News & Reports

How Social Media Will Change Higher Education

Social media will develop from an in-class pastime that is disdained by many professors to become an integral tool in education, a panel of experts has predicted.

The panel’s study says the increasing use of social media will extend beyond socialization, citizen journalism and politics to become serious pedagogy.

It remains to be seen, however, whether the panel’s predictions will apply to the Arab world where access to the Internet and even computers is much more uneven than the countries that the study appeared to focus on.

Nancy K. Hope, an e-learning specialist based in Abu Dhabi, believes these predictions will apply to the United Arab Emirates although change may occur at a slightly slower pace than in the West, and even slower in the less-prosperous Arab countries.

The New Media Consortium (NMC) and the EDUCAUSE Learning Initiative published the NMC Horizon Report: 2014 Higher Education Editionpredicting six technological trends that will change the face of higher education in the forthcoming years.

A panel of 53 technology experts from 13 countries identified 18 topics that are likely to affect technology planning and decision-making. Those are divided into six key trends, six significant challenges and six important developments in educational technology. The trends are also divided into short, medium and long-term.

The report highlighted the trends affecting higher education in the forthcoming one or two years as:

  1. The growth of social media.
  2. The integration of online, hybrid and collective learning.

Trends affecting higher education in the forthcoming three or five years:

  1. The rise of data-driven learning and assessment.
  2. A shift in pedagogical perception that will see students as creators rather than consumers.

Trends affecting higher education in more than five years:

  1. “Agile” approaches to change, adopting the Lean Startup movement, which tries to use technology as a catalyst for promoting a culture of innovation in what it hopes is a cost-effective manner that will have broad impact.
  2. The continuing development and innovation of online teaching.

The report, quoting the Business Insider website, said 1.2 billion people use Facebook while 2.7 billion people—almost 40 percent of the world population—regularly use social media. “Educators, students, alumni, and the general public routinely use social media to share news about scientific and other developments,” said the report. “The impact of these changes in scholarly communication and on the credibility of information remains to be seen, but it is clear that social media has found significant traction in almost every education sector.”

The panel argued social media enables dialogue between students, prospective students, educators and the institution in a less formal manner than other platforms. A study by the University of Massachusetts at Dartmouth found 100 percent of surveyed universities used social media. Another study by Babson Research Group and Pearson showed that 55 percent used social media for professional reasons.

Those statistics, however, are different in the Arab world where Internet access is uneven but Facebook and Twitter use among those who do have Internet access may be higher than in Western countries.

According to Alexa, a web information company, Facebook is the most-visited website in most Arab countries, including Egypt, Lebanon, Algeria, Tunisia and Syria. In the Arab world, the number of Facebook users reached over 50 million in March 2013, up from 43 million in September 2011.

While no statistics appear to be available for universities, the Arab Social Media Report published a survey last summer that said 19 percent of public-school students in the Arab world had in-school access to computers while the number for private schools was 31 percent. Only 10 percent of students used social media in classrooms. The survey found, however, that 68 percent of parents believe social media has helped or could help catch up on the material lost due to interrupted schooling. Fifty five percent reported time in schools was interrupted due to political or armed conflicts in their country.

Kevin Dunseath, a higher-education technology specialist with an interest in learning technologies and a partner at CorCodi Education Consultancy, based in Dubai, said that while teachers and administrators in the Arab world may not be tech savvy, young learners are “digital natives” and will be unstoppable drivers of change toward integrating social media in teaching and learning. “[Students] easily and readily embrace the notion that effective collaboration must be at the heart of the 21st century learning and research,” said Dunseath.

Dunseath sees online learning as a particularly slower trend to take hold in the Arab world. “There still remains in some quarters a lingering distrust of the value that online and hybrid can bring to the student experience,” said Dunseath. “In my view, this wariness is an unfortunate legacy of the skeptical way in which distance learning has traditionally been viewed in the region.”

The report also identified six challenges, including low digital fluency of faculty members and lack of rewards for improving teaching. “Those are the same challenges we’re facing here,” said Hope, in Abu Dhabi. “The other problem is that technology changes so quickly. Once you begin to integrate one thing, a new thing is already out there and I see that this is especially frustrating for faculty in any country.”

The speed of change and adapting new technology trends, Dunseath added, depends on three key elements:

  1. Progressive and effective institutional leadership.
  2. A sufficiently robust strategic plan to resource and maintain the developments required.
  3. A collective and active acceptance on the part of the faculty that the needs of the learner today demand a radically new approach to learning and teaching.

“Given all three requirements, higher education institutions in MENA have the potential to make tremendous progress in a very short time,” said Dunseath.

NMC Horizon Report is part of a series by the NMC Horizon Project, a research venture established in 2002 to study emerging technologies likely to have a large impact on education over the coming five years.

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