Wednesday, December 15, 2010

Social Media and Educational Institutions: Dr. Tarek Shawki, Director of UNESCO, Egypt

Social media is about dialogues, bringing people together in fruitful discussions.  Are these tools useful to enhance teaching and learning?  Scholars at technology conferences argue that ICT tools can help develop research and communication skills.  But is this true?  We should remember that these trends are at the margins of technology usage, especially in developing countries.  It is hard to prove educational benefits associated with social media usage.  In Ethiopia, less than 1% of the population has access to electricy, and only half of the population can read.  Furthermore, every positive study is contradicted by counter-studies arguing that social media diminishes learning abilities.  Social media does enhance "hanging out and messing around," thus, it is dismissed by many critics as "inconsequential media" rather than appreciated as a learning technology.  These activities may be important tasks in developing an individual, and may later enter a stage of "geeking out."  But this presupposes more than the existence of social media, it has more to do with the makeup of the individuals and their needs.  At the WSIS 2010 conference, UNESCO brought together 70 activists, industrialists, and scholars to debate uses of social media in education, and concluded that young people, if empowered and safe while using social media, can find increased freedom of expression and political and social cohesion.  I encourage you to continue an informed, critical debate on the role of social media in education.  Let's stop talking amongst ourselves: we need to reach the technologists, who don't often enter in touch with the "ed tech bubble." 


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