What can I learn via social media?

Ullas Ponnadi

Social media provides us with powerful means of communication channels that have broken many a communication barrier, and brought people across geographies close to each other. Facebook, WhatsApp, Telegram, LinkedIn, SoundCloud, and numerous such platforms have ensured that what we think and speak and sing and dance and emote, are now instantly shareable, across the world!

Social media’s design and charm is all about instant sharing of emotions. What used to take days and often weeks a decade ago, via letters routed through physical means of transport, and deeper conversation that were possible only via physical meetings, is now being replaced using instant mode of audio and visual communication methods.

social-media-management Like a double edged world, social media has its unpleasant side effects. The desire to instantly check for messages, and likes and comments can lead to serious forms of addiction. The old world of gossip, that used to spread much slower, is now reaching epic proportions and getting instant reach. Instead of worrying about what harm it can cause, let us look at the brighter side of things and understand how social media can be used effectively in the field of teaching and learning.

The article that follows is an attempt to classify and document such findings, and also enhance and support the observed findings, via direct feedback from teachers, parents and students, on their personal and positive use of social media.

Social media forums/groups/channels/platforms
Today, every child is aware of WhatsApp, Facebook and YouTube. Most children starting class 8th or even lower make use of these for casual and more serious discussions. For serious discussions and business conversations, Skype and Google Hangouts are the most preferred forms. There are also other secure and exclusive services provided for a fee.

We will look at these in detail in the topics that follow.

Typical activities done by children via social media
There is great power in collaborative learning. The term “combined studies” which was so common some time ago is still prevalent among students. Conversations, discussions and arguments and exchange of information, in a more free environment, when compared to a classroom, can lead to many interesting forms of learning and trigger innovative thinking.

Social media has extended the reach of such collaborative learning and allowed the same method to be now ported to the convenience of a device that is present with the child. Collaborative learning thus becomes easier, given that participants can be reached instantly, at any point of time, and across the globe!

whatsapp-logo But there are challenges. WhatsApp and Facebook have been designed as pure social media platforms, where people share anything and everything. By default, posts are public and visible to anyone, unless we set the appropriate security rights. This is fine for casual conversations, but not for more formal communication.

Let us take a look at how these platforms and channels can be used for more serious conversations.

Privacy rules and protected groups
It is very easy to create closed groups, which will ensure that discussions and exchange of notes remain within that specific group. This is possible in both WhatsApp and Facebook and also other forms of social media.

Once such a group is created and a group administrator designated (can be a parent or a teacher), formal exchanges can start happening. The administrator can act as the moderator and set the etiquette for communication. For example, it is very tempting to forward funny jokes and unconnected videos and audios to such a group. It is also tempting to get into casual conversations amid serious discussions. This disrupts the work of the group, its building of knowledge, and can be distracting!

To prevent this happening, the moderator must set basic rules, and ensure that the group exchanges are only for the purpose for which it was created. This can be easily done and memberships can be restricted or cancelled in case of repeat violations.

Conversations can then be archived. In addition, for more permanent storage of information, articles, reference materials, etc., an external free internet site (for example: a WordPress site) can be created, where such information can be catalogued and stored and then referenced from such groups.

skype Skype for education
Skype was primarily designed for business communication. Along with its audio/video conferencing capability and the ability to share select screens from computers, this application provides a powerful method for exchanging information, especially for short, business conversations.

Skype is also being used by many tutors across the world to personally tutor students, combining the power of audio and video, and white-boarding software. One on one and one to many tutoring forms are possible, for tutors to direct and help students.

Microsoft was running a series of campaigns a few months ago on school based content being available as channels on Skype. Skype is a great way to do audio/video communication, impart remote lessons, and connect with educators across the globe.

Google’s school based collaborative learning
Google Classroom provides a simple way for schools and teachers to create a paperless environment for distributing assignments and also to share website related information as teaching aids.

Anyone with a Gmail account can create a classroom account, and this is a free service for teachers.

YouTube channels
Some of the best content related to education is now available as video channels on YouTube. The content is being created by foundations like the RI Education https://www.youtube.com/user/TheRoyalInstitution/about and also individuals and is free for teachers and students.

Based on the copyright policy most of the content can be downloaded, as learning and teaching aids for schools and students.

Khan-Academy-logo Khan Academy and UnAcademy
For schools and colleges, Khan Academy and UnAcademy provide a more structured form of learning, combining the power of audio and video, classified and catalogued courses, assessments and also discussions and chat forums. The content now covers almost all the areas pertaining to school and college education, and is constantly growing.

Arvind Gupta Films
The site contains some of the best videos and films related to learning science at the school level. Short films that help students and teachers with fundamental concepts of science and then by watching the videos, create fascinating science experiments using ordinary materials that one can find all around!

And last but not the least, Wikipedia can be classified as the world’s first open library, created entirely via crowd sourcing by people like you and me and moderated to a large extent.

Today, Wikipedia has 38 million articles, adds 800 articles each day, and has 18 billion page views each month.

Statistical reach of social media
Statistics are important since it gives us an idea of the power and reach of social media, and usage of hosted content for open learning. Here are some mind boggling numbers:
WhatsApp: 1000 million
Facebook: 1870 million
YouTube: 1000 million
Khan Academy: 40 million students
Wikipedia: 22 million


Let us hear from users!

Let us hear from people across the world; teachers, students and also parents, on their constructive use of social media.

We find Khan Academy e-learning sessions very helpful for our 5th grader to understand and learn math. Every learning module has a video tutorial that is explained in a simple and detailed manner. The child gets an opportunity to practice what’s taught at the end of each session making it a thorough and enjoyable learning experience. – Dinesh Divakaran, Vice President, Kirchoff Automotive, Canada

Well, very good question. Social media (SM) is highly useful. For example a video became viral in SM regarding ingredients in Pepsi & Coca Cola. In FB we have videos like working of electric motor LIDAR, etc., which were very useful me. I used to download and put it on smart board, so that everyone could see it. Some ads appearing on FB as health benefits/tips, stress management, positive thinking, etc., helped me gain information about health and hygiene, how to face challenges, exam fear, etc. The thing is it depends on the teacher as to how he/she is able to exploit the technology. – Rajesh C P, Physics Teacher, Indus Montessori Schools, Kurnool, AP

Social Media keeps people updated these days. You can get information from every corner of the world on a wide variety of issues ranging from science and technology to art and literature to societal issues, politics and economics. Also social media provides a platform where the users are able to interact with each other which in turn facilitates interpersonal learning.

  • We share documents and upload statuses for public awareness
  • University videos as well as educational ones can be shared
  • Coursera can be used to learn different courses online
  • Awareness on internships and job opportunities
  • Certain groups to unite and fight against broad causes
  • WhatsApp class group where you get to know class timings and syllabus details and exam related queries
  • Fb psychology association group where you get awareness on any upcoming information related to the field

– Keerthana Ullas, Student, Master’s in Clinical Psychology, Christ University, Bangalore

Both my children, Pranav and Meenakshi, took German language as part of their CBSE curriculum at Sri Kumaran Children’s Home. German language is not a common choice, with only a handful of schools offering the language as an option. At Kumarans, they have a dedicated faculty member, who teaches German for kids from all grades. The teacher used to innovate much with her methods, creating interactive sessions, offline experiential learning sessions and such. The teacher promoted group learning sessions and sharing avenues, leveraging common social media platforms such as WhatsApp, online learning content such as specific websites, content on YouTube channels, as well as Skype based group learning sessions. As such, these practices are quite common these days. The fact that German language is not a common language choice compared to most other options made the deployment of social media platform and other methods stated above relevant and effective. – Sanjay J K, Director, Ignitarium, Bangalore

  • Yes, WhatsApp has been useful for class teachers in informing children about important announcements, deadlines, submissions, simple queries, informing about leave, etc.
  • Subject teachers have groups where doubts are cleared especially for those students on study leave.
  • It has been useful as children need not travel in this sultry weather and helps other children too.
  • Lab experiments can be demonstrated and described stepwise too prior to carrying them out.
  • I have used several videos from YouTube for concepts such as microarrays, tissue culture, karyotyping, fluorescence microscopy, X-ray diffraction, etc. Several references were made from NCBI, Edmodo, etc.
  • Simple project ideas were used from sites like http://www.sciencebuddies.org/.

– Valsala Valsan, Science Teacher, TOCH School, Kochi

  • Personally I have used Facebook where students have created groups for their respective classes. There we post questions, share notes, discuss answers, etc. Usually these are student run but I have occasionally had some where the professors themselves hosted the group and helped students out.
  • Other than Facebook, another mode of discussion we used was Slack. This is run by the professor who answers questions that the whole class can see. Usually it is organized by different hashtags, people who represent different categories, i.e., chapter questions, lecture questions, administrative questions, etc. You can ask a private question to the professor too. It’s very easy to sign up and delegate and also comes as a mobile app as well.
  • Overall though, our entire University (at least University of Toronto) uses its own server called Blackboard Portal. I think many institutions use this but I’m not sure if it’s a part of “social media” itself. But professors post announcements and upload course materials, discussion board, etc., through this. I’m sure this can be done through Slack as well.
  • For me, Slack was useful the most. Facebook unfortunately promotes procrastination once you’re there so it can be distracting. Slack is specifically just for course content and communication pertaining to that.

– Sreedevi Krishnan, Student, Specialist Program in Psychology Honours, Bachelor of Science, Canada

Arjun’s school uses Google Classroom to post homework and kids interact to clear each other’s doubts. They are required to read Newsela articles for reading comprehension. Last year his teacher used twitter to post homework and reminders for parents.

They use gmail as well to communicate with peers. School events are posted on Facebook and Twitter. – Lekha Saradevi, Corporate Systems Manager at CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, USA

The author is the Director and CTO of CREATNLRN, a venture focussing on creating an adaptive and interactive learning platform for high school students. He can be reached at uponnadi@gmail.com.

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