To Tweet or Not to Tweet… Social Media in Education

Hello again, readers. I am back again today to talk about a topic that I briefly began discussing in my last post on blogs. That topic, of course, is social media and its role in education. This time around, I am going to expand this topic to cover Facebook, Twitter and other well known sites, as well as programs such as Skype. As always, I will have some literature to go along with this post, as these are meant to be reflections on what I have read, so please have a look at those should you be interested in reading more on this topic.

I will start with the article by Blankenship (2010) in which he briefly details a number of social media outlets as well as gives readers what he calls the “five literacies” that are necessary for using social media effectively. He begins the article talking about how he was asked to give a lecture at Davidson College, which was like many of the guest lectures he had previously done with one exception. This particular lecture was done via Skype. The author notes that the students treated this just like any other lecture as well, taking notes, asking questions, and even contacting him after the lecture was over (p. 11).

Indeed, Skype was used to bring in outside lecturers to the graduate class that I started writing this blog for. Institutions and instructors are no longer limited by distance and budget in who they can put before their students. In fact, the usage of Skype is not for guest instructors alone. Students, too, are able to connect with virtual pen pals in the same manner. Even done as a collective class, it is a profound and engaging method for getting students to communicate in English. I have been toying with such an idea for a while, but I would ideally have students communicating with a single partner in the other classroom via email for a semester and use the Skype video calls as a special treat during which students can actually see each other and exchange questions with the instructors in both classes as facilitators.

Of course, how to use social media effectively is really the heart of the matter. Blankenship brings up the point that the line between personal and professional is already blurred enough as it is without bringing social media in the mix (p. 12). This was not Blankenship’s point of view, but it is a valid one regardless. In order to outline what is necessary for effective social media usage, Blankenship introduces us to Howard Rheingold’s fivelieracies of social media. As using social media is not an inherent ability, we must be trained to use it, according to Rheingold (p. 12).

The first of these literacies is attention. Rheingold says we must know where and when to place our attention when we are using social media. This also includes being able to discern between when our attention should be focused on social media and when it should be focused upon the “real world.” He cites times when he would be lecturing in front of a class and most of the students would never look up from their computers or mobile phones. This would be the result of students not possessing this particular literacy (p. 12).

Another literacy is participating. Rheingold says that one must know when to participate, citing commenting on a blog as a common example. He notes that not only do we need to know when to participate, we must know how to do so in such a way that is appropriate and helpful. Collaboration is next and, unsurprisingly, our good friend Wikipedia is mentioned. Rheingold says that not only must we know how to collaborate with peers in the real world, we must know how to do so online as well. Without such knowledge, things like Wikipedia would not exist (p. 12).

Network Awareness is next, although the explanation given is rather short. Rheingold states that users must be aware of how social networks work. This involves knowing how to utilize things such as privacy settings. I assume this is because, unless you have a separate account for your professional life, there is a need for keeping certain people from viewing posts and photos related to our personal lives. I find the separate account to be much easier, personally (p. 12).

Critical Consumption is the final literacy, although Rheingold has a more appropriate name in the form of “crap detection.” This, of course, means determining which content is reliable and of quality, although Rheingold does state that it can also be about determining which information is personally relevant to us as well. This again ties back to the post on Wikipedia, not in terms of relevant information, but certainly when talking about reliable and quality information for the purposes of academia (p. 12).

I believe Blankenship is certainly correct in that social media is not going away so rather than ignore it, we should find ways to embrace it. Doing so requires us to be well-informed and fluent in the usage of what we introduce in our classrooms. Otherwise, we could end up with a disaster on our hands if we do something as foolish as step over that blurred line between the professional and personal. Administrators are certainly the most critical in terms of protecting students’ privacy, as they should be. No educator wants to lose their job because they had a great idea for using social media, but failed in their execution.

Expanding the discussion to some of most widely used social media sites, George and Dellasega (2011) researched the use of social media in two different graduate-level medical humanities courses. This research was interesting, at least to me, because medical humanities was not one of the areas in education that I imagined benefitting from social media integration. Also surprising was how students in one of the courses migrated their activity from the initial designated social media to that of a blog, which yet again underlines the usefulness of blogs in terms of promoting collaboration between students.

In the first study, Twitter was used to give students in a creative writing for medicine course brief writing prompts from the instructor. Twitter also served as a way to connect students to prompts from their peers as well. These students, upon mastering this format, moved their work to a shared blog where they posted everything from homework assignments, materials, and creative writings to questions for the peers to respond to right on the blog. I am a bit surprised that the students chose a shared blog instead of keeping their own personal work on a blog of their own and merely commenting on each others’ blogs, but my interest lies in the fact that they practically did away with Twitter usage altogether (p. e430-e431).

In the second study, YouTube was utilized to share videos from a number of Alzheimer’s advocacy groups around the world in order to help students gain some perspective on how the disease is viewed from culture to culture. Other videos were also used to show Alzheimer’s patients in various countries engaging in a number of activities that helped to demonstrate that they are still capable of meaningful interaction with others. Following this, one student even opted to submit their final project in the form of a YouTube video (p. e431).

In my case, I also believe that YouTube is a fantastic source of realia and often use it in my classes in order to teach students about foreign culture or as a bit of listening practice. Having students use the format for projects generally brings about a multitude of privacy concerns, as the authors note, so instructors must be careful when using YouTube for such purposes (p. e431).

The authors also mention the use of Twitter in this second study, although I am not so convinced by the purpose. When visiting an assisted living residence for the first time, prior to holding storytelling sessions with the residents there, students used Twitter to tweet field notes in real-time, as well as communicate with their instructor and ask questions. The authors note that Twitter allowed for the documentation of moment-to-moment insights and experiences, which were later reviewed in class, but unless it was necessary for classmates to also be able to view these records, any messaging program could have been used in place of Twitter. Also, given that Twitter limits the number of characters allowed for a single tweet, it is possible that some students wasted time cutting their questions and observations down to 140 characters whereas messaging programs such as Skype, LINE, etc. do not have these issues (p. e431).

Also interesting was the usage of Flickr in this second study. The course instructor, who took photos during the storytelling sessions done by the students, uploaded the photos to Flickr so that all of the students could easily access them for use in their own final projects. This makes sense as Flickr utilizes cloud storage that enables students to be able to access the photos from any computer with Internet access. Dropbox, Google Drive, and other cloud storage programs offer similar functionality, but if students have the desktop versions of these services installed, all of the photos will be downloaded to the students’ computers, taking up space on their hard drives. Considering that most students probably only used a few of the pictures for their own projects, hosting the photos on a site where students can go in and choose which to download makes the most sense (p. e432).

While I still find it hard to argue for the integration of sites such as Facebook and Twitter into the classroom, services like YouTube can prove useful for introducing topics or expanding on those being studied by our students. Blogs and services like Flickr, meanwhile, help to increase collaboration, as well as share insights, experiences, and materials. Given the inherent interconnectedness of social media, it is possible that Twitter and Facebook will also find ways to become useful to educators, and indeed there may be some instructors already using these sites in meaningful ways. The research on social media in education is scarce, at present, but as time goes on, more strategies and ideas for making use of the social media phenomenon are bound to come to light. As always, it is our job as educators to remain well-informed and be aware of the benefits and potential pitfalls of what we introduce in our classrooms. At the very least, I hope that you, dear readers, have found some new and interesting ideas for your own classrooms through consideration of the research presented here. I know that I have and the possibilities genuinely excite me.

Blankenship, M. (2010). How social media can and should impact higher education. The Hispanic Outlook in Higher Education, 21, 11-12.

George, D. R. & Dellasega, C. (2011). Use of social media in graduate-level medical humanities education: Two pilot studies from Penn State College of Medicine. Medical Teacher, 33, e429-e434.

Doumo Arigatou, Google-sensei!

Hello, everyone. While it may seem that I am churning out blog posts like hot cakes lately (and I very well may be doing just that), I am admittedly behind in covering all of the content that I have read for the purpose of discussion here on this blog. That being said, I will endeavor to not compromise the length of my posts for the purpose of catching up.

This time around we will be discussing none other than Google. Did you know that in Japan, Google is often referred to nowadays as Google-sensei (グーグル先生)? It’s true! For those of you with no knowledge of Japanese, the term sensei is often translated as “instructor” or “teacher,” which is how it is being used here. Of course, the actual meaning of the Chinese characters denotes deeper meaning and in Japan, sensei is not thought of as a title, but gives acknowledgement that the person has more experience than you in a given area. It is used not only for teachers in schools but for doctors and instructors of traditional arts such as budō (Japanese martial arts) and tea ceremony.

Interesting anecdote aside, Google has become so prevalent in many of our lives that it is now the stand-in teacher for all of those times when we do not have someone more knowledgeable at hand to answer questions that we do not know the answer to. It is also much easier to do a Google search than to call up a friend or mentor and have to go through the formalities of conversation (greetings, small talk, detailing the situation and the question at hand, etc.), as I often have my answer seconds after typing out my question. Of course, Google has evolved into much more than a search engine and now has applications and services for a variety of things that are ripe for usage in our classrooms. In this blog post, I am going to be looking at three articles that reference Google’s applications within the realm of education. I warn you now that I am going to be quite harsh on one of them as it sounds more like an advertisement than academic writing. I am also going to hold back on many of my own thoughts about Google and its potential for use in the classroom as I am currently in the process of writing (as of this blog post) a longer academic paper on implementing Google in an academic institution, including potential uses, difficulties with implementation along the way, etc. One article will touch on these things already, but the paper I am writing will be on my own personal experience here in Japan and I do not want to subject you all to the same thing twice when I later share the paper here.

In the article by Barlow & Lane (2007), the authors talk in length about how Arizona State University (ASU) transitioned to Google’s suite of applications tailored to educational institutions, which is known as Google Apps for Education. They first bring up Google Mail (Gmail), noting that ASU was able to transition from their former in-house email solution to Gmail in less than two weeks and give ASU’s 65,000 students an email solution that included 2 gigabytes of storage, enhanced spam filtering, an instant messaging service, and much more (p. 8). The article later goes on to talk about student usage of Google Maps, which they use to view the various ASU campuses, plot buildings and other areas of interest, and even utilize satellite and GPS technology to view real time locations of buses and estimated arrival times. The article also mentions the popularity of the switch to Google Apps for Education, noting that demand was high among faculty members to be switched over from the legacy Exchange service and that students were migrating their accounts at a rate of 300 per hour on the first day that Google’s services went live on the campuses. There is also mention of the ease at which Google allowed for integration with the university’s single-sign-on environment as well as the availability from Google should problems arise with mail or other services that the university’s own help desk cannot handle (p. 9).

Still, looking at the conclusion of the article and seeing “ASU is excited to continue working with Google and will consistently strive to provide its faculty, staff, and student populations with exceptional standards, options and solutions,” I cannot help but feel like this is just a big promotion for both Google and the university, showing that they are up to date with the latest technologies in order to attract more students (p. 10). There is no discussion about how students and faculty can use Google Apps for Education for classes. Google Documents (Google Docs) is mentioned, but its usefulness for collaboration is never once brought up. Nothing remotely negative or related to issues that arose during implementation is found here either. I would expect a more thorough analysis in a piece of academic writing. The uses mentioned are fine, but focusing only on social aspects of the application suite seems unprofessional in my opinion.

Having the advantage of writing his article two years after Barlow & Lane , Herrick (2009) does a much better job at looking at the features more in depth and presenting a case study that includes some of the problems that were experienced by Colorado State University (CSU) when they implemented Google Apps for Education. Herrick also chooses to start things off with a discussion of Gmail and takes readers through the process of implementation, noting the control over accounts that administrators have over certain features (GOOGLE MAIL section). Features not mentioned in the article by Barlow & Lane are highlighted as well, such as the ability to compose mail when offline as well as the search feature built in to the service (Organizing E-mail section, ¶3; Extending Google Mail section, ¶2).

Herrick goes on to discuss Google Calendar next and does an excellent job of highlighting its many features. Users can have different calendars for different types of activities, from classes to social events, and each is customizable as well as shareable, as long as administrators allow it. Speaking of the administrators, university admins can set up Google Calendar to allow everything from equipment to classrooms to be reserved if they so choose (Using Calendars section, ¶2). Integration with in-house systems is also possible so that things such as class days and times can be made to appear on students’ calendars (Managing Calendars section, ¶2).

Herrick moves on to talk about Google Talk for messaging and audio/video chatting, Google Docs and Spreadsheets for creating simplified versions of the kinds of files usually reserved for Microsoft Office or Apple iWork, and Google Sites for creating simple websites that can be published to the web and viewed by anyone if administrators allow. Herrick does make sure to note what I previously mentioned in relation to Google Docs, which is that it allows for collaborative document creation between students. I personally think this feature is great for classes held in computer labs or for giving students the ability to work on group assignments even when they cannot get together outside of class.

Towards the end of Herrick’s article, there is mention of some difficulty with student migration, with many students claiming ignorance of the migration despite numerous notifications. The time that actual migration took was also said to be quite long, clocking in at 7 seconds per account, which may not be a problem for smaller institutions, but CSU was migrating 25,000 accounts (Case Study Revisited: Colorado State University section, ¶2-3). If you are an institution that is giving students access to an email address for the first time, as I am currently attempting to undertake where I teach, this will not be an issue; however, it will take a considerable amount of time creating accounts for every student if your student population is large.

Herrick, too, ultimately rules the implementation of Google Apps for Education a success at CSU, noting the considerable cost savings versus an Exchange server as Barlow & Lane did, and recommends other institutions to get on board with the idea as well. That is two university advocates for the Google Apps for Education suite, for those of you keeping count. Temple University, where I am currently doing my graduate work, also makes use of it, bringing us up to 3. This may sound as though I am setting up for a discussion of an article in which the author criticizes Google, or something similar along those lines, but I am not. The final article that I looked at for this discussion actually revolves around a broader topic, which is Web 2.0 technologies, of which Google Apps are a part, and their use in competency-oriented design of learning.

Not wanting to make this topic too dense and unapproachable for the casual reader, I must nevertheless note that this article revolves around two key concepts: constructivist theory of learning and action competency. The first is easy enough to understand. Constructivist theory, without being a pedagogy per se, deals with the idea of learning through experience. “Learning through doing” would be another way to describe this. Constructivist theory is often mistakenly assumed to mean that students are wholly responsible for the learning taken place and that the teacher merely facilitates, but since we are talking about learning through experience, this can also be applied to guided learning as well. Action competency focuses on the learning process and is concerned with performed behavior. It deals with knowledge, skills, and motivations of the learner and requires a certain degree of complexity in the challenges that the learner must face.

Without getting more complicated than that, we can now look at what role Google Apps can play in putting these theories into practice. Schneckenberg, Ehlers and Adelsberger (2010) discuss a case study with a course in which the teacher does not create even one lesson during the entirety of the course (p. 757). Instead, Google Apps are used to give students access to course readings, allow them to discuss and brainstorm ideas via Google Docs, critique each others presentations and receive teacher feedback through Google Sites, and to reflect on their own learning via some of these same features as well as blogs and other Web 2.0 technologies (pp. 757-758). The authors cite the increased engagement with the course subject matter as being the main reason for the high quality of student works on both the class presentations and final literature reviews (p. 758).

I also believe that student engagement can be increased using Google Apps for Education even when utilizing a guided teaching style where students are not as responsible for their learning as they were in the case study in this article. Certainly having students brainstorm or collaboratively create documents for assignments or in-class activities is not something reserved solely for student-guided classrooms. No matter what teaching style you are utilizing, Google Apps for Education can clearly help to give students more hands-on experience with the material they are learning and allow them to use it in collaboration with their peers. Any time we make our students think more deeply about what they are learning can only be seen as a success, in my humble opinion. As we move further and further away from lecture-based teaching and the reliance on repetition-based drills, technologies like Google Apps are what give us new ways to help our students develop competency and to continue to expose them to the lesson content when they are outside of our classrooms. For this, I think we can all say, “Doumo arigatou, Google-sensei!”


Barlow, K. & Lane, J. (2007). Like Technology from an Advanced Alien Culture [1]: Google Apps for Education at ASU. SIGUCCS’07. Orlando, Florida, USA.

Herrick, D. R. (2009). Google This! Using Google Apps for Collaboration and Productivity. SIGUCCS’09. St. Louis, Missouri, USA.

Schneckenberg, D., Ehlers, U., & Adelsberger, H. (2011). Web 2.0 and competence‐oriented design of learning—Potentials and implications for higher education. British Journal of Educational Technology, 42(5), 747-762. doi:10.1111/j.1467-8535.2010.01092.x