MET:Social Media in Education

From UBC Wiki

This page was originally authored by Alexis Mauricio (ETEC 510 Section 66C June 2011), Stop Motion video added by Jenny Lee (ETECT 510 Section 65D Feb 2015)

What is Social Media?

Social media is defined as “forms of electronic communication, such as websites for social networking and micro-blogging, through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content,such as videos and other various media" (Merriam-Webster Inc., 2011). Kaplan and Haeinlein (2010) further explain that social media is “...a group of Internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of User Generated content”.

The social prism, designed by Brian Solis of Future Works, depicts social media as ‘The Conversation: The Art of Listening, Learning, and Sharing’. According to this, social media does not just encompass Facebook and Twitter; it includes a cross section of community sites, blogs, bookmarking sites, photo sites, sharing tools, audio and video tools, and some advanced tools that are used in conjunction with one another to have a dynamic online experience.

History of Social Media

The diagram titled, ‘History of Social Media’, provides a comprehensive overview of the evolution of social media through a timeline.
Here are some highlights on the growth of social media, spanning approximately forty years, adapted from Borders (2009):

  • 1971: first email sent between computers
  • 1978: first Bulletin/Black Board System (BBS) created online; these systems were only hosted on personal computers, and required dial in through the host computer’s modem. Only single user access was provided.
  • 1986: CompuServe (CompuServe Information Service) and AOL allowed users to access and contribute to bulletin boards within these subscription services. These subscription services were also made available outside North America, first to Japan in 1986.
  • 1988: Jarkko Oikarinen, a developer working at the University of Oulu in Finland, created Internet Relay Chat (IRC); this tool allowed users to communicate and share links and files. This replaced a previously developed program known as MultiUser Talk (MUT), as IRC provided many more features.
  • 1994: David Bohnett and John Rezner launched Geocities, a web hosting service. The original concept allowed users to build websites based on one of six cities. Geocities was then purchased by Yahoo! in 1999. Today, Geocities is only available in Japan.
  • 1997: Six Degrees website was made available online; this was the first social networking site. AOL Instant Messenger was also created, which allowed for real-time dialogue exchange between users.
  • 2003: More social network sites are launched, including: MySpace, Plaxo (largest online address book), LinkedIn (one of the first mainstream social network sites dedicated to business), Second Life (the first 3D virtual world where users could communicate, connect and create using free voice and text chat) and
  • 2004: Mark Zuckerberg, along with fellow computer science students Eduardo Saverin, Dustin Moskovitz, and Chris Hughes launch Facebook. Flickr, a photo sharing website, is also launched during this time.
  • 2005: YouTube, the first video sharing and hosting site is launched; it was then purchased by Google in 2006. As part of the YouTube partnership program, media companies such as CBS and BBC now offer some of their material via the site.
  • 2006: The first microblogging website,Twitter, is launched which has educational implications.
  • 2010: Google Buzz, another social networking and messaging tool used in conjunction with Gmail, is launched. Quora is also launched; it is described as a “continually improving collection of questions and answers created, edited, and organized by everyone who uses it.”
  • 2011: Social gift, link shortener that promotes your personal brands and interests via Facebook or Twitter) and more social media start ups are launched. Google+ was also launched in June 2011, promoted as Google’s social network competitor to Facebook.

Social media in today’s world is an outcome of the highly-connected world of Web 2.0 applications, social platforms, and interactive based marketing efforts.

Social Media & Social Networking

Some resources debate the difference between social media and social networking. Cohen (2009) states that social media is “ outlet for broadcasting...” while social networking is considered to be “...a tool and a utility for connecting with others...”. In other words, social media is a vehicle that transmits information to be widely accessible, and it allows anyone to produce or distribute the information. On the other hand, social networking is “the use of communities of interest to connect to others” (Cohen, 2009). Thus, social media can be used to facilitate social networking, or one can network by leveraging social media. Social media and social networking can also be categorized under Web 2.0; Cohen (2009) further proposes that social networking was developed first, then it evolved into social media.

A more detailed explanation of the main differences between the two is outlined in the table, adapted from Stelzner (2009):

Criteria Social Media Social Networking

Basic definition

  • a way to transmit or share information with a broad audience
  • an act of engagement, where groups of people with common interests associate together on social network sitesand build relationships through community

Communication Style

  • similar to a communication channel; a system that distributes information to others
  • two-way communication occurs as people converse with others on a certain topic/subject matter, also share in similar experiences and backgrounds
  • relationships are developed through this communication as it is purposeful and personal; social network exponentially grows

Types of Information

  • can be used to communicate general information to the public about a business
  • manipulating or skewing comments or data for your own benefit (personal or business) is strongly discouraged
  • can be used for your own benefit (personal or business)
  • for example, one can inform others about a new business and discuss how it is successful, or how to make it a success in order to attract potential investors or customers;conversations can be generated out of this

It is also important to note that there is some overlap with social media and social networking; Cohen (2009) mentions that there are some Web 2.0 sites, such asTwitter and Facebook, and the newly launched Google+, that fit into both categories. These sites are used to build online communities through shared interests and ongoing conversations. In addition, they can be utilized to broadcast information; for example, during the Egyptian political crisis in January-February 2011, Twitter was heavily used by protestors and journalists to provide information, images, and links to the world (BBC, 2011). A 90% increase in crisis-related tweets was reported in this region from January 16th to January 30th, 2011 (BBC, 2011).

Social Media in Education

Social media can be used as an effective tool to help increase collaboration, communication, and cooperation skills in students. Social media can provide a way for teachers and students to become more interactive.

Case Studies of Social Media in the Classroom

  • There has been an increase in ‘backchannels’ in classrooms ranging from elementary schools to universities. They have been set up because of increased use of microblogging platforms such as Twitter and educational social network sites such as Edmodo. These backchannels have enabled students to provide feedback and ask questions (either to their peers or to the instructor); this is especially true for students who are not active participants in oral discussions, as they feel more comfortable and free to express their opinions in an online setting. Some students who are involved in backchannels in their learning environments noted that “...everybody is heard in our class...”, and it has allowed them to have a greater appreciation of their peers, perceiving them “ more intelligent, seeing their thought process and understanding them on a deeper level.” (Gabriel, 2011)
  • In 2009, Hot Seat, a unique backchannel system, was created at Purdue University in West Lafayette, Indiana. It houses a collaborative classroom environment where students are able to contribute “real time feedback”. As a result, this enables professors to modify content during lectures based on these comments or questions (Purdue Research Foundation, 2010). Hot Seat can be easily accessed on laptops, tablets, and smartphones and its activity can be projected on a screen during classes. Professor Sugato Chakdravarty noted a significant increase in student participation in his personal finance classes. He stated that “...without this kind of social media interaction, there are things students think about that normally they’d never say.” (Gabriel, 2011)
  • Trier (2007, p. 602) described his experiences in using YouTube as a teaching tool in a high school English classroom. To help his students gain background knowledge before studying The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn, he assigned a series of videos on the television show, Boston Public. The videos depicted a teacher who engaged his students in honest and provoking discussions about “racially charged language”. Trier asked his students to watch these videos and participate in a discussion board for homework. He noted that there was “...richness, quality, and depth in student responses...” during the novel study, and he concluded that this was because of the opportunity the students had in using YouTube to help preload information.
  • Trier (2007, p. 601) also describes another situation in which he used YouTubein his English classroom. To complement the military-themed short story, “Greasy Lake”, he used a music video on YouTubetitled, Nineteen. Trier (2007, p. 601) stated that the video was “....perfect media text to highlight the story (Greasy Lake) because it articulated visual footage from the Vietnam war with haunting lyrics...” He further mentions that his students were much more engaged in the discussions of “Greasy Lake” because they were able to view a “...socio-political critique...” which brought up many of the issues raised in the short story. Therefore, this is another example where having access to rare media text clips can certainly enhance the learning environment.

This stop motion animation show how social media can be utilized in the classroom:

added by Jenny Lee in February 2015

Social Media platforms in the classroom

The following table is a sampling of social media platforms that can be used in the elementary, secondary, and post-secondary classrooms. For a more comprehensive list, please visit the external links at the bottom of this page.

Social Media Platform Description (Suggested Uses)

Google moderator

  • students type in questions and vote for questions they would most like answered in class

Todays Meet

  • sets up a virtual classroom


  • shows videos on selected topics


  • shows educational-based videos on selected topics, allows for video sharing
  • schooltube - schools can set up a unique schooltube channel, students and teachers can share videos


  • allows students to view presentations on current topics in a conference-style setting (for secondary and post-secondary only)


  • social job match site: provides information on jobs, careers, and employers (for secondary and post-secondary only)

Wikispaces for educators

  • social communities - students and teachers can share images, text, and documents
  • students and teachers can engage in discussion forums
  • course management tools - teachers are able to post assignments, announcements; students are able to respond, submit assignments electronically
  • students and teachers are able to embed video, audio, and images to add impact to multimedia assignments


  • social bookmarking sites – teaches students how to share online sources with classmates


  • a tutoring tool, used primarily in math, sciences, engineering, and business (for high school and university only)

Flickr (FlickrEdu)

  • students can use photographs to enhance a project or presentation


  • allows students to keep an online journal and provide feedback on entries

Benefits of Social Media in Education

  • Cost-effective: many social media platforms are free of charge to use for schools and districts
  • Students have the chance to develop intercultural awareness : having the opportunity to connect with peers all over the world will allow students to build tolerance and develop attitudes, knowledge, concepts, and skills as they learn about their own and others’ social, national, and ethnic cultures (IBO, 2008).
  • Allows education to be more open: social media not only promotes open communication between students and teachers, but also between teachers and administrators, teachers and parents, and amongst educators (Couros, 2011).
  • Helps to decrease isolation of schools in rural settings: teachers and students in rural or smaller-scale schools have the ability to connect and learn from others outside of their communities (Couros, 2011)
  • Complements deep learning: "...learning that can lead to real understanding, and the ability to apply one's knowledge and deploy it in innovation..." (Gee, 2007)
  • Promotes the development of 21st century learning skills : to be successful and effective in the 21st century, individuals must be able to apply various functional critical thinking skills related to information, media, and technology. Other 21st century skills that can be developed through the use of social media include:
    • learning and innovation skills, working creatively with others - being open and responsive to new and diverse perspectives
    • communication skills - articulating thoughts and ideas effectively using oral, written, and nonverbal communication skills in a variety of forms and contexts
    • collaboration skills - exercising flexibility and willingness to work effectively and respectfully with diverse teams
    • information literacy - accessing and evaluating information critically and competently; using and managing information accurately and creatively for the issue or problem at hand

(Partnership for 21st century skills, 2004)

Learning Theories and Social Media

The use of social media in education supports sociological constructivism, which claims that social interactions, combined with learner experiences, help to construct new knowledge (Young, 2008, p.3). Through social networking, microblogging, and backchannel forums, students are able to provide feedback on course content and lectures, and they can build on their own understandings through their peers’ comments and questions.

Social media also enhances cognitive flexibility, a component of a constructivist learning environment (CLE). Since students are able to connect with peers in their classes as well as within and beyond their communities, they will be exposed to various perspectives on issues (Jonassen, 1999). Another essential part of CLEs are “rich sources of information” that should be “learner-selected” and “just-in-time” (Jonassen, 1999). Instructors are able to send links to new information via Twitter feeds or posts on social network sites, and students are able to share current and useful sources with peers via social bookmarking sites.

Moreover, computer-mediated communication through social media can help to develop communities of learners (COLs), as there is “ atmosphere of individual responsibility coupled with communal sharing” (Barab & Duffy, 2000). Students are able to construct their knowledge and undergo restructuring of ideas while working with others on achieving a similar understanding of the issues. COLs can be further developed by having students apply online research skills and share their information through bookmarking sites, thus helping to develop new understandings and “...a common mind and voice...” (Barab & Duffy, 2000).

Limitations of Social Media in Education

  • Some critics believe that introducing backchannels or microblogging platforms into classrooms will cause distraction and lead to cyberbullying. In a recent survey on how faculty in post-secondary institutions use social media, it was reported that two percent of faculty members used Twitter in class, and nearly half thought that doing so would negatively affect learning (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011).
  • In the same survey, lack of faculty training was stated as a barrier to using social media; this was connected to a lack of confidence in using the technology (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011).
  • Furthermore, privacy concerns about the nature of information being shared online are an issue, as students are constantly interacting with numerous individuals in local and worldwide social media sites.
  • Lack of institutional support from local administrators and officials at a district or university level was also cited as a barrier to implementing social media (Moran, Seaman, & Tinti-Kane, 2011).
  • In addition, educators are under pressure to aim for breadth in covering curriculum, rather than covering material in depth. The argument here is that social media takes too much time in the classroom, as the focus in many classrooms is on studying factual textbook information that is likely to be assessed. Furthermore, the habitual nature of teaching influences instructional styles; teachers tend to teach the way they were taught with an emphasis on instructor-based strategies that value content acquisition over the learning process (Mandernach, 2006).


Barab, S., & Duffy, T. (2000). From practice fields to communities of practice. In D. Jonassen and S. Land (Eds.), Theoretical foundations of learning environments. Mahweh, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Borders,B. (2009, June 2). A brief history of social media [Web log message]. Retrieved from:

British Broadcasting Corporation (2011). Egypt protestors use voice tweets. Retrieved from:

Cohen, L.S. (2009, April 30). Is there a difference between social media and social networking? [Web log message]. Retrieved from:

Couros, G. (2011, March 25). Why social media is and can change education [Web log message]. Retrieved from:

FutureWorks Inc. (2009). Retrieved from:

Gabriel, T. (2011). Speaking up in class, silently, using social media.The New York Times. Retrieved from:

Gee, J. (2007). Video Games + Good Learning. New York: Peter Lang.

Greenhaw, A. (2010, April 27). History of Social Media [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Hartshorn, S. (2010, May 4). 5 Differences between social media and social networking [Web log message]. Retrieved from:

International Baccalaureate Organization (2008). MYP: From principles into practice. (2nd ed.) Retrieved from:

Jonassen, D. (1999). Designing constructivist learning environments. In C. Reigeluth (Ed.), Instructional design theories and models: Volume II. Mahwah, NJ: Lawrence Erlbaum.

Kaplan, A.M. & Haeinlein, M. (2010) Users of the world, unite! The challenges and opportunities of social media. Business Horizons, 53 (1). Retrieved from:

Mandernach, B.J. (2006). Thinking critically about critical thinking: using online tools to promote critical thinking. Insight: A Collection of Faculty Scholarship, 1, 41-50.

Moran, M., Seaman, J., & Tinti-Kane, H. (2011). Teaching, learning, and sharing: How today’s higher education faculty use social media. Retrieved from:

Merriam-Webster Incorporated. (2011). Retrieved from:

Partnership for 21st Century Skills. (2004). P21 Framework Definitions. Retrieved from:

Purdue Research Foundation.(2010). Retrieved from:

Qualman, E. (2011, June 8). Social media revolution 2011 [Video file]. Retrieved from:

Stelzner, M. (2009, May 22). Social media vs. social networking: What’s the difference? [Web log message]. Retrieved from:

Trier, J. (2007). “Cool” engagements with YouTube: Part 2.International Reading Association, 50, 598-603.doi:10.1598/JAAL.50.7.8

Young, M. (2008). From constructivism to realism in the sociology of the curriculum. Review of Research in Education, 32, 1-28. doi: 10.3102/0091732X07308969

External Links


Hot seat

100 inspirational ways to incorporate social media in the classroom

25 excellent social media sites for teachers

Categorized list of social media and social networking sites