Are you one of the billion users who enjoys posting or viewing status updates, pictures or articles on Facebook? While Facebook and other social media sites have often been viewed as a distraction in the workplace and classroom, a first-of-its-kind study shows the educational value of these forums that can help students learn scientific literacy and other complex subjects.
Conducted by Michigan State University’s Christine Greenhow, the study found high school and college students engage in vigorous, intelligent debates about scientific issues when using voluntary forums. The study was composed of 16-25 students who voluntarily joined a Facebook app that dealt with climate and related science news such as coal-burning regulations and environmentally friendly housing. After analyzing the student’s activity on the app, Greenhow found that their discussions on various science issues were on-topic, civil and sophisticated. The findings contradict previous studies which supported critics’ theories that excessive social media use distracted kids from academics, spurred loneliness and depression, and facilitated cyberbullying.
“One of the things we struggle with as educators is how to take students’ spark of interest in something and develop it in ways that can serve them,” said Greenhow, assistant professor of educational psychology and educational technology. “If students had these kinds of niche communities to be part of, in addition to their formal curriculum, that could really provide a rich environment for them.” These finding make a case for the use of social media outlets as learning tools: They provide a huge push to integrate new technology into classrooms and should spur more consideration to this informal online learning that occurs in students’ natural environments.
Would you use a Facebook app that allowed you and your classmates to debate educational material? Do you think Facebook is more of a distraction to students than educational tool?