The vaunted halls of academia move slowly and cautiously. Research is produced, reviewed, and vetted to be given credibility, and there are times when this deliberate pace poses problems for professors, philosophical, pedagogical or otherwise. But the rise of social media may change that. With social media becoming increasingly pervasive on college campuses, in classrooms and in dormitories, a shift in how higher education approaches the medium is under way, if at a much slower rate than in the professional world.
Josh Sternberg takes a very interesting look at the ways in which social media impacts education in the Atlantic. But all of the professors interviewed by Sternberg are really talking about how to teach social media skills (as well as the value of mastering them) to their students — and maybe also to their colleagues. No one’s really talking about how to use social media to teach more traditional subjects.
And that, of course, is what principally interests me. Most of my students aren’t really interested in learning how to be more effective Twitter users or bloggers; as Sternberg rightly points out, it’s a myth that most of them are using Twitter or writing blog posts at all. These students are interested in politics and/or political science, and my goal in using Twitter in my political theory class is to highlight for them that the internet can be a powerful educational tool rather than something built exclusively for online gaming or showing pictures to friends. In other words, using social media in a classroom provides an educational lesson that goes hand-in-hand with the material that we’re studying: I can demonstrate the way in which online communities can be built around specific interests and (I think/I hope) I can also show that discussions held in these virtual meeting spaces can directly impact the way we think about some topic or other of political importance.
This is the crucial piece that’s missing — at the moment — from Sternberg’s excellent article. Social media isn’t just something to teach because students (and perhaps faculty) will need to use it in their careers from this point forward; it’s something that faculty can use in their teaching of more traditional topics.