Though these sessions differed in style, and their speakers came from varied fields, each presenter illustrated different ways in which social media is being used to enhance education and create a range of opportunities for both students and teachers alike.
By Matthew Labrooy
The social media theme began with Enhancing Participatory Culture: How to Design International Collaboration with Social and Mobile Media? Ilona Buchem along with three of her students demonstrated their work as part of the ‘Icollaborate project’ in which they used Mahara, a social media platform, to aggregate the produced content, document their findings, blog their opinions and importantly receive peer feedback from other students all over the world.
It was discovered that though Mahara was a ‘new media’ for all students, it operated similar to many of the more popular social websites, thus it was easy for students to assimilate themselves into documenting and sharing their projects on this platform. The students were positive about the use of Mahara and, in particular the ability to receive praise and constructive criticism from other students of diverse cultures, which was seen as hugely motivating and important. The initiative is to be replicated in future programs at Beuth University.
The next session to provide commentary on the use of social media in education was Facebook for Education: Passing or Failing the Test? This session discussed the successes as well as the dangers of students using social media as part of their education.
Providing a valuable presentation of ‘lessons learned’ Colin Gray of Edinburgh University explained how instead of using an existing social network such as Facebook, a social network called ‘Napier Exchange’ was built, so students and teachers could collaborate and share. While similar to Facebook it allowed teacher and students also to blog, create wiki’s, share documents and have discussion groups. Napier Exchange has had unprecedented success, in particular with the rich student-teacher discussions.
On the trail of Napier exchange’s success, Nick Kearney explained how using an existing platform, Facebook, was not successful. This was explained by the social media website’s association with leisure time and fun; students were very talkative but never produced any materials. Kearney explains that “Facebook is a social space, and not a work space… it is not good for structure, but very good for communication.”
The final social media specific session was Social Media: A Teaching and Learning Experience with Facebook, one of several ‘learning cafes’ that were popular at ONLINE EDUCA BERLIN. The session was aimed towards educators and with a tagline as bold as ‘how to implement Social Media into your teaching without increasing your own workload’ it had a popular turnout.
This was more than a simple session where the speakers present their latest findings. Participants were encouraged to discuss the topics in groups with the presenter acting as a guide and mediator between groups. This workshop was of particular importance as it countered the previous session’s argument that Facebook was a poor platform for education because of its close link with ‘social time’. Wim Oostindier explained his success using Facebook and Twitter with his language-learning students, by utilising the websites as continual reservoirs of knowledge and information – even after the course was finished.
The success that Wim Oostindier had using Facebook and Twitter, which was in sharp contrast with the failures observed by Nick Kearney can be explained by the differing usage by their students. Oostindier used Facebook as an educational ‘supplement’ and a way for motivated students to continue their learning, long after classes were over. On the contrary, Kearney’s example of Facebook’s failure as an educational tool had students thrown into a vast pool of strangers, telling them to start socialising and forming groups, a very different and ultimately disastrous approach.
The sessions heard many stories of success as well as a few failures, but the overarching opinion of using social media as an educational tool, was extremely positive. Educators walked away from the session with the knowledge that though social media changes the focus of education from single person to groups, the students’ individual learning experience is enhanced through collaboration and informal learning with their peers.