Saturday, July 5, 2014

Social media: a blessing or a curse to institutions of higher learning

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The wealth of communication possibilities available through social media is unmatched. However, there have been concerns raised regarding the effects of social media on learning in the universities. A good number of these effects are positive but there are as well negative impacts accruing from students’ interaction with social media. For example, the social media platform provides unbridled socialisation through which instructors and students can become innovative and imaginatively recreate better learning models. They can do this by posting questions, engaging in online discourses and where possible sharing their research findings and insights for enhanced knowledge dissemination.   
Social media interactions can also improve students’ critical thinking skills. This can best be illustrated by the fact that social media encourages collaborations as opposed to individualistic approaches to problem solving. An online group discussion therefore provides a student with divergent views that require him/her to digest proffered options before making a decision thus horning out the student’s power to examine scenarios before drawing conclusions. Moreover, social media provides an avenue to use graphics, personalise work and adopt other appealing tools that can exceedingly serve to rope in students into subjects that they had initially expressed disdain for.
Furthermore, it is possible for students to integrate classroom learning with peer interactions amassed from outside classroom contexts. This can be argued to be a positive element that serves to prepare the students for situations that demand skill application as opposed to mere theorising. Also, if properly utilised, social media can provide enhanced interpersonal skills and a feedback mechanism that can make it easy for instructors to monitor student progress and provide personalised engagements for the benefit of the learners.
On the contrary, social media can be detrimental to education in institutions of higher learning. If incorporated into the curricular, the instructors might make the assumption that the social media types they adopt are convenient for their students. This is not necessarily true because we all have varied interests and our knowledge of computers and other modes of technological interactions are different. In our case, it is possible that required gadgets for social media use may not even be accessible let alone affordable.
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Chances of students getting distracted from the core business of the course are high and prevalent. The assumption is that social media is highly stimulating and both the instructors and learners can get swayed especially when they are actively engaged in online learning. Such off-topic engagements can derail the learning outcomes and eventually affect the students’ GPA. This means that students will essentially find it difficult to finish assignments and their course work thereof. Also, social media thrives on truncation of words owing to space limitations and students’ language skills are consequently impaired by the repeated use of corrupted codes of communication.

In addition, social media is difficult to regulate and one cannot overrule the chances of cyber theft, bullying, abuse, plagiarism etc. There are of course other forms of addictive behaviour like gaming, chatting, or possibly pornographic engagements. But, technological advancement is here to stay and these challenges cannot be wished away. Thus it is prudent for educators to adopt a hands-on-approach to the use of social media and ensure that the learning process is not only collaborative but one that encourages creativity even as it sustains academic integrity. 
  *This article was earlier printed in Daystar Connect, a Daystar University Publication. To purchase a copy, contact the Corporate Affairs Department at


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