The Allure of Social Media in Academia

It is the number one topic heard when college faculty congregate.  Shouldn’t cell phones and laptops be banned from classrooms? [Must be phrased this way for the professor to get an affirmative answer.]

Just a couple of years ago, technology and web 2.0 were to be the saviors of higher education.  Now they are the roots of all evil.  How did this happen?

It is easy to see why students use whatever tool is close at hand to access their fave social media app.  Mine is Youtube.  However, Facebook, Tweeting, or texting might be yours.

Many social media apps are extremely appealing and addictive.  Just how alluring?  Watch this Youtube clip with the sound turned up.  It is sure to yank you into a singing and dancing fit.  Students will follow the beat of this song anywhere, right away from the classroom (and so would I).   [ To view the clip, click on the following image.  You will be taken offsite to Youtube.  When done watching the clip, please hit your browser's "back" button to return here and read the rest of this post.]

Lynn Rose tweeting during "Everybody Tweet Tweet"

I found a comment on Facebook.  College_girl1 writes on College_girl2’s wall, “I just love how you update your status during class.”  College_girl1’s post also is timestamped during class.

Killer social media apps are SEXY!  There is a time and place for social media–college students use social media anytime and anyplace.

Professors talking away in class are not sexy.  I’ve never heard of a professor showing up in lingerie (doubt the old flabby bodies would be considered sexy).  It is a rare professor who will receive a red hot chili pepper on Ratemyprofessors.com.  Much of the time, students award these in jest.

Bucking the trend, I encourage students to bring a laptop to class.  In one course, 22 out of 22 bring it.  I queried them as to what percentage of a class period they used social media for non-class purposes.  The median response was 45%, and it’s safe to surmise that many underreported their percentage.  Is 45% too much?   How should I act on that knowledge?

Student use of laptops in class as reported by Professor Michael Wesch of Kansas State University

It is safe to say that when a professor runs a teacher-centered class (lecture-test), students actually tune out the professor for a sizable percentage of a class period.  Student recall, comprehension and application of a professor’s lecture content is pitifully low.  Professors don’t get upset because students appear to be listening.  Daydreaming with eyes open looks OK.

However, it is another thing when students obviously tune out by using a computer or cell phone.  Professors are offended.  They call it disrespect and disgrace.  Actually, their pride is hurt.  How dare students do that to them?  The obvious response is to ban laptops and blackberries/smart phones/cell phones from class.  Good riddance!

To be sure, my pride was hurt when I saw the 45% number.  In response, I simply asked students to scale it back to a lower percentage.  Is that the best response?

I don’t know how to solve the problem of students disengaging from class through using their laptops or phones.  I know, though, that the horse has left the barn and professors will simply need to learn to deal with it.  Banning is not an option, because it prevents students from receiving the many good benefits of using a computer during class.

Perhaps I should just learn how to engage students with computer use.

Students, what do you think about unrelated use of laptops or phones during class.  I hope you leave a comment to this post.

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Filed under Faculty issues, Social Media

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