Can using social media improve math scores? As in TIMSS and PISA standardized test scores? A friend posed the question above as we were debating the topic of education transformation and where education systems were destined to.
What struck me the most about the question is my friend’s total non-appreciation of what social media can do, and more seriously, an apparent disengagement from what a modern education system should bestow upon its students. This attitude of “standardized test scores are what really matter” is an act of narrow-minded denial on the part of educators.
I am not one to argue against knowledge, but rather am a great proponent that knowledge, the ability of the education system to impart knowledge to students and the students ability to comprehend the information being delivered in class and synthesize it into knowledge that they can use later will always be a main stay of any education system. Having said that, this is clearly not enough in today’s world and will be even less “enough” as the world develops.
In addition to core subjects (mathematics, sciences, languages and others), a modern education system has to equip students with the skills they will need to succeed in school, in college, on the job and in their life. Interestingly, these skills are needed irrespective of the future path that a student may take in life, for there is a convergence of skills among the different walks in life. Dr. Tony Wagner of Harvard Graduate School of Education puts it very nicely, “the skills for successful career, the skills for college, and the skills for active and informed citizenship have converged. Students who do not have these skills will be sentenced to a lifetime of marginal employment, and marginal citizenship.” The skills themselves are quite universal for the most part and the majority of researchers are in agreement on the main skills needed.
A number of these skills go to the very heart of social media or, more accurately, the use of social media in education: “collaboration”, “teamwork”, “leading by influence”, “communicating effectively using technology” and lastly, the “ability to formulate a position or point of view on an issue and express it”. This is where social media shines: It enables this; is a natural tool for developing and practicing these; and just as importantly, provide the capability for the school and/or teacher to monitor student’s application of these skills. These skills cannot be taught be lecturing – they can only be learned through practice.
Kids are already using social media today for all kinds of their non-school activities. Activities from planning parties to exam preparation are organized and discussed on Facebook. Updates are sent over Twitter on all sorts of activities, from weekend soccer games to charity drives and community service. Collaboration on non-school projects is happening on social media everyday. As an example, in the recent “The Education Project” conference in Bahrain, a young gentleman who was representing the “voice of the youth” commented how his presentation (which was very well received) was done over Facebook with feedback coming in from all over his social network, young people presenting issues and proposing ways to deal with these issues. All this happened in no time flat and among a group of people some of whom may not have known each other but were brought together by being “friends” with a common individual.
If this and much more is happening over the public social media, why can’t schools and education systems harness it for the benefit of ALL students? Why can’t they facilitate it, monitor it and make sure that all the students are participating and gaining the skills they need to succeed?
This is the value of social media in education. Social media has a great potential in education by encouraging students to develop these key skills that they will need for a successful education and life. They also can add a dimension to learning that is very personal and very authentic. When that happens, kids interest in school and learning is dramatically enhanced. That is an ideal that all education systems should aspire to.
Finally, I’m tempted to pose the question: When students’ attitude and interest in learning is enhanced, wouldn’t that be reflected across all the activities that these students experience in school? Would that include their math scores? What do you know? May be, social media can improve math scores, albeit in an indirect way 🙂