By Devin Mulertt
I’ve always found social media to be an especially intriguing phenomenon. I even started a personal blog last year where I comment on interesting articles that address the many ways social media impacts our world and changes the ways we interact. So I naturally jumped on the chance to investigate different ways social media is being integrated into UW-Madison courses.
In researching the story, I enjoyed interviewing different professors and hearing their reasoning for incorporating social media outlets, like Twitter and Facebook, into their classes. It was also interesting to compare and contrast the variety of ways professors leverage social media as a learning tool, and I identified some common practices, such as the creation of a course hashtag so that students’ tweets could be aggregated and then blended into discussions.
But the insight I found most compelling was the response from professors that social media creates a greater sense of community among students. On a large campus like UW-Madison, it can be easy for students to feel disconnected and isolated, and identifying a smaller community of friends can sometimes be difficult, especially for an underclassman.
However, incorporating social media into the classroom fosters a more collaborative environment that allows students to connect in a unique way that can translate outside of the classroom. Students often feel freer to share their knowledge and experiences in the fluid social media sphere, rather than in a more rigid classroom setting; and it is this sharing that helps students discover common interests or viewpoints and potentially build friendships.
One of the professors I interviewed, Shawn Peters, brought up an interesting paradox, explaining that social media is commonly criticized for building barriers between individuals and not promoting face-to-face interaction. But he has found in his courses that social media does the exact opposite. Peters said he has seen social media help to create and nurture relationships among his students and generate a more vibrant learning community.
With the evolution of the digital sphere, the world is shrinking as boundaries are being shattered and greater associations are being built. Technology has always played a part in bringing us together, from planes, trains, and automobiles to the telephone, and the digital age is no different. I think it is amazing how digital innovations allow for the greater sharing of ideas and the building of associations, especially because it is easy for us to retreat to the comfort of our familiar communities and forget to consider the diversity of our world and the differing needs of others. But through technology like social media, we have the potential to become a more attentive, cohesive global society that can unite around shared ideas and more effectively achieve social change for a broader population.
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