Getting Social

How social media proves to be a valuable educational tool for children.

GUEST COLUMN | by Carole Thompson

CREDIT static flickerSocial media has a very ambiguous role in our education system. Nobody is sure what to make of it — whether to denigrate it or applaud it. But no matter how we approach it, social media is here to stay and permeates every aspect of young people’s lives.

As an educator or a parent, most of us are confused as to how exactly we can use social media as an educational tool. Concerns regarding the effects of social networking on children are still unaddressed and can be highly unnerving to parents and teachers.

Studies show that a large percentage of children in the age group of 9-12 use Facebook, though the site requires users to be of a minimum age of 13. What are the implications of a highly social media-savvy student population? How can you steer your tween to use and navigate the virtual world responsibly?

The opportunities and learning avenues online are mind boggling, provided the children are taught to stay away from the danger that lurks there.

Let’s see how social media can be encouraged as an educational and developmental tool for young children.

Children Learn the Ropes of Social Interaction

Early teens can be introverted and disengaged from classroom learning. Social media can be used as a tool for drawing them in to study-related discussions online. Teachers will appear less intimidating and hence the children may be more willing to contribute and communicate.

Many children prefer to go unnoticed in the class and interact less with their peers due to shyness and a fear of rejection. When the interactions are online, the less perceived risk will help these kids to express themselves openly and with more willingness to communicate.

Children Learn to Be More Engaging

Many schools encourage sharing content online. Children are encouraged to think creatively and innovatively, and try to make their submissions as sharable as possible.

Responsible social media communication helps young learners attract and engage an audience. This is a valuable skill as more universities, colleges and prospective employers lend much weight to the social presence and online personal branding of applicants.

The early lessons learned in creating suitable, responsive and value-adding content for followers and users make the students confident and capable. They are better equipped to deal with new university admission criteria and the demands of future careers and workplaces.

Children Learn to Manage their Time Online Better

Appropriate academic pursuits on social media sites help students spend their ‘wired’ time better. Teachers can help students accomplish more when they are home, and thus contribute to continued and sustained leaning.

Since there is learning happening away from school as well, teachers get better student response, improved results and more efficiency in classrooms.

Blogging Reinforces Classroom Learning

Several schools and colleges encourage students to blog. They can share their thoughts on what is being taught in classrooms, the way they look at the subject, and the various ways through which their learning manifests in their life.

Other students can comment, share their views and contribute to discussions.

Using social media sites as tools for collaboration and collective engagement make classroom learning an enriching experience for students.

Blogs equip and promote excellent communication skills in students. They learn to multiply their audience and enjoy peer support in academic pursuits.

Social Media Promotes Team Work

The collaborative nature of the interaction allows students to work in teams to create content, to access and assess each other’s work, and also to reach out to their teachers when they need help.

Discussions and debates started online quickly draw in students and teachers alike, leading to fruitful and uninhibited interaction. Google Docs and Wikispaces are really popular collaborative tools for students and teachers.

Class Podcasts Endow Ownership to Student Community

Podcasts have grown to be a really powerful user-generated content creation tool. Classroom podcasts are free and easy to create. Students can hear, edit, publish and share valuable learning material.

Podcasts allow students to tailor the learning material to suit their needs and construct their own knowledge. Educational ownership is shifting from teachers to students, and becoming more inclusive and free-flowing.

Screencasts Takes Visual Learning Online

Jing is a free online tool for creating screencasts. Teachers can create videos along with narration of tutorials and classes, and upload it to the site or email it to their students. The saved screencasts can be accessed anytime by students.

Students can also upload videos of themselves working on a math problem or conducting an experiment. The online screen recorder tool is widely used in high school classes, and in lectures and presentations.

Students Can Connect with the Wider Community

Social media tools like Twitter make it possible for students to connect with and follow experts and prominent personalities in their fields of interest. This can be highly motivating to a young person and help bring him closer to those he admires and wishes to emulate.

Social networking sites help students build connections with business leaders, top executives in companies, future mentors and professors, fellow achievers from the student community, and recruiters in universities and colleges.

A robust social media presence enables students to share and access valuable content, post about issues and interests they are passionate about, and comment and contribute to discussions.

Students who are active on social networking sites and have plenty of connections and friends also grow to be more influential in the virtual world.


Remember how much care and concern you had when teaching your young child to ride a bike? He requires the same love, care and empathy while you guide him to navigate the choppy, dangerous and murky waters of social media. Be aware and educate yourself first, and thereby teach your child better.

Carole Thompson is the Community Manager at Math Genie, making Math fun for kids with the help of the Abacus Math program, successfully tutoring over 1,000 students by building a strong foundation of mathematical concepts.

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The MOOCs Completion Conundrum

Developing tools that empower professors and scale the best of teaching.

GUEST COLUMN | by Dror Ben-Naim

CREDIT SmartSparrow timelineOne of the great ironies of online learning is that a tool created to foster personalized learning is actually quite impersonal, in practice. It doesn’t have to be that way.

MOOCs (Massive Open Online Course) are based on a simple premise: deliver free content from the world’s greatest professors to the masses, and a global community of students could take the same courses as students attending elite colleges and universities. The hope was that broad-based access to higher education would enable unprecedented numbers of learners to fulfill the democratic promise of higher education, social mobility and professional attainment.

It is now clear that the hype surrounding MOOCs has outpaced the model’s ability to deliver on the promise of a revolution in higher education. Initial data demonstrates that MOOCs have lived up to their name in terms of generating massive enrollments; however, completion rates – including introductory, lecture courses – hover in the low single digits.

Our early adaptive tutorials, designed to teach threshold concepts in first and second year mechanics courses, resulted in reductions in the student failure rate from 31% to 7%.

These findings should not be surprising. MOOCs combine a set of existing tools that can be useful instructional supports, such as online lectures, social networks, and quizzes. But few professors would consider these technologies, together, as a substitute for the course experience.

Last month, Columbia Teachers College released a MOOC progress report, which took a close look at implementation challenges and barriers to success. The report stated that “while the potential for MOOCs to contribute significantly to the development of personalized and adaptive learning is high, the reality is far from being achieved.” To get there, “a great deal of coordination and collaboration among content experts, instructors, researchers, instructional designers, and programmers will be necessary.”

Charting A Different Course: Pedagogical Ownership

The quality of MOOCs raises two fundamental questions: Is the traditional lecture experience worth replicating? Can online courses do better – informing teaching and learning or, perhaps, rethinking the approach entirely?

The question of quality is a tough one for those of us who have worked in academia to answer honestly. For centuries, the lecture model has persisted, despite lackluster results.

But the old way of teaching is now being questioned – and with good reason. Completion rates for nontraditional learners and first generation college students are disappointingly low, even at the world’s most revered institutions. If MOOCs simply repackage and extend the lecture format, it’s easy to see why students would complete them at alarmingly low rates.

Thankfully, alternatives are emerging. Professors, like Arizona State University’s Ariel Anbar, are rethinking what an online education might look like if it was “born-digital.”

Anbar was frustrated that lectures failed to engage students or teach them how science really works. He used the transition to online as an opportunity to smash disciplines and rethink the format of an entry-level science course entirely.

The result? Engaging, simulative, digital content powered by pedagogical approaches that move beyond the one-size-fits-all lecture to individualize the learning experiences for each student.

Habitable Worlds was designed to satisfy the science requirements of non-STEM majors. Rather than silo disciplines into comfortable buckets – chemistry, biology, physics – Anbar designed an integrative curriculum centered around a big scientific question: are we alone in the universe?

As students move along customized learning paths, they use logic and reasoning to solve problems and deal with uncertainties. At every step, they receive instant feedback, followed by learning opportunities tailored to their level of understanding.

The design decisions underpinning Habitable Worlds stem from the thesis that online courses should be more effective than a face-to-face lecture course in teaching scientific reasoning and promoting positive attitudes toward STEM. Habitable Worlds has now been offered to more than 1,500 students and is the focus of a $600,000 NSF award designed to further its development and objectively assess its effectiveness.

Anbar isn’t a coder and didn’t raise millions in venture capital. He utilized an authoring tool called Smart Sparrow that we developed at the University of New South Wales. Just as products like iMovie and Photoshop brought design and editing capabilities to a wide creative audience, Smart Sparrow was designed to give professors and instructional designers the tools they need to unleash their pedagogical creativity and design their own rich, adaptive, personalized courses.

The goal of this technology is not to replace teachers. Rather, Habitable Worlds illustrates the power of technology that lets teachers exert pedagogical ownership over online teaching resources. Pedagogical ownership enables professors to:

  • Develop and deliver content to learners;
  • Establish feedback loops that allow teachers to reflect on the effectiveness of that content; and
  • Quickly adapt content to the specific needs of their students.

The results are striking. Our early adaptive tutorials, designed to teach threshold concepts in first and second year mechanics courses, resulted in reductions in the student failure rate from 31% to 7%.

George Siemens, the “godfather” of the MOOC, was recently quoted in the New York Times in December 2013 saying, “the next challenge will be scaling creativity, and finding a way that even in a class of 100,000, adaptive learning can give each student a personal experience.”

Professors like Ariel Anbar are already taking that challenge head-on – and we can’t solve the problem without them. The challenge for technology is developing tools that empower professors like Ariel and, in turn, scale the best elements of truly great teaching.

Dror Ben-Naim, Ph.D., is the founder and CEO of Smart Sparrow, an edtech start-up pioneering adaptive and personalized learning technology. He previously led a research group in the field of Intelligent Tutoring Systems and Educational Data Mining at University of New South Wales.

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Trends | We Are Smarter than Me

Becky Splitt, co-founder of StudyBlue, presented at TEDxMadison about the power of collaborative learning and the opportunities for technology to bring students together. As she argues, in today’s digital world, the opportunity to bring learners together is not just an improvement in education, it’s crucial. In fact, it may just become the most cost-effective and scalable way to improve education for everyone.

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Cool Tool | Ginkgotree

CREDIT GinkotreeYou may like this app – it lets you customize the world’s best educational content. It’s a web tool for educators to assemble all of their course materials in one unified resource. Essentially a content management tool for textbooks, Ginkgotree is really a complete content management system for your campus, integrated with your LMS. You  assemble what they call digital Bundles™ of course content from any variety of textbooks, open educational resources, and your own content. You can bring everything together into a beautiful interface with excellent accessibility. Whether you have audio/video, documents, webpages, textbooks, or images, you can pick only the chapters you need, or use the whole textbook. The content is digitally sourced, and copyright clearance is automated. Brought to you by a smart bunch of edtech folks based in Detroit, you have to see it to appreciate it.


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Cool Tool | Follett Classroom Connections

CREDIT Follett Classroom ConnectionsWant to help struggling readers with a personalized approach? A new cool tool allows educators to connect the books on the shelves with classroom instruction: Classroom Connections from Follett Learning. Classroom Connections is the Follett Shelf ebook environment’s new functionality package that gives teachers the ability to use e-books as a core content delivery media and:

  • Add and share support resources, links, and questions through the pages of an ebook to specific groups of students.
  • Assign specific ebook titles to a group of struggling readers.

It turns an e-book into a customized reading experience that can be differentiated for every learner in your classroom. Teachers can embed a link to an audio recording website where a student could record themselves reading a text. The student could send their recording back to their teacher for review. Educators can create a reading riddle with student answers combining to answer a big question, or they can give a formative or summative assessment. The solution was developed to support teachers using Follett ebook content in the classroom—to support struggling readers, to help build reading skills, and to give teachers new ways of making resources more meaningful for all learners. With it, a teacher can assign a reading list to a pre-selected group of struggling readers with a single click. In turn, students can checkout and read those titles at home, on the bus, or in class with another click. With another click, a teacher can share any notes, quizzes, hyperlinks, or reading instructions with those kids to support them as they read. Have a look.

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