Social media and education… now the dust has settled

My notes on Selwyn, N., & Stirling, E. (2016). Social media and education… now the dust has settled. Learning, media and technology, 41(1), 1-5.

This special issue of Learning, Media and Technology is a sequel to a 2009 issue which began to inquire into the emergence of ‘social software’ and what it meant for teaching. Seven years later with social media platforms ubiquitous, the online/offline distinction having collapsed and a ‘social’ element being a standard feature of new technology, it asks how social media platforms are actually being used in educational setting, what the implications of this use, their interaction with their institutional context and how they are transforming it in the process.

The main difference they see between 2009 and 2015 is “the extent to which social media have become part of mainstream digital practices and everyday life in general” (2). They make the interesting point that this means the term itself now lacks resonance outside of the academy, as platforms have faded into the background of everyday life:

“The pervasiveness of social media is illustrated neatly by the lack of resonance that the term now has with the general population. The characteristics and qualities that made social media such a distinct and exciting ‘thing’ in 2009 are now normalized to the point of not being an obvious topic of conversation, let alone meriting a specific label” (2)

Yet their uptake is far from uniform. Many people don’t have internet access, many are subject to a ‘device divide’ in which they are only able to access platforms through phones and/or non-broadband connections. These divides are profoundly regionalised. They also note how significant it is that the study of social media has grown in the way that it has, with approaches as different as platform studies and computational social sciences illustrating how wide this field is if indeed it constitutes a feed at all.

Social media has been an increasingly prominent topic in education journals. However, as the put it, “many of the most interesting (and, we would argue, most important) questions about social media and education remain largely ignored by education researchers” who tend “to look primarily for good news, ‘best practice’ and examples of ‘what works’”. There is much hope still that social media will be “the ‘Killer App’ capable of initiating significant shifts in how people learn and engage with education”. However the social media research outside of education has shown us that its use by young people is complex, contradictory and contested. We need educational research that confronts this multifaceted character head on. There are exception to this but these studies “remain overshadowed by broad-brush accounts of social media use in the classroom” (4).

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