Wikipedia. The goal of the course work is to have students become content generators on Wikipedia. Students had to follow a strict set of guidelines either critique existing content for errors and narrative or the students generate new content and then monitor the subsequent edits. Rochelle Davis believes the pressure students may feel in knowing their work is relied on for others research may drive greater due diligence in vetting content.
It is only lately that academe accepted the exploration and contributions to sites like Wikipedia. Up until the past several years there has been bans placed on using Wikipedia as a research source as actions taken at Middlebury College banned its use. An English department chair at the University of California wrote
“The academic community provides a constrained and relatively standard set of protocols for constructive collaboration and refereeing that could be built on (whereas the larger global community behind Wikipedia was more problematic because there is actually no such thing as a global community with sufficiently shared motives and standards of collaboration),” (Kolowich, 2010)
However, daunting this task may seem Wikimedia plans to recruit 15 more professors by the spring of 2011 confident academic acceptance will continue to grow.
Also a survey of K-12 Educators on Social Networking and Content Sharing Tools supports Wikimedia’s enthusiasm as they found that “61% of the educators we surveyed have joined a social networking website. Facebook is the site most educators have joined (85%). MySpace is a distant second (20%). LinkedIn, a popular site for the business community, is third (14%).” (k-12servey.PDF) The survey also found that “Educators who have joined a social network are more positive about the value of this technology for education. Overall, educators see a high value for social networking in education for a wide range of applications.” We are now at a time when the self-sorting elements of any organic mechanism take over and more specific applications of social media will emerge. As classroom teachers modify and adapt the use and classroom implementations of new media the ever-changing dynamics of student needs can be met. It is through the social networks that ideas will be shared, modified and again be adapted by new users with a shared purpose. The generation of high-end content is achievable through sharing educational resources. While teachers once walked across the hall or had to visit the library they can now check a webpage or one of their social network and share as well as be assisted by a larger community of learners.
I see a future in using social media as a research tool. Just as we may need to comb through many books in a library or reference section so to must we look for the quality amidst the flurry of content out there. I have reaped the benefit of social media as all the articles used to compose this paper were found via social media networking.