Integrating Social Media Platforms for Online Learning

From E-Learning Faculty Modules


Contents

Module Summary

Social media platforms have been all-the-rage for some years now, and many college instructors have harnessed these for various types of learning. This module covers social media platforms commonly used in higher education. It includes a review of some desired functionalities of social media platforms for online learning (and suggests some factors to think about when selecting social media platforms). Also, there is review of what faculty and learners have to know when using social media for online teaching and learning. There is a section on some effective ways to constructively harness the broader audiences on social media platforms (those not in an online course) and how to integrate these strangers in the process while mitigating against potential harms. Finally, there is a light review of some common designed assignments built on social media platforms.

Takeaways

Learners will...

  • consider social media platforms commonly used in higher education currently
  • review some common desired functionalities of social media platforms for online learning (and consider some factors to consider when selecting social media platforms for online learning)
  • think about some additional learning that faculty will have to do to use social media platforms for online teaching…and some additional learning that learners will have to do to use social media platforms for online learning
  • consider some effective ways to constructively harness the broader sociality in social media platforms while mitigating against potential harms
  • review some common designed assignments built on social media platforms

Module Pretest

1. What types of social media platforms are commonly used in higher education currently?

2. What are common desired functionalities of the social media platforms? What are some factors to consider when selecting a particular social media platform for online learning?

3. What additional learning do faculty members have to undergo in order to use social media platforms effectively for online teaching? What additional learning do learners have to undergo in order to use social media platforms effectively for online learning?

4. What are some effective ways to harness the broader sociality present in social media platforms? Why? What are some risks with harnessing the broader sociality? Why?

5. What are some common designed assignments that are built on a substructure of a social media platform?

Main Contents

The above questions are lightly addressed in this section.


1. What types of social media platforms are commonly used in higher education currently?

Social media platforms refer to a broad category of web-based tools that enable people to do the following:

(1) create self-profiles;
(2) interact with others (through exchanging information, photos, multimedia, and other communications; through shared fund-raising; through co-creation; through co-research, and other methods;
(3) coalesce in groups of varying sizes;
(4) and enable micro- and mass- actions.

While popular social media platforms all have their own geographical areas of predominance, there are none that are actually totally global and include all major regions of the world. What may be highly prevalent in one area may have virtually no presence in others based on national laws as well as regional laws.

What are some of the common social media platform types:

  • Weblogs (blogs) are informal online journals with date-based entries, often focused around particular topics and featuring particular authors and personalities (built on open-source technology structures such as WordPress)
  • Crowd-sourced encyclopedias are also popular (built on open-source technology structures like MediaWiki)
  • Wikis are collections of interrelated web pages about particular related topics, with contributors sharing insights (built on open-source technology structures like MediaWiki)
  • Microblogging sites are used to share brief messages, links, images, and short video snippets in real-time with audiences of declared followers and the broad public (Twitter, Sina Weibo, and others)
  • Image sharing sites are used to share images from a variety of contexts (Flickr, and others)
  • Video sharing sites enable users to upload user-generated videos as well as create channels of related video contents; some sites, like Google’s YouTube, have built-in auto-captioning based on machine learning trained on Web videos
  • News sharing sites enable users to highlight news of the day and to vote some up to attract more readers or to vote some down to lower the news profile (Reddit)
  • Social networking sites enable people to create personal profiles and online communities based around geography, interests, professional concerns, and other reasons (Facebook)
  • Some social networking sites involve slideshow sharing for enhancing people’s professional development and informal learning (SlideShare)
  • Some job sites enable users to create profiles and apply for jobs-of-interest
  • Pinning sites enable people to collect images and videos of interest and to comment on them on their own personal pages (Pinterest)
  • Some sites enable the sharing of documents for co-access and co-editing (Google Docs)
  • Some sites enable users to collaborate around shared multimedia with commenting, sharing, and multimedial co-building (VoiceThread)
  • Social coding refers to sites that enable developers to share code and advice (GitHub, SourceForge, and others)
  • Some social media platforms are linked to professional networking; a general one may be LinkedIn, for example
  • In academia, there are social sites that encourage research-sharing (of open-source or open-access publications), to encourage greater attention to a researcher’s works and encourage higher rates of citations
  • Another social platform is Second Life, a virtual immersive world, in which people may interact with others through their digital avatars and artificial intelligence (AI) ‘bots.

Social media platform-like elements have been added to various repositories and digital libraries to drive usage. Massive open online courses (MOOCs) often contain a social element, so that learners may work together and help each other and form friendships.

E-learning. In online teaching and learning, the resources are used in various ways. Some of them include the following:

  • Data sources
  • Information sharing
  • Social experimentation
  • Non-native / foreign language learning
  • Role-playing games
  • Experiential simulations
  • Virtual world machinima (machine cinema or movie-making)
  • Collaborations


2. What are common desired functionalities of the social media platforms? What are some factors to consider when selecting a particular social media platform for online learning?

Given the diversity of social media platform types, and different online learning contexts, instructors likely have widely varying desired features for the platforms they might adopt. Beyond the specific features, some general desired functionalities may include the following:

  • A reputable company or organization (with a fairly high probability of survival into the near future)
  • Customer care and responsiveness
  • Reliability and near 24/7 availability
  • Coherent user-interface
  • Appealing design
  • Learner comfort level with the social media
  • Appropriate terms of service for the learning context
  • Ability to export learner data (such as for learner e-portfolios and instructor record-keeping)
  • An established user base (population of users)
  • Platform dynamism (and regular updates)
  • Low- to no- cost for usage
  • Ability to go “private” (without forced public sharing of information)
  • Ability to enable confidential profile creation
  • Mobile-friendliness (ease-of-access using mobile devices)

Oftentimes, if a stand-alone social media platform cannot provide the full desired functionalities, instructors will integrate the platforms with their learning management system (LMS). The advent of Learning Tools Interoperability (LTI) specifications, the popularity of inline frames (iframes), and the prevalence of “embed” code capabilities enables some fairly seamless integrations.


3. What additional learning do faculty members have to undergo in order to use social media platforms effectively for online teaching? What additional learning do learners have to undergo in order to use social media platforms effectively for online learning?

To use social media platforms effectively, instructors need to read the fine print about the social media platform. They need to understand how the technology works. They need to understand how the shared data may be used by both the company that owns the platform and those in public who may access the data for research.

Intellectual property protections. If the social media platform is used in a non-private (small-group) way, and the broad public has access to the data, then the instructors and learners will have to understand the basics of intellectual property (IP), copyright, and citations. Optimally, they will cite all material used accurately and will use such materials under “fair use” terms.

The IP protections go the other way as well. Learners should not be giving away novel ideas, plans, designs, and approaches. The institution of higher education also may have an interest in some IP, such as new discoveries in grant-funded research in labs. There is sufficient case law to establish university interests in such research. Further, both the university and faculty have interests and rights to created curricular materials.

Privacy protections. If they include audio records, photos, and videos of individuals, they will need to have legally signed media releases from all participants. In terms of production, the privacy rights of individuals should be protected. Also, none of the writings should defame anyone else.

Accessibility standards. To be as inclusive of possible users as possible, contents should be built under Section 508 accessibility guidelines.

Alternative assignment options. For learners who do not want to share publicly, there should be alternate assignments with equivalent learning value. (Some sites enable a light level of identity masking for handles, but accounts have to be email-verified. In many cases, more than email verification is required.)

Cyber security. Both faculty and learners will need to undergo basic cybersecurity training. Social media platforms are a “threat vector” for malicious agents. Shared information may be exploited for targeted spear phishing efforts (by humans, ‘bots, and cyborgs).


4. What are some effective ways to harness the broader sociality present in social media platforms? Why? What are some risks with harnessing the broader sociality? Why?

So while many instructors and learners use social media platforms for some aspects of their learning, a majority do not directly reach out into the broader sociality in social media platforms. For many, the interactions with others on the social media platforms (like microblogging sites and virtual immersive worlds) are incidental and unplanned. In many cases, learners are presenting their works and ideas to an imagined audience, with few real audience members “read into” the learning context and learning objectives.

In some cases, professionals from the field will be brought in to critique learner designs or projects or electronic portfolios.

Instructors may include a broader public to create learning contexts that would not be possible otherwise. For example, in an immersive virtual world, learners may want to interact with digital avatars who are human-embodied by native language speakers. In certain contexts, there are understandings that the learners and the interactants will be civil and prosocial in their communications.

There are no guarantees that interactions with the larger world will necessarily unfold as the learning context may require. In some cases, social media platforms are used as “walled gardens,” in order to control for trolling, potential data misuse, protections against data theft, and other challenges of going fully public. There is also little work about the legalities and ethics of engaging others in the world for the online learning.

This is not to say that the dynamism of the world is a negative, and there are many benefits to engaging people more broadly. Usually, though, learners are sent into professional environments for training and internships with professionals who have signed contracts with the university that promises certain types of learning opportunities and interactions. It is not so common for learners to be sent out into the world without any preparation of the context. Social media platforms enable broad geographical reach but little control in terms of the various types of potential interactions.


5. What are some common designed assignments that are built on a substructure of a social media platform?

This section provides some light summaries of designed assignments built on social media platforms. This is necessarily a somewhat idiosyncratic list since this is from the author’s observations at several universities and in several national education-based conferences.

  • A virtual world space for foreign language learning and practice in Second Life (virtual world)
  • An online course totally built on Twitter (microblogging site)
  • Wikis and blogs built around a particular learning domain (especially evolving topics), with the idea that these would exist into perpetuity (over multiple terms and cohorts of learners)
  • Course groups on image-sharing sites to share uploaded images from field trips and events
  • Social networking sites that enable group building for collaborative projects
  • Data scraping from social media platforms for machine learning and data analytics

Examples

There are numerous public examples on the respective social media platforms cited…and others. Please explore broadly.

How To

The “how-tos” vary widely and are unique to the social media platforms and the learning contexts.

Possible Pitfalls

Some possible pitfalls to going with social media for online learning have been mentioned. They include issues of contravening laws related to publishing. They include the risks of data leakage. They include exposures for cyber-based risks.

The benefits, though, may far outweigh the risks if the instructors and learners are properly trained and really use the functionalities of the social media platforms well…as well as harness the sociality of the respective sites in creative and prosocial ways.

Module Post-Test

1. What types of social media platforms are commonly used in higher education currently?

2. What are common desired functionalities of the social media platforms? What are some factors to consider when selecting a particular social media platform for online learning?

3. What additional learning do faculty members have to undergo in order to use social media platforms effectively for online teaching? What additional learning do learners have to undergo in order to use social media platforms effectively for online learning?

4. What are some effective ways to harness the broader sociality present in social media platforms? Why? What are some risks with harnessing the broader sociality? Why?

5. What are some common designed assignments that are built on a substructure of a social media platform?

References

Extra Resources