Online social networking tools and services support communication, collaboration and sharing in ways that have transformed how people interact with family, friends, co-workers, commercial and government organisations. It's now ubiquitous and has already had a significant impact on learning and teaching.
Connected mobile devices have given people access to, and even some control over these networks, as new ways of sharing information and content have democratised ownership of information and knowledge.
Despite all of this, there are still people who are unable to take advantage of these technologies through lack of empowerment, poverty, access or inclination.
Enhancing student interaction and learning
Educational institutions have been using web-based technologies and social networking technology such as email for years. Increasingly, they provide students with administrative information, such as timetables, reminders and requests for information.
Many educators have already adopted social networking technologies to support learning and teaching through the use of wikis, blogs and specific services such as Twitter, Facebook, and Google+, and through content sharing sites such as Flickr and Pinterest. These technologies and services can support face-to-face learning as well as online learning, but their adoption is likely to enhance online learning most.
In particular, these tools support a ‘connectivist’ approach to teaching and learning, where social networking and connecting form an integral part of student interactions.
Social networking technologies can be challenging for institutions for all the same reasons as any non-institutionally controlled technology. However, the educational benefits of these technologies may be easier to articulate due to their worldwide acceptance and use, and they can be integrated into existing curricula without major change or re-validation.
Our guide to collaborative online tools describes how these can help students develop an online presence and begin to create a professional identity, to start building professional networks and online portfolios, and to understand how social networking supports real professional practice.
These technologies can be used to extend the relationships that students may normally have; they enable input from previous students and external professionals and experts outside the institution. This does change the role of course teachers somewhat, and can initially be threatening to those staff and students who are more comfortable with closed, safer spaces.
Consideration should also be given to online safety, but this can be incorporated into digital literacy elements of the course.
Recording activity and evidence gathering
An advantage of social networking technologies is that many of them record activity and this can be mapped and tracked to help educators gather evidence to support their ongoing use or to argue for extended use.
Courses may become known by their hashtag as in the case of '#ds106' the open digital storytelling class which began at the University of Mary Washington and has spread across institutions worldwide.
The same tools can help academic and other professional staff build their own professional identities and profiles and share learning practice, research and content online. Specialist services such as LinkedIn, and academia.edu are also useful.
|Barriers||What you can do|
|Central IT services limit or prevent use of social networking software.||Include innovative teaching approaches in strategy and policy|
|Engage staff in the benefits of use, for learners, institutional marketing and for branding|
|Identify academic and senior management champions|
Gather evidence of benefits through small, measurable pilots.
|Staff don’t have the skills to use social networking software to support learning and teaching.||Provide staff engagement and training opportunities|
|Join free open online courses offered by other academics to practise use in a learning context.|
|Difficulties with managing content generated through social networking.||Use aggregation services to collate and present content|
|Consider alternative services as back up.|
|Students may struggle to use personal technologies and services effectively in an educational context.||Highlight the benefits of creating a 'professional' digital identity|
|Incorporate this within digital literacy elements of the course or class.|
- 1 Using social media to link theory and practice - http://digitalstudent.jiscinvolve.org/wp/files/2015/01/DS27-Using-social...
- 2 Snapping and tweeting from the chemistry lab - digitalstudent.jiscinvolve.org/wp/files/2015/01/DS28-Snapping-and-tweeting-from-the-chemistry-lab.pdf