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Using social Media to improve learning

Randall F. Clemens

Last week, I discussed the use of social media to collect data and improve trustworthiness. In this blog, I talk about the benefits and pitfalls of social media to improve learning. 

I want to begin with a few underlying assumptions: First, standing still is not an appropriate strategy to improve underperforming schools and districts. The world is moving faster than ever. A trademark of successful schools is not only the ability to manage the massive challenges of day-to-day operations but also anticipate and embrace educational innovation, including technology. 

Second, schools in general and learning in particular are changing. Brick and mortar schools become less important every day. This is both good and bad news. The open source movement has the potential to democratize knowledge. Even students attending the worst schools will have access. That’s the good news. The bad news is that the most underperforming schools will most likely be the last to adopt digital learning and teach the skills necessary to capitalize on digital learning opportunities. Just as we have seen with charter schools, unequal implementation will lead to uneven opportunity. Counter to the hope of the movement, the participation gap may exacerbate the achievement gap. 

Education is changing, and that leads to uncertainty. School administrators have responded by prohibiting social media use in schools and establishing guidelines for use outside of schools. Reasons include the need to govern access to inappropriate content and guard against inappropriate interactions between teachers and student. I view these responses as shortsighted. Rather than dealing with social media, administrators are ignoring it. S. Craig Watkins recently discussed the problems with current technology use policies. Most importantly, the hardline stances illustrate the growing divide between how people interact and learn outside of school and what they do inside of school. 

Education is changing. Schools that incorporate blended learning like USC’s Hybrid High, School of the Future, and High Tech High are setting the standard for educational innovation. Informed uses of technology have the ability to improve access to and facilitate learning for all students. However, school administrators and teachers must first have the courage to embrace change. The transition will not go smoothly and will include failures. Sometimes, though, the reward is worth the risk. Besides, what’s the alternative? Stand pat? Defend the status quo? As far as I can tell, change is the only option.