Potential Pitfalls of Social Media in the Classroom

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Potential Pitfalls of Social Media in the Classroom

Oct 29, 2021

As I discussed in the previous essays, social media is the manifestation of all of humanity’s technological prowess, combined with the psychological steering tactics which exist at the most recently-discovered frontiers of what we know about the human mind. My second essay referenced the power that social media has to affect change, for better or for worse, on the macro level, and my first essay reflected on the impact that social media has had on my own life (moreso for worse than for better). In light of those considerations and reflections, I can recognize the means by which social media could be deployed to maximize engagement and efficiency in the educational process, but I can’t endorse its use in the classroom.

Theoretically, social media could maximize engagement by being used as a forum on which students discuss the course materials, during or after class. I most often see professors incorporate social media posts and comments as homework assignments, but have seen it used during class hours to varying degrees of success. Social media can also maximize efficiency by making all posts publicly visible in real time, rather than having to be forwarded around the class via email. With how the Courses Discussion page works, this isn’t a unique utility, but it’s an advantage that social media offers over traditional pen and paper note taking.

Of course, the incorporation of social media into the curriculum is also accompanied by a host of potential distractions. As there is no way to restrict the student’s use of their technology, or of social media, to the specifically-tailored purposes of the lesson, it is to be expected that some people in class will let their eyes wander to their timelines, to online games, or to emails. Some professors have countered this by incorporating measures such as the installation of a wall mirror at the back of the classroom, in order to ensure that students are staying on task. Even so, monitoring dozens of screens at once, from a reflection, while trying to teach and address student concerns, is a difficult undertaking.

From a practical standpoint, I believe that the potential benefits offered by social media in the classroom are far outweighed by the potential costs to educational quality, and that classes which lean away from student technology use tend to have students who retain information better (as studies show that retention is stronger when students write their notes, rather than typing them) and engage more fruitfully in discussions with their peers and their instructor.

Despite my seemingly firm opposition to incorporating social media to course curricula, I am, admittedly, of two minds on the issue. I’ve articulated my instinctive response to the idea above, but part of me also understands that, in a world of rapid technological advancement, the top of the technological learning curve is among the safest places to be, and the classroom offers a unique opportunity to simultaneously teach traditional course material and offer students the opportunity to ensure that they remain proficient with newly-developed and released technologies, with social media platforms and their wide-ranging capabilities foremost among them. Ultimately, the burden of optimizing social media use in the classroom such that the benefits are achieved and the costs avoided falls upon the instructor, but the extent to which they can counter human nature as it relates to our proneness to distraction is unfortunately limited. Whichever person, institution, or country masters this balancing act first will place its students at a distinct advantage over their peers in burgeoning job markets that pertain to social media and technology as a whole.

Jacob Zanca, a student in Jon Pfeiffer’s media law class at Pepperdine University, wrote the above essay in response to the following question: "How could your professors use social media to improve the learning experience?" The class covers copyright and social media. Jacob is an Integrated Marketing Communications major.

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