Essay: Get Smart with Social Media

This essay is about how social media can be used for educational purposes.  It was originally turned in on April 4, 2010.  Please note that the works cited are published in the old style, and the rules for formatting the works cited page have since changed (so don’t imitate the formatting when you do your own paper). 🙂

Get Smart with Social Media
by Edie Montgomery-Pool

Think of what it must have been like long ago when the knife was invented and what people must have thought of that “new technology.”  On one hand, it made life much easier (hunting, cooking, crafting items); on the other hand, it could be used for terrible things (destruction, fighting, murder).  This leads to the question:  is the knife good or evil?  The answer is, of course, neither.  Like all human inventions, it can be used for both.  Similarly, social media can be used for helpful or harmful purposes.  It is not the internet or websites themselves that are either good or evil, but the user’s intention which defines their use and their usefulness.

is the internet evil?Since there seems to be an abundance of media proclaiming the evils of the internet, let us focus our attention today on one of the good things that have come out of this new technology.  Specifically, one of the good ways in which people are using social media today is for educational purposes.  There are many sites that can be used for education.  I, personally, have found YouTube.com to be helpful this semester for my Speech class.  In particular, I have gotten extremely useful information from Scott of hellomynameisscott.com via his Expert Village videos.  Scott’s videos are usually less than two minutes long and address a number of critical elements one needs to be aware of when giving a speech.  Subjects include how to prepare, use openers, use body language, use one’s voice, engage an audience, and end a speech.

hello my name is scottSome of the things I learned from watching Scott’s videos have not yet been covered in class.  I feel that having viewed the videos gives me a major advantage when delivering my speeches and improves my grade.  The friendly, informal tone of the videos also engages me and holds my attention more than a formal lecture or dry textbook.  Speech tips are just one of many things that can be learned from this site.  There are numerous videos on virtually any educational topic one can think of.  A search for the keyword “grammar” turned up 13,600 videos, including those fun little School House Rock cartoons that use catchy songs to teach while entertaining.  If a student is struggling with their algebra assignment, a search for “algebra help” turns up over 5,000 videos.  The possibilities go on from there.  What student wouldn’t benefit from utilizing this great resource?

internet for educationAdditionally, the people who run YouTube, recognizing the value of education in social media, just launched a companion site called YouTube EDU.  According to The Official YouTube Blog (http://youtube-global.blogspot.com/2009/03/higher-education-for-all.html), the EDU site will be hosting videos from various colleges, including MIT and Yale.  Among other things, the videos will consist of “cutting-edge research and lectures by professors and world-renowned thought leaders.”  The potential benefits of bringing together great academic minds from all over the world are endless.  It has the potential to generate new ideas, speed up research, and promote cross-cultural cooperation in academic areas.  As technology expands more and more, so, too, does the circle in which scientists and other intellectuals work.  The leading thinkers of our time increasingly have the world at their fingertips, and the new YouTube EDU site will add yet another layer to that amazing process.

internet for educationYouTube isn’t the only social media site that can and has been used for education.  An article published in March 2008 on CollegeDegree.com entitled “The Facebook Classroom: 25 Facebook Apps That Are Perfect for Online Education” lists software applications, known as “apps,” that can help students have a more productive school life.  The apps include Flashcards which allows students to create customized flashcards on FaceBook; Notely which organizes a student’s calendar, notes, and assignments; and Study Groups which allows students to form online study groups.  These are only a few of the many educational apps that are available on FaceBook to students around the world.  While it is true that students can choose to use FaceBook as a means to chat with their friends or entertain themselves rather than do their homework, they also have the option to use it to enhance their school experience, knowledge, and, consequently, their grades.  It is up to them to choose how to best utilize this social media site to benefit them.

internet good or evilLike YouTube and FaceBook, Twitter can also be used as an educational tool.  People might overlook Twitter’s education potential because of the fact that it is a “microblog,” meaning that users can only post very short messages (140 characters or less).  However, great things often come in small packages.  Many prestigious institutions already use Twitter, and a quick subscription to these accounts could prove to be extremely educational.  For instance, The Library of Congress, the largest library in the world according to their Twitter page (@librarycongress), tweets links to their blog posts about such things as book discussions and lectures, new collections being added to or displayed at the library, and online exhibits.  (Twitter accounts are identified by an “@” symbol in front of the user name, and when someone puts information on the internet via Twitter, it is called “tweeting.”)

nasa twitterNASA, the National Aeronautics and Space Administration (@nasa), links back to educational material on their website via Twitter.  They also tweet mission updates and launch countdowns (“T minus 5 minutes and counting”), which put the subscriber right in the middle of the action.  The Grammar Girl Twitter page (@grammargirl) is run by Mignon Fogarty who wrote “Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing” a New York Times bestselling book about grammar.  She offers quick tips like, “You shouldn’t have semicolons in your list unless the list items themselves contain commas.” She also answers specific questions from people regarding grammar.

Twitter has made large institutions, authors, and other educational sources easily accessible to average people around the world.  Twitter’s educational potential doesn’t stop there, either.  Some instructors are starting to use it as an active part of their classroom:  instructors like David Parry, an assistant professor at the University of Texas at Dallas.  According to a January 2008 article in Wired Campus titled “A Professor’s Tips for Using Twitter in the Classroom,” Parry felt that the instantly accessible Twitter messages brought his classroom together as a community.  He stated, “It was the single thing that changed the classroom dynamics more than anything I’ve ever done teaching.”

In a related blog post by Parry in January 2008 on the website academHack, Parry lists the ways in which Twitter could be potentially useful to the academic world.  These include tracking words, events, conferences, and people (such as professionals in a given field); instant feedback for students wanting clarification on a subject or assignment (other students can respond instantly to their question); and as a public notepad which Parry states is particularly useful for creative-type classes.

computers in schoolAdditionally, Twitter in the classroom is not just for higher education.  According to a June 2008 article in Education Week titled “Educators Test the Limits of Twitter Microblogging Tool,” George Mayo, an eighth grade English teacher in Maryland, is also using Twitter as an education tool.  He used Twitter to create a collaborative story written by his students, as well as students from six different countries around the world.  Mike Ice, a second grade teacher from Kentucky, uses Twitter in the classroom and has students prepare brief reports about their daily activities that their parents can then see, according to an article titled “Districts Change Policies to Embrace Twitter, Facebook” in Education Week.  Although the number of schools embracing social media is relatively low right now, it is likely to expand as more and more faculty members become aware of the educational bonuses in implementing all of the educational tools they have at hand.  Our schools and students cannot help but benefit when technology is put to use as a force for good.

Fortunately, people with a strong desire to learn do not have to wait for their local schools to catch up.  There is a wealth of educational information already available online through sites like YouTube, FaceBook, and Twitter.  Although the rapid growth of technology can sometimes feel like it is going to overwhelm us, by focusing in on the ways we can use it to our benefit, we can educate ourselves as to the opportunities all around us.

How do you use social media and the internet to improve your life?  Comments welcome.

Works Cited

 “Higher Education for All “. “The Official YouTube Blog”. YouTube. March 27, 2010 <http://youtube-global.blogspot.com/2009/03/higher-education-for-all.html&gt;.

“The Facebook Classroom: 25 Facebook Apps That Are Perfect for Online Education”. “CollegeDegree.com”. Accredited Online Colleges. March 26, 2010 <http://www.collegedegree.com/library/college-life/15-facebook-apps-perfect-for-online-education&gt;.

“@LibraryCongress”. Library of Congress. March 27, 2010 <http://twitter.com/librarycongress&gt;.

“@NASA”. National Aeronautics and Space Administration. March 27, 2010 <http://twitter.com/nasa&gt;.

“@GrammarGirl”. The Grammar Girl. March 27, 2010 <http://twitter.com/grammargirl&gt;.

Young, Jeff. “A Professor’s Tips for Using Twitter in the Classroom”. Wired Campus. March 25, 2010 <http://chronicle.com/blogPost/A-Professor-s-Tips-for-Using/3643&gt;.

Parry, David. “Twitter for Academia”. academHack. March 25, 2010 <http://academhack.outsidethetext.com/home/2008/twitter-for-academia/&gt;.

Ash, Katie. “Educators Test the Limits of Twitter Microblogging Tool”. Education Week. March 25, 2010 <http://www.edweek.org/dd/articles/2008/06/24/01twitter_web.h02.html&gt;.

“Districts Change Policies to Embrace Twitter, Facebook “. Education Week. March 25, 2010 <http://www.edweek.org/login.html?source=http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/03/17/25twitter.h29.html&destination=http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2010/03/17/25twitter.h29.html&levelId=2100&gt;.

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