EDUCamp’s second session was held in the packed Lillooet Room in the Irving K. Barber Learning Centre, where six educators and students, as well as curious on lookers, gathered to debate the relevancy of social media in higher education. The stage was set for an informative session that featured some humorous takes on the pros and cons of social media. The “pro” side featured Shagufta Pasta, a political science student; Jon Beasley-Murray, an assistant professor in French, Italian, and Spanish studies; and John Horn, a career manager at the Sauder School of Business. The “con” side featured David Vogt, an instructor in the Master of Educational Technology (MET) program; Leah Macfadyen, a research associate at Skylight; and Andre Malan, a computer science student. The debate was moderated by Frankie Cena, a Sauder student and member of the UBC Debate Society.
The Great Debate started with the opening topic: “Social media tools sustain student involvement in formal higher education. Yes or No?”
John began the debate by stating that “social media is now the number one activity on the Internet today”. Jon noted that in order to sustain student involvement, social media tools must be utilized. Shagufta talked about her experience with the UBC Terry Project. Project applicants were asked to submit YouTube videos describing why they should be chosen to speak at the Terry Talks. Shagufta noted that the YouTube submission requirement made it a lot easier for the Terry Project team to assess candidates. On the other side, Andre noted that universities are designed to be competitive environments, so students should be focused on traditional learning rather than being distracted by social media applications.
The next topic was: How does anonymity impact participation in formal learning environments?
Both sides seemed to agree that anonymity has a negative impact on learning. Jon pointed out that “formal education requires being able to locate and track individuals to give them grades”. Anonymity basically defeats the purpose of formal education, he argued. On the other side, Leah told the story of a student in a traditional classroom who failed to turn his exam in at the end of the allotted time. The professor left with all of the finished exams and the tardy student ran after him. When the instructor refused to accept the student’s exam, the student asked him a simple question: “Do you know my name?” The professor conceded that, no, he did not know the identity of the student. The student promptly jammed his exam into the middle of the stack of exams that the professor held in his hands. The instructor was never able to identify which exam belonged to the late student. Leah sited this story as an example of how “anonymity…is as available in the classroom as it can be in social media”. David added that learning occurs with “a set subject, a set period of time with set number of names of students”, and that this is the business model of higher education.
Moving forward, the debate continued with the question, “Is Facebook the great distracter?”
The pro-side disagreed and suggested that academic institutions need to embrace Facebook as a tool. John gave an example of how he incorporated Facebook into his career management class, since “everyone in the class was already on it”. On the con-side, Andre argued that students will only engage in a class if the class is interesting. If students are in a dry, mundane course, they will want to just take the exam, finish the assignments, and be done with the class. Adding a layer of social media to a dull course, he suggested, will not motivate students to do more than they need to do to get a good grade.
The next topic brought a few laughs from the audience: “Do you have to accept your mother, son, daughter, or professor’s Facebook friend invitation?”
Five out of the six debaters disagreed that accepting the invitation should be mandatory. Shagufta described this situation as an “interesting dynamic” and “it’s not necessarily a bad thing.” She explained that “everyone who [she] lets into [her] network has to make sense”, so she would only accept the friend invitation if it added value to her (a professor posting articles, for example). Andre, the only one of the debaters who said he would accept the invitation, reasoned that ignoring the invitation basically amounted to a denial of friendship. If it’s your mother, he explained, refusing the invitation means “I don’t want you in my life”.
At this point, a member of the audience asked the panel whether or not the top performers in the class were using Facebook while in the classroom.
David, the MET instructor, said yes, most of his students use Facebook since the majority of his classes are based online. John mentioned a recent survey of Canadian and American higher education institutions, that concluded “students who took online classes out performed those who just did face-to-face”, so he argued that “absolutely the top performers” are using Facebook. Leah remembered observing a class where the students in the back rows of the classroom were on their computers and disengaged from the lecture. Based on this experience, she suggested that there is a higher propensity of Facebook use the further away the student is sitting from the professor. Such a situation, she concluded, does not seem to encourage top performance.
With the last topic, the following question was posed: “Who owns academic and scholarly work that is published on social media websites?”
John argued that there is a fine line between content that is “attached to a Faculty’s website” and content that is posted with a Creative Commons license. Jon seconded that notion and explained that UBC has no business claiming content that is “beyond UBC control,” (material that is not hosted on UBC servers like Blogger, for example). Andre, on the other hand, warned the audience to be careful not to let external websites control the content: “that is why UBC tries to replicate its functions”, he pointed out, siting examples like the UBC Blogs system which uses WordPress Multi-user.
The Great Debate proved to be a very energizing and invigorating discussion, and although it did not provide the audience with a definitive answer, the conversation could have raged on well past the one hour time limit. One general take-away from the debate is that social media is here to stay. Whether universities try to constrain it or not, students will continue to use social networking sites and experiment with social media applications. Students are already familiar with social media, and universities will inevitably need to rethink some of the ways they deliver education in order to acknowledge this use.
See below for a recording of the Great Debate.