Benefits and Risks of Social Media in a Higher Education Setting

Social media has become a part of our everyday life.  It is something that we take for granted and subsequently, we often don’t consider its risks and benefits as a component of our communication and self-representation.  When social media is incorporated into higher-learning, its challenges and benefits have the potential to affect the way students learn and their learning experience.

Data privacy regulations are becoming increasingly strict, which means that clarifying the roles responsible for ensuring that students’ understanding of their right to privacy is clear is becoming increasingly important.  If social media is required in a classroom setting, the university must decide if it is the role of the administration, the information technology officer, or the professor to clearly communicate the rights of the students and their privacy in the utilization of the social media tools.

Along with data privacy, the need to present a positive and accurate self-image can be a challenging yet important task, especially in an education setting.  The way we communicate and the images, names, and descriptions we use to represent ourselves in online settings aren’t always reflections of reality.  This can make communication through social media in an education setting more challenging, not being able to be sure of someone’s identity or of the truth of an interaction due to questions of identity.

Even when identity is presented reasonably accurately, communication can still be a challenge, although it can also be improved through social channels.  A conversation via online chatting or messaging is not an accurate replacement for in-person communication, and can sometimes take up more time than they would in person.  As long as it isn’t treated this way, and that expectations for communications made through online channels are not too high such as having major effects on grading, the use of online tools for communication shouldn’t pose too much of a problem, and instead can be a benefit.  Virtual opportunities for communication are flexible in time and space and often offer opportunities for students to connect with educators, alumni, or administrators that they might not ever have the opportunity to communicate with in person.

Not only is communication flexible in time and space through social media, but so is all the content on social media platforms, allowing the students to have access to it when they have the time to dedicate to it.  Social media doesn’t have opening and closing hours, and its accessibility can fit students’ often atypical schedules quite well. The wealth of information available through social media platforms can augment course content when utilized strategically and intelligently by professors.

Social media is a space that students feel comfortable in and many enjoy, and its utilization in the education setting can help motivate students to be more engaged in the learning process.  While some students may feel uncomfortable or out of place in a learning environment, the virtual environment of social media platforms allow students to learn in a space where they often have fun and understand what’s going on.  This can aid their learning process and motivate them to participate and collaborate where they might not in person in the classroom setting.

There are many benefits and challenges to the utilization and incorporation of social media in a higher-education setting.  With careful planning and strategy behind its use, it can be a great asset to both teachers and students as well as school administrators and alumni alike can benefit from its use.

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