Social media is transforming education


New research shows that technology is making a fundamental change in the way that teachers interact with their classes.

58% of teachers surveyed claim that they use IT in every single lesson they teach, while 77% say that they have seen a rise in classroom interaction as a result of students using technology. The research also points to teachers welcoming YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, iPads and smartphones into the learning environment.

The survey of education experts, conducted by Netgear, underlines the growing influence that IT has in schools. The research examines attitudes of teachers, IT managers in schools and Local Education Authorities towards the role of IT in education.

Recent independent research found that 36% of seven to 10-year olds visited Facebook on a weekly basis, with this figure rising to 71% for 11 and 12-year-olds and to 85% for 13 to 16-year-olds.

The education experts surveyed see this familiarity with social media as offering potential for new means of teaching. Indeed, 80% say that sites such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube play a role in the classroom, highlighting the spread of valuable information and the ability to interact with students from different backgrounds as positive educational factors.

The influence of new forms of technology in schools stretches beyond social media. As an increasing number of children own mobile phones, netbooks and iPads, 77% of respondents stated that they believe children should be taught via their own devices.

As student-owned devices continue to enter the learning environment, however, the issue of malicious online activity becomes increasingly important; 57% of respondents said that they now consider security on the school network to be ‘critical’.

Paul Donovan,from Netgear, said: “The generations of children in primary and secondary schools today are remarkably comfortable with technology, certainly far more-so than school children were even five or ten years ago. It’s clear that teachers are seeing an opportunity to harness this familiarity to connect with children through new and creative channels.

“The role of IT in a school has changed. As opposed to simply providing teachers and students with computers, schools must now think about how they can make the most of technology in the broadest sense. If teachers want to spark some creativity into their lessons through social media, for instance, or if students hope to engage with the curriculum from home on their own laptops, then how does the school make this a possibility in a secure, reliable fashion? This is the notion of ‘unrestricted learning’: a school network which allows for a more imaginative approach to how students are taught, mirroring the way in which children have grown up as ‘digital natives’.” 

The ongoing trend for even greater integration of IT into lessons was underlined by the survey. Some of the key challenges which continue to provide the industry with opportunities include

  • 95% of teachers and LEAs say that they would look to collaborate with schools in other countries if they had the technology to be able to. 22% said that they already do so
  • 37% of respondents said that the new technology they would most like to see in their school is Wireless Everywhere. Second most popular was tablet computers (e.g. iPad), with 21% of votes
  • Nearly two thirds of respondents (64%) believe that remote learning is just as beneficial as traditional, in-class schooling

The downside of this high level of technology integration in schools is that lessons can be delayed, should things go wrong. Indeed, more than a third (35%) of teachers reported wasting more than five minutes in lessons waiting for students to successfully log-on to the internet, with some suggesting that 15-20 minutes was not unusual.

Mr Donovan said: “With so many opportunities to teach in new and innovative ways through technology, the other side of the coin is that schools need to trust their IT systems to work without fail every time.

“For all the potential of new-fangled systems, we must remember that teachers’ skills are in interacting with their students, not in being computing boffins. They need to be able to turn their systems ‘on’ and know they will be ready to go. And of course, in the current economic climate, no school can afford to invest unnecessarily on technology which will leave them hamstrung.”

February 2011

School Leadership Today