Yesterday, a friend and I had a conversation about social media and it’s affect on our students. Unfortunately, we can’t say that it has been necessarily a good thing for students. It has decreased attention span, encouraged students to think they can get all the information they need in a few words, and has reinforced the sometimes mistaken notion that sharing their every thought and notion is as important (if not sometimes more important) than listening or learning from those around them.

That’s not to say that social media doesn’t have wonderful qualities. It connects people in wonderful ways. It brings information to folks who might never have that information. It provides entertainment and information in ways that a visually-oriented generation can digest. It has really good points, too.

But for a composition teacher, it can really be the bane of our existence, and not just because we can spend a good portion of a class in a computer classroom asking people to stop playing on Facebook (Many teachers I know have seen their students’ statuses later in the day only to discover that they were writing “blah, in English class” during the lecture on resource credibility.). When a generation is encouraged to think of information as bits of data – 140 characters or less, please – and to think that this data will come to them almost effortlessly with a simple push of the “refresh” button, it becomes very difficult for a teacher to help them value the kind of information and insight that only comes with a lot of time, effort and reflection.

Perhaps, teachers need to figure out ways to use social media more effectively. (For example, I just answered a student question on Facebook chat yesterday.) Maybe we need to more openly discuss the effects of social media with our students and see what they know, see if they can examine the way that sites like Twitter and YouTube. I probably need to read more about the educational implication of social media (offer reading suggestions if you have them, please).

But I also think we need to encourage students to – sometimes – slow down, read a full book (gasp!) and puzzle out the answers slowly and over time. There just is really only so much insight that can come from a status update.

Twitter in UK Schools“Please Sir, how do you re-tweet? – Twitter to be taught in UK primary schools”