The issue of digital literacy

When social media became popular among students, many educators immediately labeled it as a distraction: sites like Facebook and Twitter were viewed as high-tech alternatives to passing notes in class. But instructors are now finding ways to incorporate social media into their teaching, both inside and out of the classroom. And by giving students the opportunity to use social media to enhance their learning experiences, instructors are discovering something interesting: students are using social media to facilitate collaboration in learning.

The issue of digital literacy

With Facebook putting time, money and effort into cultivating educational resources for higher education and teachers using Twitter to communicate with students, social media is becoming an integral part of teaching and learning. But using social media to help students collaborate requires a certain level of digital literacy—and, surprisingly, many students aren’t as digitally literate as you might think.

An article in the Guardian from March of this year makes the distinction between digital residents and digital visitors —people who have integrated online activity into their everyday lives, and people who use technology for short periods of time and then log off. For college students, time is precious—and many students who didn’t have constant access to technology in their younger years might take a while to acclimate themselves to using technology every day. Students who come to campus with a laptop, a smartphone and an MP3 player may be more open to collaborating with classmates online, but the technological learning curve for other students might be steep. By introducing social media into the classroom, students have a chance to adapt to the new environment and connect with friends who can show them how to use the medium effectively.

Virtual collaboration, actual results

Using social media to collaborate on everything from group projects to research is a valuable skill: not only can it help students learn to work with others, but it can help them learn to use technology in the workplace. Colleges and universities that offer online education options can help students to acquire digital literacy; by interacting with teachers and classmates using social media, students can prepare themselves for careers that require the ability to multitask and to process information from a variety of sources.

As the workforce begins to rely on the Internet for business communications and commerce, knowing how to use technology efficiently has become an asset for college graduates. Most importantly, students who use technology to collaborate can discover new and more creative ways to use digital tools. Pooling efforts and brain power can encourage imagination and originality, two more qualities students will need when they begin their careers.

Social media is still growing and developing, and its role in the workplace is still being shaped. But in education, social media can be a powerful tool for helping students meet their educational goals and get comfortable in the digital sphere.