Higher Education 2.0 (Take 2)

In May 2010, the Huffington Post reported the results of a survey which found that 80 percent of university and college professors were using social media in their research and teaching. I blogged my reaction to the story, expressing surprise, picking at the survey’s methodological problems, and identifying what I considered to be its weak contributions to our understanding of social media use in higher education.

The e-learning company Pearson, which partnered with Babson Survey Research Group to complete the original report, announced yesterday the results of a follow-up survey of 1,920 faculty. Exploring 9 different types of social media among professors, the study reports that professors consider YouTube to be the most useful social media tool by far — nearly 1/3 of respondents report instructing students to watch online videos as part of their outside class work, and 73 percent say they find YouTube videos valuable for classroom use.

As with the previous survey, the current study notes no statistically significant difference in social media use across generational lines. In other words, junior faculty are no more likely to be using social media for research or teaching than more experienced professors. Both studies report variation by discipline, with liberal arts and social science faculty reporting higher levels of interest and use.

When I was a student, which really wasn’t that long ago, my professors used to show videos on Betamax or VHS tapes (by grad school we were on to DVDs) when they wanted to illustrate an idea or theme in the curriculum. If we missed a class, or if there were additional audio-visual materials the professor deemed important, s/he would place them on reserve in the library and we’d watch them there.

I reflect on this not for nostalgic reasons, but because there is really nothing in the current survey to suggest that faculty use of a tool like YouTube is about anything other than convenience. Faculty appear to be utilizing video sharing tools for purely instrumental reasons — the content is more portable and its use in lecture scenarios more seamless in relation to other technologies (e.g. PowerPoint, Prezi, etc.).

But this doesn’t make faculty use of YouTube social. In fact, the faculty surveyed for this study report that they see very little value in using social media for collaborative learning, sharing, or content development and production. Notwithstanding the popularity of YouTube, other social media tools, notably Facebook and Twitter, were panned by almost half of the survey respondents for not only lacking pedagogical value but even harming classroom learning.

The study does not explore why faculty find some tools more useful than others, or under what circumstances they might consider social technologies to be more or less appropriate. This is a methodological blindspot which raises some important research questions that warrant further study.

Have faculty carefully considered the benefits and limitations of social technologies, only to conclude they don’t resolve a pedagogical problem?

Is the problem that faculty don’t understand or see the pedagogical benefits of social media for teaching, research and collaborative inquiry?

Do faculty not have the capacity or skill sets to keep abreast of a rapidly changing media landscape, choosing instead to stick with the instructional technologies tools they already know and trust?

Is the problem one of philosophy and not one of technique per se? Are faculty threatened by the loss of steering control that social media may introduce into a classroom situation?

Addressing these questions is important if we’re to fully appreciate and understand the relationship between social media and higher learning. If you know of any research that does so, please let me know. And please do use the comment field below to raise additional questions, or to share your observations or thoughts about those I’ve posed.



Filed under Higher Education, Research, Social Media, Technology

4 responses to “Higher Education 2.0 (Take 2)

  1. Rena Bivens

    It is certainly interesting that these studies do not deconstruct the concept of ‘social’ in this way. I’m also surprised by the lack of difference across generational lines although I wonder if we could partially attribute it to junior faculty members taming their creativity in order to conform to their new work environment. Just an initial thought … Clearly there are many avenues for more research here.
    There’s an article by Heiberger and others from last November discussing the use of Twitter and attempts to increase student engagement. In case you are interested, here’s the link: http://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/10.1111/j.1365-2729.2010.00387.x/abstract

    • Josh Greenberg

      Hi Rena, thanks for the response. I think you raise an interesting point re: junior faculty and the taming of creativity. I appreciate the link share as well.

  2. You’re asking some very good questions here – and I agree that it’s hard to argue the case for YouTube as social media when it’s simply used as a broadcast channel.

    The implications of social media are as challenging in education as they are in business. I call myself a ‘loss-of-control freak’ because of my enthusiasm to experiment with ‘open-source learning’.

    The results have been mixed, as you can see from this crowdsourced article from my graduate class: http://www.culpwrit.com/2011/03/28/classroom-crowdsourcing-and-culture-complexity/

    • Josh Greenberg

      Richard, thanks for the link share. This concern about loss of control is prevalent across sectors. I work with a lot of non-profits, advising them on the opportunities and limitations of using social media for public ed, advocacy, fundraising, etc. They have the same hesitation, albeit for different reasons I suspect. Appreciate the response!

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