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Oct 8th 2015

What is the Role of Social Media in Education?

What is the Role of Social Media in Education?
By Gabriel Ryrie, Australia

Third place in Essaymama Essay Writing Contest

Social media websites, as a revolutionary phenomenon that changed the way people function, are the subject of numerous discussions in different fields, particularly in journalism and communicology. The data on the growth of online media are impressive. For the sake of comparison, the radio needed 38 years to reach an audience of 50 million people; television needed 13 years, whereas the Internet reached 50 million users in only 4 years. Today, the separation of the online from the offline world makes no sense. Everyone's life is intertwined with websites and online tools. Education has been directly affected by students' need to rely on online resources and communities. The role of social media in education is profoundly positive: these websites provide both students and teachers with access to more information, as well as with a way of expressing their own opinions in front of a broader audience.

The most important function of social media is the accentuation of the collective versus the individual. Communities exist in different shapes and sizes on the Internet. Social media affect people's life, but each individual can also influence the online world. Thus, different communities started establishing their own groups on social media, with the purpose to discuss different topics and take actions towards a common goal. The ability to create Facebook groups is one of the most important factors that influenced contemporary education. Instead of meeting the parents in person, teachers simply create a group and invite their students' parents to participate. Homework is being assigned through social media, and the students can easily collaborate on team projects when they participate in a private group. Social media makes collaboration easy: the students share links to online resources, discuss the outline of the project, and work together to get to the final result.

The ability of social media users to shape the form of contemporary education put an end to the dominant role of universities and old-school teachers who relied on outdated teaching methods. Today, students have a say because they can express their requirements in front of a grand audience. This key feature of social networks proves that Facebook and Twitter are not simply channels for mass communication; they offer a chance for people to communicate important ideas and make changes in the educational system, as well as all other aspects of their lives. The communication over these channels is not controlled, which is why students have an opportunity to promote different interests and activities, and show critical attitude to the things they don't like. Due to the exposure they get, the complaints and requirements get to the highest levels of the educational pyramid.

Social media websites provide a solution for the many obstacles of communicational nature that student organizations used to face. Facebook, Twitter, and other online communities create a fertile ground for initiative and civic engagement. The easy access to communication technologies built upon the principles of social networking enables complete realization of successful association and interaction of student organizations. Through social media, students become advocates for liberal, open-source education. The great promise of the Internet is to give people their voice back. The intensification of communication elevates the level of democracy and directly connects individuals and groups with the sources of power. Students are being heard and their requirements are being met. They realize that ideology does matter and they can make a change when they move away from apathy and they become active participants in the educational process.

During the beginnings of social media, the academic community was concerned that the penetration and expansion of these networks in all areas of people's live would result in reduced personal contact and serious distractions. However, the Facebook generation is more connected than ever. This community has immediate influence over the decisions that form the contemporary educational trends. The term Spiral of Silence, which was originally proposed by the German political scientist Elisabeth Noelle-Neumann, is an appropriate description of the role of social media in education: students are more likely to reveal their opinions if they are a part of a greater community, since unpopular opinions would be exposed to criticism in a smaller group. Due to the fact that social media websites are liberal and enable everyone to get support, students are encouraged to be proactive in the creation of public opinion. The connections that young people develop through social networking allow smooth flow of new information that supports the educational process.

Responsible activity in social media supports the development of an individual as part of a greater community. Although the users are influenced by public opinions shared through these networks, they also have a chance to affect other individuals and become influential participants in the evolution of educational standards. Schools become aware of students' problems and needs, which is why they are trying to adapt the curriculums and lectures to the needs of the tech generation. Thus, the students are involved in the decision-making processes that occur on the higher levels. The evolution of modern education does not stop there. The official curriculums are yet to be profoundly influenced by students' requirements expressed through social media. Digital activism leads to different opportunities for positive development of the school community. If educators encourage students to become digitally literate by explaining how they can use social media to influence the education they get, the changes will progress even further. The activism of the digital youth contributes to particular social reforms. We can finally be the drivers of change!

The availability, adaptability, and convenience of social networking are close to students' values. Facebook and other networking websites provide an opportunity for instant communication between teachers and students, students and students, teachers and parents, and teachers and teachers. Everyone gets a chance to participate in the educational system and express their opinions through strong civic engagement. Social media websites are also informal mentoring tools, through which experienced and knowledgeable members transmit knowledge, experience and information to the inferior users. These sites promote socialization and allow learners to make meaningful connections with their friends and classmates, take part in active discussions, and share their values. In addition, social networks enable individuals to find their own place in society and participate in it with greater self-confidence.

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