Student vs Teacher: Social media

Joella Albers, teacher at the Department of Accountancy, talks about how she notices that a lot of people, namely university students, spend almost every minute of their day behind their smartphone or tablet. She discusses whether or not this is a good or bad thing.

‘Social media (noun) : Websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking’.[1]

Sometimes I make the joke in class “during my study time we did not use smartphones yet”. Since I became a teacher at Tilburg University, you really look with a different perspective at things that happen in class. Now it is me who is the teacher, instead of the student who is sitting in college trying to gain knowledge.

The example of the smartphone is therefore a striking one to shed light on the different perspectives of students and teachers. In my study time there were phones and even some smartphones, however, Wi-Fi and apps like WhatsApp[2]  were not used by all students.  These new technologies were not that widespread.

It is important to get one issue clear before continuing this column, I am not an advocate of banning social media and smart devices altogether. This would be a bridge too far. I believe in a potential synergy between using social media and improving the learning process. Therefore the possibilities should be well developed and accepted by both teachers and students.

Nowadays, a lot of people live 24/7 with their smartphone or tablet. Is this a bad thing? Maybe yes, maybe no, it depends on the perspective you take.

Try to walk across campus, undoubtedly you will encounter a student or teacher which is totally focused on a mobile device in his or her hands, while walking or riding a bike of course. Sometimes these situations become dangerous, leading to collisions between students, walking or riding a bike, frustrated faces and discussions. Not mentioning the imminent danger if you were in the ‘real’ traffic outside of campus.

Another striking feature which you can encounter when being on campus and in college is that the mobile devices are present before, during and after class. Usually the laptops and tablets are used for making notes, translating words or other course related activities. The phones however, are often used to check social media sources, or ‘as a calculator of course’, an often heard argument from students. Sometimes, I experienced, this last argument is actually a valid argument.

What if you miss that one ‘post’ on Facebook, or that important ‘tweet’ on Twitter, or the interesting group discussions on WhatsApp?  Being a student, you have more to think about than only gaining knowledge, your social life is equally important. From the students perspective I totally agree on this, it is important to gain social skills and develop friendships with others. These are also qualities that will help you succeed in your future career.

The question that comes to mind when thinking in the teacher’s perspective is if you really gain social skills using mobile devices for social interaction?  If students really like to interact with peers and gain social skills, why is it that difficult as a teacher to start interesting discussions? Compared to real life interaction, suddenly social contact using social media seems to be much easier.

Social is when you look into definitions, “relating to society and living together in an organized way[3]”, “relating to society and the wellbeing of the society[4]”. Social behavior should therefore also benefit society and the group you are in.

What is important for me, being a teacher, is that the use of social media should contribute to the wellbeing of the student community when they are in college to gain knowledge. It should not be a distracting factor in class; it should be a way to make class more interesting.

To be able to reach this goal, both the student and the teacher have a crucial role to play.

Students, keep on using the social devices during class for studying purposes, they can be a helpful tool to assist you in gaining knowledge. Try to avoid the so-called ‘social media checks’ during class and do this during the break. It will be a hard thing to do, I understand. Try to use focus your attention on the class and join the discussion. Even better, start a discussion! Get out of your comfort zone by speaking in public, without having the security of talking via devices.

In this way you will develop the social skills that your future employer is looking for.

Teachers, think about ways to integrate new technologies into your courses. Only using web lectures is not enough in my opinion. There is a lot to gain to really integrate social media and the use of social devices into our teaching activities.

Of course there are colleagues who are doing this for quite some time already; I have deep respect for these pioneers. I however think that every teacher at the university should be able to learn from these colleagues. To be able to accomplish this, university organizes workshops, teachers meetings and discussion groups were the use of new technologies is made known.

Teachers and students just have to be aware of their role and believe in the synergy between using social media and mobile devices versus gaining knowledge. When new technologies are used well they can make the courses more interesting and the learning process more effective.

Social media only works when there is real time social interaction as well, this is true for both perspectives, that of the student and that of the teacher.


[2] © 2011 WhatsApp — All rights reserved

[3] Definition of social from the Cambridge Advanced Learners Dictionary & Thesaurus © Cambridge University Press

[4] Definition on the online dictionary Van Dale © Van Dale Uitgevers 2014