Is social media the next big tool for the classroom or just a distraction for personal use? In October 2012 Pearson Learning Solutions and the Babson Survey Research Group released a study titled Blogs, Wikis, Podcasts and Facebook: How Today’s Higher Education Faculty Use Social Media that provides a glimpse into the changing social media trends among faculty at colleges and universities around the country. The study surveyed participants about social media in their personal and professional lives as well as in how they teach.
As one might guess, Facebook is easily the most visited social media site for personal usage, and nearly two-thirds of faculty surveyed frequented it at least monthly. Overall use of Twitter ranks much lower at under ten percent. Age seems to be the highest correlating factor to high rates of social media usage. Over 80 percent of faculty younger than 35 years of age use social media as compared to usage rates of 54 percent in those 55 or older. In regards to discipline, those teaching in the Humanities and Arts have the highest use of social media (70 percent) according to the study.
For professional use, the social networking site LinkedIn is especially growing among faculty. In the year 2012, 24 percent of faculty reported using LinkedIn a notable jump from the 18 percent who reported using it in 2011. On the other hand, professional use of Facebook declined from 30 percent to 19 percent over the last year. One explanation offered by the Pearson and Babson study suggests that as professors become more savvy users of social media, they are becoming specialized in how they select and employ all of the various social media tools available. Whereas Facebook is extremely popular for personal use, faculty may have concerns about mixing personal social networking in with their professional lives. Just as LinkedIn has grown in the business community, faculty members seeking a more polished online presence have moved towards LinkedIn for their professional networking needs.
Social media might be suitable for the personal and professional lives of faculty, but how are they using it in the college classroom? As with personal usage, age is a common indicator of which faculty members are employing social media as an instructional tool. According to the study, 41 percent of faculty members under the age of 35 teach with social media; whereas only 30 percent of those over 55 years of age report using social media in the classroom. Facebook and LinkedIn are popular for personal and professional use, but faculty members favor using blogs, wikis, and podcasts in teaching. The highest rates of usage occur in the disciplines of Humanities and Arts, Professions and Applied Science, and Social Sciences, while the Fundamental Sciences note a lack of suitable content on social media. Likewise, faculty teaching online classes are at least five percent more likely to use social media than are those teaching face-to-face.
While used less for teaching than for other areas, the Pearson and Babson survey suggests that social media can lend itself to more active learning strategies in the classroom. According to the study, the highest level of social media interaction between students and faculty occurs when students are required to create their own new social media content or react by posting comments in reply to course content. Blogs and wikis appear to be the most popular tools for this type of active participation in online learning.
Faculty using social media in their teaching also commonly treat it as a supplementary source of information. The use of video in teaching is nearly ubiquitous with over 80 percent of faculty incorporating videos into their classes. Most instructors require their students to watch videos outside of class, and a full one-quarter of those surveyed ask students to create their own videos. Videos used in class come from a variety of sources, but most are found online through web searches or the recommendations of other faculty. A smaller number of faculty reports using institutional video repositories or creating their own video content.
Do faculty members believe that social media has a place in higher education today? The survey indicates a mixed response at best. While social media usage is increasing, many professors still perceive large barriers. Privacy is the number one concern reported by faculty with little difference relative to the user’s age. Some reasons for privacy concerns may be attributed to difficulty understanding the privacy policies of social networking sites or to discomfort about what students may share through social media. Other barriers to social media in higher education include concerns about the integrity of student submissions, a lack of social media integration into learning management systems, and the amount of time social media can consume. On an interesting side note, time concerns dropped by 20 percent from 2011 to 2012 suggesting that faculty are becoming more proficient social media users or perceiving the time spent on it as more valuable than they have in the past.
So what is the future of social media in the realm of higher education? Similar to trends in the general population, personal and professional use of sites like Facebook and LinkedIn by faculty aren’t likely to decrease any time soon. However, it may be some time before we see a majority of faculty using any of the current options in their teaching. One possibility may be that developers need to design new social networks specifically tailored for educational use before we see widespread adoption of social media into college courses. Could new arrivals like Learni.st and My Blackboard suggest that this trend is already beginning?
Are you an avid user of social media or are you still not so sure? Please leave a comment with your thoughts and feel free to contact the La Salle University instructional design team for any of your educational technology support needs.