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Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) A60A68

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Computers in Human Behavior

journal homepage: www.elsevier.com/locate/comphumbeh

The role of social media in higher education classes (real and virtual) A
literature review
Paul A. Tess
Department of Educational Psychology, University of Minnesota, 56 East River Road, Suite 250, Minneapolis, MN 55455, United States

a r t i c l e i n f o a b s t r a c t

Article history: The ubiquity of social media (e.g., Facebook, Twitter) is no more apparent than at the university. Social
Available online 26 January 2013 media are increasingly visible in higher education settings as instructors look to technology to mediate
and enhance their instruction as well as promote active learning for students. Many scholars argue for
Keywords: the purposeful integration of social media as an educational tool. Empirical evidence, however, has lagged
Social media in supporting the claim. Most of the existing research on the utility and effectiveness of social media in
Higher education the higher education class is limited to self-reported data (e.g., surveys, questionnaires) and content anal-
yses. This paper summarizes the scholarly writings as well as reviews the ndings of empirical investi-
gations. Some limitations are discussed, and future areas of research are proposed.
Educational technology 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.

1. Introduction of the most popular social media applications follows. The review
concludes with suggestions for future research as gleaned from the
The growth of social media and other Web 2.0 technologies is literature or proposed by the author.
unprecedented (Lenhart, Purcell, Smith, & Zickuhr, 2010). Social
media technology has become an essential part of personal life as 2. Methodology
users generate content, share photos, choose to like, or interact
in a game. The ubiquity of social media is no more apparent than A review of the literature was undertaken in September and Octo-
at the university where the technology is transforming the ways ber of 2012. I systematically searched the following specialized data-
students communicate, collaborate, and learn. base sources: Web of Science, EBSCOhost, and ERIC. Additionally
Even as todays college student experiences a variety of class- Google Scholar searches were performed. Search words and phrases
room forms (i.e., brick and mortar, virtual, hybrid), social medias included Facebook, Higher Education, Social Media, Social Media in
use and inuence are evolving depending on context. Widely em- Education, MySpace, LinkedIn, Web 2.0, Social Networking, Social
braced as a tool for personal or business purposes, the notion that Networking Sites, and Blogs. The snowball method of using the
social media could be an effective tool for educational purposes has most recent works to nd relevant articles cited in them provided
received recent attention. At the same time, this developing arena additional articles. Since keywords in research articles are not based
is receiving an increased research interest. The potential role for on common lists, it is highly likely that some of the literature was
social media as a facilitator and enhancer of learning is worth missed. An interesting strategy from a literature review on the same
investigating. As a result, this literature review will explore the theme could be noted here. Conole & Alevizou, 2010, besides the tra-
question, What is the role of social media in the higher education ditional review approach, used social media (i.e., Cloudworks) to out-
classroom (real and virtual)? as described in current scholarship source to other researchers inviting their collective input.
and studied in empirical investigations.
The review begins with a brief description of the literature re-
3. Denition and pervasiveness
view methodology employed in the identication of relevant
works. An operational denition for social media is offered fol-
3.1. Social media dened
lowed by a look at usage trends of the most popular social net-
working sites. The next section of the review focuses on what
Social media is a term that is broadly used to describe any num-
researchers have argued should be the antecedents of the educa-
ber of technological systems related to collaboration and commu-
tional use of social media. The affordances and drawbacks of social
nity (Joosten, 2012). While it appears that a specic denition may
media use in class are explored next. Scholarship surrounding each
be elusive (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010), social media is often de-
scribed by example. Social networking sites, blogs, wikis, multi-
E-mail address: tessx004@umn.edu media platforms, virtual game worlds, and virtual social worlds

0747-5632/$ - see front matter 2013 Elsevier Ltd. All rights reserved.
P.A. Tess / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) A60A68 A61

are among the applications typically included in recent SNS in the United States social networking market (comScore
illustrations (Barnes & Lescault, 2011; McEwan, 2012). To narrow December 23, 2011).
the range for this review, social networking sites (SNSs) were cho-
sen to be the focus in recognition of the prevalence of SNSs such as 3.2.4. Blog
Facebook and MySpace, and LinkedIn. Used interchangeably with A weblog or blog is essentially an online journal where a num-
terms such as social networking or online social networks, SNSs ber of contributors participate by dialoging about a particular topic
are web-based services that allow users to make personal proles, or focus. Like other social media, blogs allow users to post personal
create content, and share messages by connecting with other users content, to comment on and connect to other media sites, and to
in the system (boyd & Ellison, 2007). Some researchers use the make observations about other users posts (Du & Wagner, 2006).
more inclusive term Web 2.0 when referring to SNSs and other so- The word weblog was used as early as 1997 (Blood, 2000). Indica-
cial media (Gruzd, Staves, & Wilk, 2011; Hemmi, Bayne, & Land, tive of its growth, by 2004 the word blog was announced by Mer-
2009; Kaplan & Haenline, 2010). riam-Webster as its Word of the Year (http://www.merriam-
The task of dening social media is made more challenging by webster.com/info/04words.htm). One of the main tracking and
the fact that it is constantly in a state of change. SNSs evolve as ranking services for blogs, Technorati.com (2012) (http://techno-
developers create new or enhanced features that will meet the de- rati.com), lists over 1,315,000 active sites in its directory. As a basic
mands of users. Some social networks are tailored to niche markets tool, blogs today are most often provided by hosting services such
so features may be differentiated for particular users. For example, as Blogger, ModBlog, and Xanga. Sophisticated and larger users
Match.com and eHarmony.com are SNSs that cater to dating (and may need to host their own blogs (Du & Wagner, 2006).
were not included in this review). Ning allows users to create their
own social networks. A brief description of Facebooks functional-
3.2.5. Twitter
ity portrays most current capabilities of SNSs. Inside Facebook,
Twitter is a social networking site that is often termed a microb-
users can send messages, add friends, update personal proles, join
logging service. In contrast to Facebook or MySpace, Twitter limits
groups, develop applications, host content, and learn about other
posts or updates to 160 characters. Some have suggested that Twit-
users through their online proles (Haase, 2010).
ter makes for a faster mode of communication because of the rel-
atively short post lengths (Java, Song, Finin, & Tseng, 2007). The
3.2. Prevalence of social media
average blogger may update every few days whereas the average
microblogger will update several times a day (Java et al., 2007).
3.2.1. Facebook
Facebook may be the face of online social networks. Developed
in 2004 by then Harvard undergraduate Mark Zuckerberg, it is the 3.3. Social Impact
dominant social networking site (Lenhart et al., 2010). Among
the many studies reporting statistics related to Facebook adoption The Pew Internet Project, an initiative of the Pew Research Cen-
and usage (e.g., Hargittai, 2007; Jones & Fox, 2009; Lenhart & Mad- ter, has gleaned extensive data on the social impact of the internet
den, 2007; Salaway & Caruso, 2008), Ellison, Steineld, and Lampe (www.pewinternet.org). Since 2007, the research organization has
(2007), found that 94% of their college students were users of Face- studied the use of social networking sites. In their 2010 report of
book spending an average of 1030 min on the site and having social media use among young adults, Lenhart et al. found 72 %
150200 friends. More recently and in a larger study, 90% of under- of online 1829 year olds used SNSs which was signicantly higher
graduate college students were reported to have Facebook ac- than the 39% of users older than 29. Sixty-six percent of young
counts (Harvard, 2011). Reaching the one billion user mark adults maintained a prole on My Space but only 7% on LinkedIn.
during the rst days of October, 2012 (Facebook.com), an interest- Among all age groups, young adults led the way in using Twitter
ing usage trend has recently emerged. College-age users (Face- as 33% of the group reported posting or reading status updates.
books most mature market) reportedly spent 25% less time on More recently, Madden and Zickuhr (2011) reported that 83% of
the site in August of 2012, a declining trend predicted to continue internet users within the ages 1829 group used social networking
(Blodget, 2012). sites (61% of those on a daily basis). Young adults were more likely
to use SNSs than older adults, but the percentage gap was reduced
3.2.2. MySpace signicantly from the previous 2 years. Fifty to sixty-four year old
MySpace, co-founded by Chris DeWolfe and Tom Anderson in users had more than doubled from 25% in 2009 to 51% in 2011. Of
2003, was an early addition to the SNS eld. With enormous all web-based applications, only email and search engines were
growth in its rst few years, by 2009 it was considered the leading used more frequently than SNSs among all ages.
social media site (Lenhart, 2009). Fifty percent of adult social net- While social networks have similar functionality, they exhibit
working users reported that they owned a MySpace account. Users different social norms and organization. In a comparative analysis
were found to be more likely women, Hispanic or black, and high- of Facebook, LinkedIn, and another SNS called ASmallWorld, Papa-
school educated with some college experience. The median age charissi (2009) concluded that Facebook was much more publicly
was 27 years old. Like Facebook it offers an interactive, user-sub- open (a glasshouse) where behavioral norms were looser. Users
mitted network of friends, personal proles, blogs, groups, photos, could leave cues for one another, essentially constructing their
music and videos (boyd et al., 2007). own norms. As was expected, LinkedIn was more tightly organized
offering less room for spontaneity or norm generation. The re-
3.2.3. LinkedIn searcher posited that users did not have to wonder what was con-
Used primarily for professional networking, LinkedIn is a net- sidered right or wrong on this website.
working site that launched in May, 2003. LinkedIn users usually
afliate with others in their work maintaining a list of contacts 4. Antecedents of classroom use
for people they know and trust. The trust factor is an important
concept in this SNS as connecting with others requires either a 4.1. Conceptual and theoretical antecedents
pre-existing relationship or some mutual contact (Papacharissi,
2009). Last December, comScore reported that LinkedIn had Given the prevalence of social media in general and the satura-
reached the 35,000,000 user mark making it the third most visited tion of SNSs in particular, many higher education instructors have
A62 P.A. Tess / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) A60A68

looked to the technology to mediate and enhance their instruction adopt their use simply because they were so readily available
as well as promote active learning for students (Anderson, 2007; was to employ a tool for a task for which it may be unsuitable. Cau-
Eijkman, 2008; McLoughlin & Lee, 2010; Selwyn, 2010). Of course, tioning against the over-privileging of SNSs, Madge, Meek, Wel-
using the media may require the looking instructor to consider lens, and Hooley (2009) concluded that academic adoption of
not only the practical integration of the tool into course goals, social media should involve a study of ownership and boundaries.
but also (and more importantly) the theoretical framework for
implementing the technology as a learning resource. Some have 5. Findings
suggested that the latter has drawn little attention to date from
either instructors or researchers (Merchant, 2012). The notion of 5.1. Affordances and drawbacks
bringing more scholarship into this area will be one of the research
recommendations. Researchers have been examining the role that social media
Selwyn (2010) argued that three interrelated concepts should plays in the higher education classroom. Some of the work has
motivate the use of social media in higher education: the appar- highlighted the affective outcomes of SNS integration. A few stud-
ently changing nature of the student who comes to the university ies investigated learning outcomes and student achievement in
highly connected, collective, and creative; the changing relation- relationship to the educational use of social media in college
ship that todays university learner has with knowledge consump- courses. While the majority of studies reported positive affor-
tion, knowledge construction, and formal education; the de- dances, there was evidence of drawbacks as well. This section sum-
emphasis of institutionally provided learning and emergence of marizes key ndings from the studies.
user-driven education. King, Greianus, Carbonaro, Drummond, and Patterson (2009)
Similarly, McLoughlin and Lee (2010) commented on the affor- described the development of an interprofessional team course in
dances and principles of social software as a pedagogical choice. the healthcare eld showing how to integrate social networking.
They argued that one of social constructivisms (Vygotsky, 1978) Recognizing the need for future healthcare providers to adopt a
foremost tenets can be applied to teaching with social media. That community of practice paradigm, the researchers found that the
is, learning is conversational in nature including dialogue and integration of an educationally structured social networking envi-
shared activity. In addition, social networks can become the impe- ronment facilitated growth toward the concept of effective com-
tus for inquiry-based approaches and collaboration. The commen- munication. One recommendation that surfaced was the
tators also posited that social software applications promote active suggestion that the institutional website have a more intuitive for-
participation, learner self-direction, and personal meaning mat similar to the commercial applications such as MySpace.
construction. Recently, Sadaf, Newby, and Ertmer (2012) studied pre-service
In line with social constructivism, situated learning theory ap- teachers beliefs about their intent to use Web 2.0 technology in
pears to support SNSs in the classroom (Hung & Yuen, 2010). The their future classrooms. The 12 participants in the exploratory
theory views learning as set in a participatory social context. qualitative study (i.e., interviews, reections) were rst-year stu-
According to Lave and Wenger (1991), situated learning extends dents in a teacher education program at a large Midwestern uni-
the model of knowledge construction by proposing that learning versity. In addition to the 12 initial participants, 190 students
is situated in a specic context and embedded in a particular social completed an open-ended survey. The results showed that a
and physical environment. The use of social media to enhance the majority (51%) were committed to Web 2.0 technology as an
community of practice in the college classroom makes for a log- instructional tool primarily because it may increase student
ical argument. Hung and Yuen (2010) contend that a sense of com- engagement. The pre-service teachers recognized that although
munity is an essential element for successful e-learning. they were comfortable users of the technology, they would need
guidance as how to implement its effective use in the classroom.
4.2. The argument from a philosophical perspective Other students did not perceive the affordances and offered a
different perspective. Using a web-based questionnaire and stu-
Others would argue for social media use from a more philo- dent interviews from four universities, Jones, Blackey, Fitzgibbon,
sophical perspective (Anderson, 2007; Brown & Duguid, 2002). So- & Chew (2010) found a large distinction in student perceptions
cial media enables what Eijkman (2008) termed non-foundational regarding technology use in the personal space versus the learning
network-centric learning spaces. He contended that higher educa- space. While more than 70% of the students reported having a so-
tions approach to using Web 2.0 architecture needed to funda- cial networking account, they also indicated that they rarely used
mentally change from its implementation of Web 1.0. Instead of social media for educational purposes. Three of the ve themes
the information-focused paradigm (foundationalist), Web 2.0 that emerged in the interviews may explain the reasons for the di-
afforded knowledge construction that was vested in globally di- vide. (a) The students tended to separate their social life (pleasur-
verse networks of learning. Optimum use of social media meant able) from their learning (painful); (b) concerns arose about the
linking the architecture of participation to another architecture difculty in identifying original sources of ideas that were posted
built on non-foundational acculturation (Eijkman, 2008). (concern for copyright infringement); and (c) the students were
not keen on information overload or the added time constraints
4.3. Antecedent cautions that technology may bring.
Brady, Holcomb, and Smith (2010) studied the use of Ning in
The argument is not one-sided, however. Some scholars posit online graduate courses at North Carolina State University. A con-
that social media should not be adopted just because of availability venience sample of students (N = 50) from three different courses
or affordances. Already in the early 1980s, Clark (1983) argued were surveyed to determine their perceptions of the SNS for e-
that no available research supported any use of media. His argu- learning benets. Seventy percent reported agreement with the
ment included the often quoted grocery truck analogy about notion that Ning made more communication possible between
claiming the delivery vehicle (media) as the cause for student peers than a comparable face-to-face class. Nearly the same
achievement. More recently Friesen and Lowe (2011) questioned amount (82%) indicated that Ning helped communication outside
the ability of social media to foster debate and disagreement, a cru- of the class as well. Most users (74%) agreed that Ning allowed
cial component of learning. Like others, they made the argument them to reect and comment on others work more effectively than
that social networks were not developed for formal education. To may have occurred in a face-to-face class.
P.A. Tess / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) A60A68 A63

By conducting a small-scale survey of faculty and students at a (r = .010, p = .746) when no variables were controlled. On the other
mid-size southern university (public), Roblyer, McDaniel, Webb, hand, the data set from the smallest group (N = 303) from the
Herman, and Witty (2010) compared the uses of Facebook between National Annenberg Survey of Youth, showed a reliable negative
the two groups. They reported that 95% of the students surveyed relationship (r = .148, p = .010). The third data set (a follow-up
compared to 73% of the faculty had Facebook accounts. Of all the to the NASY) reported a positive relationship between Facebook
uses identied (e.g., communications with friends, career network- use and academic performance (r = .122, p = .002). The researchers
ing), communication regarding coursework was least on the list. concluded that there was more evidence to support a positive cor-
The faculty were less likely to support Facebook as an instructional relation between Facebook use and grades.
tool (v2 = 17.464, p < .001).
Additional faculty perceptions were studied by Ajjan and Hart- 5.2. SNSs as course management systems
shorne (2008) in which they collected survey data from 136 faculty
members at a large university in southeast United States to inves- Wang, Woo, Quek, Yang, and Liu (2011) explored Facebooks
tigate facultys awareness of technologies and benets of adopting capabilities as a substitute for or addition to a learning manage-
Web 2.0 tools for the classroom. Social networks were viewed as a ment system. Two groups of course participants (N = 14, graduate;
useful tool for improving student satisfaction (32%) and increasing N = 14, undergraduate) enrolled at a teacher education institute in
student to student interaction (56%). However, only 24% of the fac- Singapore completed course-end surveys related to Facebook use
ulty used SNSs in their courses. In examining the factors that pre- in their respective class work. Reporting averages of Likert-type
dicted potential use, the researchers discovered that attitudes and data, the researchers indicated that overall, participants viewed
perceived behavior control strongly inuenced adoption. Ease of Facebook as a successful LMS for the course (M = 3.9, out of 5-point
use, usefulness, and compatibility were the primary determinants scale) although a high standard deviation value for the graduate
of attitudes with self-efcacy the sole signicant predictor for students suggested there was less general agreement among that
behavior control. One of the conclusions suggested that training group. A limitation of Facebook as a LMS substitute was explained
in the integration of technology was an important mechanism in in that it did not support direct uploads of resources in typical
inuencing decisions by faculty to utilize them in class. course formats such as a pdf document or PowerPoint presentation
Surveying a large group (N = 2368) of students from a Northeast (i.e., ppt).
college, Junco (2012) investigated the relationship between type of Similarly, Schroeder and Greenbowe (2009) studied the effects
and frequency of Facebook use and student engagement. Prior re- of introducing Facebook as the course communication tool versus
search had shown a positive relationship between use and engage- a learning management system (i.e., WebCT). The posts of 128
ment (Heiberger & Harper, 2008). One of Juncos (2012) outcome undergraduate students enrolled in an introductory inorganic
variables for student engagement was time spent preparing for chemistry lab at Iowa State University were examined at the end
class. He found that Facebook time and Facebook activity were of the semester. Even though only 41% of the students enrolled
mildly, but signicantly (p < .001) predictive of classroom prepara- in the Facebook group for the course, the number of discussion
tion time (1.6%, 1.7%, explained variance, respectively). While a sig- posts was nearly four times (67 versus 17) those in the WebCT for-
nicant nding statistically, the relationship seemed to provide um. The researchers noted that the Facebook groups activity was
little in terms of practical importance especially since the direction fairly consistent throughout the semester and that communication
of the effect could not be determined. patterns were more complex. They surmised that from simply a
A few studies have shown that time spent on social networking standpoint of access, Facebook usage for personal reasons could
sites can negatively impact student achievement. Paul, Baker, and explain the differences in post quantity and quality.
Cochran (2012) examined a number of predictors often shown to
inuence student achievement and included time spent on SNSs 5.3. Results from specic SNSs
to model behaviors. Business students (N = 340) at a large state
university were surveyed with an instrument developed from 5.3.1. Facebook
questions used previously in research as well the authors own per- Facebook has been more widely investigated than most SNSs as
sonal experiences. In their nal structural equation model, the an instructional tool in the college classroom. Irwin, Ball, Desbrow,
researchers found a small, but signicant negative relationship and Leveritt (2012) studied the use of Facebook pages within four
(r = .119, p = .048) between time spent on an SNS and academic specic university courses. Based on student perceptions, the nd-
performance as measured by course grades and cumulative GPA. ings showed that many course participants (N = 135, 78%) felt ini-
Kirschner and Karpinski (2010) reported a negative relationship tially that Facebook could be an effective learning tool. Among the
between Facebook use and GPA. Quantitative data showed that top responses, increased interaction, participation in course discus-
there were mean differences between the GPAs of users sions, and posted lecture notes or assessments were chosen as
(M = 3.06) and nonusers (M = 3.82). Thirty-ve of the 219 partici- anticipated benets. However, in post-course surveys, only half
pants provided qualitative data by stating their reasons for the im- of the students felt that the Facebook inclusion actually assisted
pact of Facebook on their performance. Those suggesting that their learning. The researchers suggested one reason for the medi-
Facebook had a negative impact had comments about distraction ocre perception was that the instructors were inconsistent in their
or poor time-management skills (as observed in less time study- integration attempts.
ing). The researchers were cautious about implying a causal rela- Ophus and Abbitt (2009) reported similar ndings as far as stu-
tionship as the study design did not permit such an implication. dents perceptions of Facebook utility. Students (N = 100) in a sur-
Rather they concluded that the ndings may show that activities vey biology course felt that communication with other students
done in parallel (i.e., multitasking) were important factors to (95.5%), access to notes and materials (86.3%), and schedule views
explore. (82.8%) were likely outcomes. Interestingly, they anticipated that
Motivated to replicate ndings of the negative relationship of less likely activities were online discussions that included the
Facebook use and GPA, Pasek, More, and Hargittai (2009) found in- instructor (64.3%) and general communication with the instructor
stead mixed results. They used three existing data sets containing (56.4%).
the variables needed for study. In the largest group (N = 1049), a Finding little research on the types of discourse activated be-
representative sample of rst-year students at the University of tween instructor and learner, Rambe (2012) used Critical Discourse
Illinois Chicago, there was no statistically signicant result Analysis (CDA) to study Facebook posts during a course taught at a
A64 P.A. Tess / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) A60A68

South African university. The posts revealed that more participants educational affordances of blogs. As anticipated, the researchers
were communicating administrative or formal type posts. Fewer found that blogs supported self-expression and self-reection, as
horizontal posts or liberating communication was evident. well as social interaction and reective dialogue. A surprising re-
The posts also showed a supercial engagement regarding theory sult showed that blog-reading added an important dimension to
and exposed unsophisticated study skills. Two implications were the framework. By reading each others blogs, the student teachers
derived by the researcher. Instructors should involve students in were sustaining the sense of togetherness and reecting on their
critical engagement rather than allow them to passively receive own practice. Also working with pre-service teachers attitudes,
teacher-generated content. Weak study skills and an over-reliance Top (2012) studied the teachers sense of community in courses
on the instructor can be overcome by developing a community of that included blogging. Fifty students from a Turkish university re-
learners modeled in Facebook. sponded to a survey that indicated they had moderate feelings
McCarthy (2010) suggested that Facebook was the ideal host about sense of community. Perceived learning was found to have
site for a blended learning environment. In a rst-year elective a stronger relationship to the sense of community. The study was
course for 120 architecture students, 95% of participants agreed not testing for relationships between blogging and sense of com-
that the inclusion of Facebook helped them to develop peer rela- munity per se, so conclusions regarding the connection were more
tionships. Most (92%) appreciated the interactive discussions with implied than real.
peers in the virtual classroom. The researcher also found an in- Huang, Huang, and Yu (2011) investigated the effects of incor-
crease in course engagement particularly with an assessment task porating a blog into a sophomore course titled Data Structure
as indicated by the Facebook activity logs. at a large Taiwanese university. In the quasi-experimental design,
Some researchers have waved the yellow caution ag. Madge two groups of students (N = 57, experimental; N = 48, control) were
et al. (2009) recognized the importance of Facebook for social net- randomly assigned to either a blog-assisted cooperative activity or
working, but cautioned over-privileging the site when it comes to the same activity in a face-to-face format. The results from the
actual pedagogical purposes. As pervasive as it may be (over 95% questionnaires showed differences between the perceptions of
saturation for British college students), Facebook usage as a teach- each group. The experimental group perceived the cooperative
ing tool did not have strong support among the 213 British stu- activity as more positive (t(1, 113) = 2.622, p < .01). The same group
dents sampled (<10%). The students preferences showed that also agreed more often (47% versus 41%) that they did not feel
Facebook was important for social reasons or potentially for infor- pressure from their peers when sharing their work. Even more
mal learning purposes (46%). (79%) of the blog group agreed that they did not feel pressure to
In a survey study of 300 randomly chosen students at the Uni- present their work. A possible confound for the differences may
versiti Sains Malaysia, Kabilan, Ahmad, and Abidin (2010) found be found in the asynchronous learning environment of the blog
that the 74% students agreed that Facebook inculcated a more po- group.
sitive attitude towards learning English as a second language. A Deed and Edwards (2011) examined the behaviors and cogni-
similar percentage (72%) of the respondents felt that the use of so- tive strategies of 400 education students at Liverpool Hope Univer-
cial networking motivated them to communicate in English. Of sity who were involved in an unrestricted blog (i.e., no input or
those who were not as positive about Facebook use, the most often oversight by the instructor during discussion). Data included stu-
reported reason for the negative feelings was a recognition that the dent responses to a survey and a sample (N = 19) of blog tran-
use simply had not helped improve English acumen. The research- scripts. The researchers used a categorization scheme based on
ers concluded that the integration of Facebook as an education pro- Blooms cognitive taxonomy to analyze student posts. Overall post
ject should require language instructors to align course objectives frequency by category percentages were fairly uniform (remem-
and outcomes in a meaningful way. bering, 18%; understanding, 17%; applying 12%; analyzing, 26%,
evaluating, 20%; creating, 7%). The authors concluded that the stu-
5.3.2. Blogs dents in general completed the assigned task (a ve-minute pre-
The weblog or blog has high visibility and popularity in the sentation based on group analysis of a contemporary education
world of social media networks perhaps explaining its prominence theme) using an unrestricted blog efciently but not vigorously.
in research investigations. In 2010, Sim and Hew conducted an More posts tended to be perfunctory or personal opinion and
extensive review of empirical research on the use of weblogs in lacked critical construction of knowledge. However, the posts
higher education settings. They found that most of studies relied deemed higher level suggested that unrestricted blogging could
on self-reported data (e.g., surveys, interviews) or blog content support active learning and the building of a common knowledge
analysis upon which to draw conclusions. The researchers uncov- base.
ered six major uses of blogs: (a) a learning journal for gathering
or reporting course-related information, (b) a record of daily expe- 5.3.3. Twitter
riences that disclose personal information, (c) an outlet for In one of the few experimental studies specically studying the
expressing emotions and feelings, (d) a communication tool for so- effects of social media on student engagement and achievement,
cial interaction with other people, (e) an assessment tool for peer Junco, Heiberger, and Loken (2011) looked for differences in mean
evaluation, and (f) a task management tool for posting assign- engagement scores (from the National Survey of Student Engage-
ments. The authors also summarized the affective outcomes re- ment) and average semester GPA across groups. A sample of 125
ported by the research articles (N = 24) in the review. Most pre-health majors (70 in the experimental group) participated in
students agreed with the idea that blogs were easy to use and the same seminar course with the experimental group using Twit-
should be used more as a learning tool particularly for formative ter for educationally relevant activities (e.g., book discussion,
purposes. Negative perceptions included those who disliked writ- class reminders, low-stress means of asking questions, conversa-
ing, had a concern for privacy issues, and were unfamiliar with tions that could continue after class). The change in student
the technology. engagement scores was signicantly higher in the Twitter sections
Since Sim & Hews review (2010), recent work has continued to (p < .018). Semester GPAs were also signicantly higher for the
explore blogs as an educational tool in the higher education class. Twitter group (p = .037). The researchers saw implications for
Deng and Yuen (2011) surveyed 37 student teachers in Hong Kong leveraging Twitter as a tool for the classroom in line with Chicker-
about their experiences with the integration of a weblog during ing and Gamsons general principles (1987). Mainly, (a) Twitter im-
their practicum. The study sought to build a framework for the proved contact between instructor and student; (b) Twitter
P.A. Tess / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) A60A68 A65

promoted active learning; (c) Twitter provided an avenue for or proposed operational denitions for the term, there appeared
prompt feedback; and (d) Twitter maximized time on task. A cau- to be no standard. The difculty stemmed from the global, expan-
tion regarding the results has to do with the achievement variable. sive umbrella that social media covered. While some researchers
Using semester GPA as a measure for student performance in the used a narrower view of the term (a perspective taken here), others
course was a confound. approached the concept from a broader viewpoint. Making the for-
Borau, Ullrich, Feng, and Shen (2009) described their experi- mulation even more challenging today are the ever-evolving struc-
ences with using Twitter as a training tool for communication ture and capabilities of social media. Has social media become one
and cultural competence in the English as a Foreign Language of those implicit terms that is difcult to categorize but still collo-
(EFL) blended environment. Eighty-two students at Shanghai Jiao quially understood?
Tong Distance College registered for Twitter accounts (none had A nal limiting factor was the topic itself and the available re-
experience with Twitter) and then followed classmates and search. Empirical studies in this area were thin by my estimation.
instructors. The instructors viewed Twitter as a supplementary It was interesting to nd that numerous articles were available in
practice tool well equipped to sustain short turns (i.e., one or the popular press about the phenomenon, but the number of re-
two thoughts). The authors found that 32% of the students spent search studies in peer-reviewed journals was relatively few. A met-
less than 1 min writing a Twitter update (tweet) and another ric that was not included in this review was a reporting of the
37% needed between 1 and 2 min to create or respond substantiat- number of hits received for a particular key word. That number
ing their hope of the quick turnaround. In a post-course survey, is certainly arbitrary and potentially misleading and so avoided.
70% of the students agreed that Twitter was effective in developing The results from the empirical studies in this review had some
their English skills. One of Twitters capabilities as a research tool common limitations. First, convenience sampling often made gen-
was highlighted. The dataset containing all tweets, frequency data, eralizability problematic. A shared, but signicant challenge to
and time spent was readily available for analysis. The researchers having convenient samples (i.e., students in a course or faculty in
noted the value of the large dataset commending it to other inter- an institution) was the ability to make inferences about popula-
ested investigators by posting it on a data visualization website by tions. As a result, the reader was left to extrapolate potential for
IBM (http://manyeyes.alphaworks.ibm.com). different contexts. Second, measurement instruments most often
Another pair of researchers described their integration of Twit- relied on self-reported data. While surveys and questionnaires
ter into an online instructional design and technology course (Dun- can be effective data sources (Chan, 2009), they are more often ci-
lap & Lowenthal, 2009). The instructors wanted to move beyond ted as awed proxies for behavioral measures (Carrell & Willming-
the scope and structure of course management systems (CMSs) ton, 1996). For example, in course-end surveys taken by students,
to a just-in-time interactive community of social learning. expectation bias or attention bias may be evident. Last, descriptive
Acknowledging that the primary benet of Twitter was the designs, like convenience sampling, limited their generalization.
enhancement of social presence, the researchers also indicated Most of the studies were reporting the social media intervention
several other advantages of Twitter over a CMS: (a) addressed is- or treatment as it occurred in specic contexts without a control.
sues in a timely manner, (b) concise writing, (c) connecting with Hence, conclusions based on the ndings could not distinguish
a professional community of practice, (d) supported informal other factors which may have affected results.
learning, and (e) writing for an audience. Possible drawbacks of
Twitter use included a concern for time, cost, addiction, and bad 6.2. Research agenda
grammar encouragement due to the character limitation of tweets.
Knowing the limitations of past research should help to plan for
5.4. Rich data source future investigations. It is a rare study that suggests further explo-
ration in a particular area is not warranted. This review is not one
Research investigators have recognized that social network of those exceptions. Indeed, almost every study in the review pro-
sites are a rich source of behavioral data. With permissions in posed some motivational questions to advance what is known
place, physically and digitally, researchers can sift and sort through about social medias role in the higher education class. I concur
a myriad of posts, pokes, and tweets in order to examine such vari- with the authors who viewed this research venue as only the tip
ables as content, attitudes, and understanding. In some cases, auto- of the iceberg and endorse many of their proposals. A few broad
mated collection techniques can capture large datasets containing themes are summarized in the next paragraphs.
prole updates, linkages, and usage trends which are then able to One of the broad themes of a proposed research agenda incor-
be explored (Borau et al., 2009). porates aspects of the implied promise that social media has been
hailed as offering. As social media tools become more integral to
6. Limitations and research agenda the college classroom, questions to consider include the following:
Does the ubiquity of social media alone warrant its consideration
6.1. Limitations as an educational tool? Can social networking sites that are by de-
sign commercial products support learners in an educational envi-
The results of this review of the literature on social media in the ronment? What does the adoption of an SNS mean from an
higher education classroom were limited by a number of factors. instructional design perspective, and what determinants are prior-
The rst was the inherent bias introduced to the study by virtue ities when making decisions about integration? How important are
of the methodology chosen and criteria identied. I purposefully the design and functionality of social media in relation to the types
limited search words to the 10 key terms that became the search of curricular activities planned?
engine entries. The focus, therefore, was conned to the most pop- An early decision as far as scope of this review led to more stud-
ular and prevalent social media applications. Undoubtedly, some ies being included but may have confounded ndings. The decision
studies were excluded because they involved SNSs other than was to remain agnostic about the potential differences in context.
Facebook or Twitter. Not measured evidence but simply anecdotal In other words, I was not concerned about showing effects of an
observations results from the Google Scholar searches often picked on-line class versus a face-to-face group versus a hybrid combina-
up these extraneous studies, and the number of them seemed low. tion of the two formats. Much work has focused on the effects of
Another factor that limited the results of the review was the for- on-line versus face-to-face education. Interestingly, a large body
mulation of a denition for social media. While authors suggested of research has shown that the differences in terms of student
A66 P.A. Tess / Computers in Human Behavior 29 (2013) A60A68

outcomes are not evident. In his comprehensive bibliography of researchers proposed questions such as the following: What is
the literature, Russell (1999) concluded that the mode of delivery the nature of the digital dossier for the learner? What kinds of scaf-
was not a predictor of student outcomes as long as materials and folding should educators provide in the development process?
methodology were held constant. That is not to say that all studies What types of modeling and assessment are best for facilitating
found no differences, but the overwhelming majority reported the competencies in the digital landscape?
no signicant difference nding. What made the results even more Similarly, Crook (2008) advanced a broader view by considering
compelling was the traditional challenge for studies reporting no whether it may be better to explore Web 2.0 mentality rather
differences to be published. than Web 2.0 technology. That is, he argued that Web 2.0 tech-
Contrary to Russells conclusion, a report from the United States nology was only symptomatic of an already present disposition to-
Department of Education stated that on-line students were on ward practices common in communication today. Todays cultural
average performing better than their counterparts in the real class- norms emphasize participation, collaboration, and self-condent
room (Means, Toyama, Murphy, Bakia, & Jones, 2010). The report creativity along with informality and irreverence he contended.
was the culmination of a meta-analysis of over 1000 empirical Research should concentrate in dening and exploring Web 2.0
studies. However, only 45 studies eventually met the stringent mentality in order to nd explanations for peoples motives for
experimental criteria established by Department researchers those using Web 2.0 technology in educational settings.
being (a) studies with random-assignment or controlled quasi-
experimental designs, (b) studies that examined measured, objec- 7. Conclusion
tive outcomes of student learning while discarding those that
looked at affective or perception variables, and (c) studies of truly Education likes to explore emerging technologies as new or im-
Web-based instruction eliminating those that used technology as a proved tools to enhance instruction and learning. Social media has
secondary instructional tool. Overall, the researchers concluded emerged as a highly useful personal communication technology.
that learning outcomes for students who were engaged in on-line Can the same affordances of social networking sites that support
instruction were on average statistically better (effect size of individual level use, commend the integration of SNSs into the
+.20, small effect by Cohens standard) than the outcomes for higher education class? The jury is still out. In fact, the trial is just
students who experienced face-to-face learning. The researchers beginning as researchers begin to gather evidence of social medias
were careful to interpret the nding as conditional. Other dimen- position in the technology marketplace of the college classroom.
sions were typically involved such as amount of time spent on Although the infrastructure to support social medias presence
work or additional collaboration afforded by media. exists in most universities today, instructors have been slow in
While not necessarily endorsing their criteria, it should be adopting the tool as an educational one. Some, of course, are not
emphasized that the US Department of Education has adopted willing to accept the tool carte blanche preferring theoretical or
strict standards for evaluation research which many refer to as pragmatic reasons for an implementation. Adoptive instructors
the gold standard (Slavin, 2008). Those standards are based on are likely in an experimental stage of implementation as they look
three factors: the study design (randomized controlled trials and for alignment between course activities and the SNS applications
quasi-experimental comparison groups), group equivalence, and (Bennett, Bishop, Dalgarno, Waycott, & Kennedy, 2012). That same
group attrition. The standards are used to review published re- challenge applies to any decision related to educational technology
search in order to determine eligibility for inclusion on the What and its place in the curriculum.
Works Clearinghouse (http://ies.ed.gov/ncee/wwc), a website This review has raised more questions than it has answered. A
hosted by the Institute of Education Sciences, the research arm of number of reasons may explain the lack of evidence to support
the US Department of Education. The essential characteristic of an authoritative yes, no, or it depends to the question, Is social media
effective studies is that they focus on a school-based interven- an efcient and effective software solution for the higher education
tion such as the use of social media in the classroom. classroom? One reason is that social networking is a relatively re-
Others have taken a more foundational perspective. Picking up cent arrival, and researchers have now begun in earnest a thought-
Windschitls (1998) mantle, Greenhow, Robelia, and Hughes (2009) ful research agenda. Certainly social media has been prevalent on
outlined a research agenda for scholarship in the area of Web 2.0 the college campus, but not until recently has its viability as a
and learning. They suggested that two overarching themes emerged learning medium been considered by a growing number of educa-
from their analysis of warranted future direction. One was the notion tors. Another reason that may explain the paucity of studies is that
of the learners participation as evidenced by interconnections, con- SNS integration is a choice made at the instructor level rather than
tent creation and remixing, and interconnections. Expanding this re- an institutional decision. As a result, the implementation may be
search theme meant inquiries into the learners participation more of a trial that lends itself to action research and ultimately
attitudes and creative acts as well as issues related to equity and ac- to more questions.
cess in and out of the classroom. Their contention was that learning Perhaps the larger question, though, is one of direction. Does so-
was fundamentally changing due in part to Web 2.0 technologies. A cial medias presence in the college classroom reect a growing
sampling of their ideas follows: (a) How and why do learners partic- interest in the technology as an educational tool, or does it repre-
ipate and create content in digital learning spaces? (b) How do learn- sent a fundamental shift in the way students learn (Greenhow
ers engage with others and interconnect during creation and et al., 2009)? While the notion sounds fundamentally philosophi-
sharing? (c) How do learners activities suggest new practices for cal, I believe the proposition is an empirical one.
the teacher in terms of pedagogy, curriculum, and policy?
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