Social Media in Education: big picture, equity and purpose

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

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Personal communication devices, our smartphones, have become indispensable for many of us. They have undoubtedly opened up opportunities for increased communication and information retrieval. But what about formal education? What place is there for social media tools in schools, colleges, universities and work-based learning?

This is the first of four blogs outlining the opportunities and challenges of using social media tools in education. This first outlines the ‘big picture’, the second will explore some practical opportunities in secondary schools, the third social media’s potential benefit for those in tertiary education, and the fourth will examine the realities of the New Zealand context.

The Big Picture

There are over 600 million individual blogs on the web today (1) and somewhere, someone is using one to teach every subject. Covid-19, and the shift to distance delivery, doubtless accounts for some of the recent increase but there has been a gradual growth in using social platforms to support learners since 2010. Sometimes this is because there is no centralised platform to support teachers and students to communicate. Other times it is because those platforms that exist either lack functionality, or as seen as too formal to elicit meaningful communication.

This move towards taking the learning to where the students are, Facebook was the original object of fascination, later Instagram, then SnapChat, quickly illustrates one challenge. Educators are in danger of always falling behind the latest emerging platform and social attitudes to different providers. Facebook’s demographics do not reflect the population that school teachers aim to reach. Yes, Facebook has a huge presence with over 2.7 billion users, but the percentage of 13-17 years olds with Facebook accounts globally is 51%, less than the 18-24-year-old age bracket where the number is 84%. (2). There is also to reality that negative press, data privacy concerns in the case Facebook, means some students may simply refuse to engage, and there is no way a school can insist that they do. Using other platforms that may better target at school-age individuals such as YouTube and SnapChat may be frustrating given a lack of functionality (3). Parents often perceive them as harder to monitor.

What about equity and what is the purpose?

‘Getting down with the kids’ is not the best reason to adopt social media tools to communicate with learners. There may be significant resistance to having their learning invade their social spaces. The reason we may, as educators, want to explore the options of integrating social media into our programmes of learning is to enhance the contemporary digital skills of our learners. It is dangerous to assume that all learners are equally proficient in their use of technology, or can identify, discern and curate reliable sources of knowledge in amongst the opinionated, or simply false, mass information sources that are available to everyone.

There are certainly opportunities for enhanced collaboration and communication between students and teachers through social media, but this requires careful planning and equity of access remains a challenge. Not EVERY student will have a Wi-Fi-enabled smartphone. According to ‘Census at School’, 40% of school children in New Zealand do not own their own device (4). Once students understand the principles underpinning safe-web use, the Internet certainly offers a richness of content students can access. Digital skills, creativity, reading and writing can all be enhanced through the careful selection of social media tools and approaches. But choosing the right tools, and weighing up the relative merits and risks, is a challenge. And the focus for next week’s blog.

Contributor: Dr Simon Paul Atkinson

Next Blog: Practical uses of Social Media in Secondary School: What works and the dangers.

(1) : accessed 06/06/21

(2) Anderson, M., & Jiang, J. (2018, May). Teens, social media & technology. Retrieved September 20, 2018 from the Pew Research Center website : accessed 06/06/21

(3) Martin, Florence, Chuang Wang, Teresa Petty, Weichao Wang, and Patti Wilkins. “Middle School Students’ Social Media Use.” Journal of Educational Technology & Society 21, no. 1 (2018): 213-24. Accessed June 6, 2021. accessed 06/06/21

(4) accessed 06/06/21

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