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Is Social Media Really Bad For Students?

Can Students Who Use Social Media Concentrate For A Whole 1200-word Article? Read On To Find Out …

Right, are you concentrating? We’re going to talk about social media. Things like Facebook and Twitter and how they are changing the way we communicate and the way we think. OK? Do you want to take a break now and check your messages? What’s that, you’re good for a few minutes? That’s great, but if you need to stop and tweet, just say so.

Social media has changed the way we interact and communicate which means that it has changed us: our identities and our personalities. Amazingly, this level of global communication worries some people – as does the fact the devices that we use to connect are portable, so can come into the classroom or workplace with us. We’re going to have a look at some of these changes, and some of the attitudes to them – particularly when it comes to education.

The phenomenon may be new and strange to a lot of us, but today’s generation of students has grown up with social media. What does their intimacy with these platforms mean for their academic progress? Does it help or hinder their studies?

New smartphones arrive
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 The first thing to point out when it comes to social media is that it has allowed a new level of connection, even if it is virtual. The number of online forums, the development of smartphones and the regularity with which we use these social media means that what we have to say can be transmitted almost instantly, at any time, to everyone we know and to some we don’t know. Very quickly we have learnt to take this for granted but if you think about it, it’s a truly amazing development.

Many older people see this as a Bad Thing. They have lived long enough to know that much of what we say isn’t worth telling everyone. In a real social situation, you would quickly learn from people’s reactions that your dumb comment was just that. You wouldn’t for instance – or most people wouldn’t – show someone a photograph of what you ate for dinner last night. Yet people think nothing of posting these snaps on Facebook or Tweeting them, and a study backs up the fact that teens who use Facebook more often show narcissistic tendencies¹, as well as other psychological disorders. Many of these disorders are related to compulsive use of social media, something to which teachers and professors as we will see, can testify. So social media can be blamed for making people: a) think that what they say is always interesting and b) say it compulsively – a dangerous combination! When we go to Facebook a fair proportion of what we read is, let’s face it, … (enter rude word here). We waste a lot of time.

However, not all the effects of social media are pathological. The same study also found that young adults who spend more time on Facebook are better at showing ‘virtual empathy’ to online friends. A recent trend is for social media sites to expand from general interest to more specific uses that are often of social benefit, such as sites dealing with medical or behavioural problems where users share information and support each other.

Apps aimed at students
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Many critics of social media point out that it encourages people to share information unwisely. Not only may they be vulnerable to hacking and cyber-bullying but they may be too inexperienced to realize how what they post may, years later, come back to haunt them when e.g. they are married and holding down a responsible job.

This means that people begin from a young age to ‘curate’ their online presence; this can be viewed positively. According to Kate Brodick, executive director of Digital and Social Media at Syracuse University, using social media enables you to “showcase your knowledge” as well as stay on top of social trends:

Thinking about how to use social media professionally while you’re still in school, you can position yourself as forward-thinking,  forge stronger industry connections, and strengthen your on-paper credentials”

Brodick believes that competence in managing and exploiting social media tools is a modern necessity. Maintaining your identity online uses essential skills that are just as important as getting to grips with Word for Windows was 20 years ago, or learning to drive a car still is today.

Apps on your tablet
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It is, of course, difficult to fully judge the effects of social media, as it is all still pretty new. For every study that suggests a link to brain disorders, increased social isolation and indolence, another will highlight a reduction in health problems and enhanced computer skills. The jury is most definitely still out.

Hey! Are you ok? Do you need to check Facebook, yet? No? Wow, that’s some concentration span you’ve got!

As we were saying, these new media forms cause much debate. This is particularly obvious in the education sector where attempts to manage social media usage range from imposing outright bans to embracing the technology wholeheartedly. The views of Guy Sanderson, a teacher of English as a Foreign Language (EFL) in Bedford, are undoubtedly echoed by many:

Concentration spans are miniscule, especially amongst younger learners. They are constantly checking their phones and of course this impacts on learning. However, EFL teachers have always employed as many visual and multi-media tools as we are able, because learning in a  foreign language is tiring for students. Hence, most of us are big on social media. Bookmarking sites like pinterest.com and delicious.com are fantastic for collaborative work and for maintaining             momentum in the learning cycle.”

Students, both those in conventional institutions and the growing numbers who study via the Internet, are already used to online learning environments such as Moodle, and the range and ingenuity of social sites and smartphone apps means, as Sanderson says “there are no longer any walls to the classroom”. Students interact anywhere, and study that way too. They are developing ideas in and out of class.

Students of today
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The key to making the best use of social media for students as well as for the rest of us is: just be selective! Social sites are fun, they’ve changed our world and if they were no good, we wouldn’t use them. We have seen how they are being put to use in ways that are socially and educationally useful. However, social media can undoubtedly be ‘addictive’ in the same way that alcohol or gambling can be. A study for onlineeductation.net found that the grades of students who checked Facebook while studying were 20% lower than those who didn’t³.

Ultimately, we all know when we should be focusing on the job in hand instead of playing with social media. It may be that the growth of these new forms of communication and networking  have taken us a little by surprise and we are still negotiating our relationship with them. Eventually, we will probably find that we settle into a routine that suits us and does not take away our ability to communicate with people in the way we used to. And we will look back and wonder what all the fuss was about.

Phew! That’s it, you did it! No more reading. You can check your messages NOW. So how was it for you?

All our tutors at the Brighton School of Business and Management employ online environments to interact with students, sharing knowledge, providing feedback and assisting with projects. Learn more about the range of internationally-accredited online business and management courses we offer at www.brightonsbm.com.

¹ Kate Brodick – ‘9 ways students can use social media to boost their jobs’  / mashable.com  / Aug 2011

² “Poke Me: How Social Networks Can Both Help and Harm Our Kids,” Larry D. Rosen, PhD, Professor of Psychology, California State University / Aug 2011

³ poll for onlineeducation.net / April 2011

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