Social Media Tools for Education: Public or Purpose-Built?

In a previous blog entry I argued how social media and the use of social media can have a great impact on students, particularly in the areas of developing key skills such as “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”.

Given that, the next natural question is: Should schools use the public social media systems such as Twitter and Facebook, or should they use a more education-specific set of tools? Should they use publicly hosted tools and systems or build some in-house? The answer is far from cut and dried, and a lot of the evaluation will depend on the school’s priorities and capabilities (and in some cases, local and national regulations).

Using the popular (and public) social media surely has its advantages. Advantages such as the fact that students (to a large degree) are already using these tools and are quite familiar with them. Another advantage is that these are professionally run, accessible from anywhere and for the most part are free (always a good thing, especially in the current tough economic time and budget cuts). Some of the education-focused systems (although possibly not as popular as the big public tools) also share a lot of these attributes.

The evaluation of which tool or set of tools to use has to go beyond this superficial examination and address some of the key functional, operational and administrative requirements of the schools in light of the school’s capabilities, limitation and applicable regulations.

First, the school should be able to manage students’ accounts, at a minimum schools should make sure that all students have accounts. Though this is not a natural feature of many public social media tools, there are ways to get a lot of this done. Google in particular shines here by having an education offering allowing schools to administer accounts.

Another consideration is that the systems should also be evaluated against the school’s strategy and requirements in terms of what functionality should be present. Would a single integrated system providing the majority of requirements be preferable to using disparate tools that collectively can provide all of the requirements?

Where things get a lot tougher, is where we need the teacher to have the ability to monitor kids’ contribution to a discussion or project, enforce a certain work flow to how assignments and deliverables are processed and other aspects of the teacher being involved beyond being an equal participant as students are. To some schools this is a critical ability and hence should form a solid part of the evaluation process.

However, the areas where things get a lot more interesting is around the areas of managing the “intellectual property” that is generated and having that (as well as potentially ALL the material shared, used and generated) survive the group that generated that material. As students and teachers collaborate and generate projects, information, knowledge and other intellectual property (IP), that IP should be preserved and used with future classes. Some of it will serve as best practices (even in the sense of showing kids what a bad example looks like) and some will serve as learning tools and resources that should be indexed and tagged as the school deems useful and made available to future students. All this should be done while observing privacy laws.

All the above (as well as other aspects of evaluation, some of which may be very case-specific) should go into the evaluation process before the right decision can be made.

Having said that, if, for whatever reason, the evaluation process and decision making is gong to take a long time, I would definitely recommend using some of the readily available public social media tools while the evaluation is taking place. As long as the applicable laws allow it, there is no need to delay student’s access to the tools that will facilitate them practicing collaboration, teamwork and the other skills mentioned above in a school setting.

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One Response to Social Media Tools for Education: Public or Purpose-Built?

  1. Good post. A key issue around all this is one that many schools ignore (mine has)–training teachers on how to use new media tools. I do a lot of computer stuff outside of school, so I can pick things up–but many teachers do not. My students have used facebook and other internet sites during class to converse with pen pals from across the globe, find what an apricot looks like (she was critiquing a poem about them), and look up Spanish words in the Chicano book we are reading. Of course, our school policy is that they can’t even have their cell phones turned on in the school. Yeah, right. Thanks!

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