To What Extent Is Social Media Effective in Formal Education?


By Prof Dr. Munaz Ahmed Noor

At the end of the third industrial revolution, social media has become immensely popular. Not only among the youth, but it also has widespread acceptability among people of all age groups. Through social media, we get live streams of events taking place even in the remotest corners of the world. As far as information sharing is concerned today, social media has a more powerful reach than any other medium. By using this media, we can communicate, share knowledge and overall, turn a monologue into a dialogue.

Of the total active users of social media, the number of youth is the highest. Here events posted from anywhere in the world can go viral instantaneously. After reading or watching contents, users can give their opinion. Now the time has come to ponder over how to harness this popular platform with formal education.

However, is it possible that a learner will learn everything from social media without going to school? Or, what if a student stays connected with social media while undergoing education? To what extent will s/he be benefited? Then again, if it becomes possible to replace the formal education system with social media, will the students be benefited at all?

What is social media?

Social media is a group of internet-based applications. It was founded on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0. Apart from facilitating the exchange of user-generated contents, it also motivates users to be innovative in creating new things.

In 2017, communication expert Hansen et al. gave a modern definition of social media. There they defined social media as a set of online applications and tools that provide ways of social interaction and communication between digital media users by facilitating and creating knowledge sharing and ultimately transforming a monologue into a dialogue.

So, it is easily assumed that social media is a combination of internet-based applications and tools. Based on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, social media facilitates communication and interaction, where users can exchange their ideas, develop contents and receive feedback.

Now in formal education, we have to focus on the exchange of quality social media contents. But the problem is anyone can create and share content in social media, some of which are quite dangerous. The 2012 Ramu violence and recent repetition of a similar incident in Bhola’s Borhanuddin are still fresh in our mind. Social media is responsible for triggering this sort of events because virtually no one has control over its users. Having no one to filter or review what is being posted, the users can create and share contents at their own sweet will. Once something false or malicious is posted, it is challenging for the authorities concerned to take it down immediately.

On the other hand, we are not still habituated to controlling ourselves from overreaction. Many of us don’t know how to tell fact from fiction. So, we are vulnerable to receiving malicious falsehood and sharing it with others. In a society, mindset varies from person to person. Some groups can be seen reacting to rumours, plunging whole community in a state of turmoil. However, lest we forget, many a time social media play crucial roles.

Types of social media

In broad terms we can classify social media as per the following – Blogs (a regularly updated website or web page, typically one run by an individual or small group, that is written in an informal or conversational style), Wikis (Wikipedia), Social Network sites (Facebook, LinkedIn, Google plus), Status update sites (Twitter), Social bookmarking (Reddit, StumbleUpon, Digg) etc. Besides, video and photo sharing sites like Youtube, Whatsapp, Instagram are also mentionable. These are all web 2.0 tools and technology.

At present, the number of Facebook users is 1.6 billion, Youtube has more than one billion visitors, Whatsapp has 950 million users, Google plus—440 million, Instagram—430 million, LinkedIn—420 million, Twitter—230 million, and ResearchGate has about 9 million users. So, we can easily understand the vast reach of social networking sites; and their impacts on society are being discussed worldwide.

As social networking sites are affecting our lives in too many ways, the world is heading towards devising a system to apply it in formal learning. Many opine that it will be useful to incorporate social media in the teaching and learning process, while others think caution must be taken before its adoption.

What is teaching and learning?

Teaching and learning is a social process, which is rigorous and rooted in social realities. It works best amidst the presence of teachers and students, where students respect and obey the teachers. Teachers should not only help and inspire students but also must hold them accountable.

But history tells us that from the beginning of the nineteenth century, there were numerous efforts to find an alternative to teachers, mainly to reduce the operational cost of education. Some think that teaching and learning are possible by keeping only students.  They believe that teaching and learning will take place if some good contents can be created by some good teachers, and provide the students with those contents through social media, CD or whatever else. But the reality is teaching and learning works best with the physical presence of a teacher. For this reason, we sometimes say – can social media be used in formal education? Or can it be used as an auxiliary to formal education? If we conduct formal education only through social media, learning may not be fruitful that much. Because teachers are not physically present there, and in their absence, students are unlikely to learn fully well. As education is a social process, it requires student-teacher as well as student-student interaction to succeed. And if that cannot be ensured, it will not be easy to conduct formal education through social media. However, we can always use this medium to enhance our skills.

In formal education, the interaction between student to teacher and student to day to day events is a basic necessity. Authentic teaching and learning happen when there is a strong social bond between students and teachers. We have to bridge the gap between the classroom and the real world. One of the significances of teaching and learning is it is intertwined with the real world. The age-old established system has developed it. When you are going to exchange something with someone, you must have trust in them. When your teacher tells you something, you can take that for grunted. But lack of confidence is a big issue in social media because there we are continually receiving information from unknown sources.

Therefore, the main difference between formal education and learning through social media is – whether we trust the source or not. If we can source contents from trusted sources, it can be considered as a great help. So, students and teachers must have a mutual social responsibility to make teaching and learning successful. But sadly, as I mentioned before, repeated attempts are being made to find an alternative to teachers to lessen educational input cost. We have seen this tendency in Bangladesh too that video lecture of some famous teachers being distributed across the country. But learners may not learn from there. Even if they do learn, it will be devoid of both sociality and reality. For instance, in 1920, Thomas Alva Edison had said that textbooks would disappear after the emergence of the motion picture. Everyone will get the contents of textbooks through video. But, textbooks are still there even in this era of social media. Our government distributes 35 to 40 crore pieces of textbooks to the students every year. This has been done considering the necessity. And yet alternative to teachers has been sought through radio and television. Now, the alternative to teachers is being sought through the internet and online. Anyway, we have to move away from this attitude. Even if we want to move forward in that direction, a lot more soul-searching will be required. At best, for now, we can use these mediums for skill development.

If we look at the images of the 150 years old classrooms, we can see that there is a teacher in the classroom and students are seated before him. Even in today’s classroom, students may be seen seating differently, but overall the scenario remained the same. Yes, technology has brought about a sea change. Now classrooms are adorned with smart boards. Students have a laptop. Other than this, there is no difference. Maybe there are some changes in the blended learning system, but little change could be seen in traditional methods of learning and teaching.

When the radio was invented, it was said that we found an alternative to teachers, and teachers will no longer be required. We will develop a lecture and air it on the radio and students will learn from there. It was tried for some time in various countries of the world, including Bangladesh. But it didn’t succeed even after the innovation of television. Both radio and television failed to substitute teachers. Students can learn some valuable lessons from programs aired on radio or TV, but it is not enough.

Downsides of social media:

As the social networking sites are open for all, anyone can upload anything like inappropriate pictures, news or events without going through any filtering process. In the process, social malice and risks like a rumour, blackmailing, identity theft and addiction are increasing.

Because of these risk factors, students those who are hooked on social media can hardly think of anything else. They can’t live without social media. They cannot put aside their smart phone and other digital gadgets, even for a moment. As a result, they are facing severe health hazards because of social media causes anxiety, stress, depression, brainwashing, divorce, trolling, cyber bullying, infringement of privacy, online witch hunt etc. As a result, they are suffering from both mental and physical disorders, which is responsible for their unfortunate effect and hot-tempered behaviour.

Upsides of social media:

However, social media sites have various positive aspects. Most of the users of social media are keen to share their knowledge with others. Students learn from universities, but if they wish to maximize their learning on any given topic, they can do it by sharing their acquired knowledge in social media, because there they can get feedback from their classmates, teachers and experts. It opens up scope for them to focus on sharing their ideas, receiving feedback from others, discussing and challenging counter-views. In this way, they can work together as a group on any given problem. It helps them develop critical thinking ability.

Social media sites can be used as the best platform to solve social problems collaboratively. Social networking sites have already proved that. It can play a role in the teaching and learning process. If teachers don’t teach directly, the skills of collaboration, communication evaluation and critical thinking cannot be acquired that much from formal education. In social networking sites, one can spread information to all instantly. It requires critical thinking ability. If information comes from a reliable source, teachers can spread it to all via social media. That means a teacher can share authentic information with his/her students through social media. If a teacher wants a group of 10 or more students to work on a particular topic, it is possible to coordinate them through social media, because there the teacher would get an instant reaction after sharing an issue, which is not possible anywhere. In this way, education and social networking can go hand in hand.

Education doesn’t happen overnight. It is a gradual process. Here one must know something before learning some other thing. If we try to use social media as the primary medium of learning by sideling teachers, it will be counterproductive. As education is related to socialization, we must keep in contact with the teachers. Otherwise, students may lose their ways in society because social media may impart knowledge but cannot groom up students as human and social being. If someone needs to learn something instantly, social media may come in handy.

Today social media has become indispensable in our day to day life. It is virtually impossible to distance social media from the learning process. Instead, now we should focus on exploring new avenues of using social media in teaching and learning process because our new generation is so addicted to this media that they cannot think anything beyond this. Therefore, we should not adopt any plan by disregarding social media.  At the same time, it will be a great mistake if we think that social media can be an alternative to formal education. If we believe that social media sites can substitute teachers, real friendship and person to person communication, it will be a great mistake, and the nation will pay a dire price.

{The writer is the Vice-Chancellor, Bangabandhu Sheikh Mujibur Rahman Digital University, Bangladesh}

(Courtesy: Daily Sun, Dhaka)

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