Social media can help children

Constructively using social media and online chatrooms may help Australian school students rise in international PISA rankings, according to a Flinders University expert in teacher education.

Internationally renowned education policy authority Professor Lindsey Conner, Executive Dean (People and Resources), College of Education, Psychology and Social Work at Flinders, says her research shows that a key to students achieving best collaborative outcomes is reflected in their capacity to engage with online communications.

The latest Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) results, that measure children’s capabilities to apply their knowledge in solving problems collaboratively, ranked Australian students 10th out of 56 education systems around the world.

Singapore was ranked number 1, with New Zealand and Canada were ranked ahead of Australia. However, Australia rates above the UK, most European Union countries and the US.

“In an increasingly virtual world, perhaps today’s children are inadvertently training themselves to become better collaborative problem solvers simply by going online,” says Professor Conner, reflecting on a synthesis of her research.

She says that students who regularly use Facebook, WeChat, WhatsApp, Twitter, Instagram and other applications to get in immediate touch with their friends outside of a school environment are engaging in valuable self-directed learning activities.

“Self-directed learning has been at the forefront of educational developments this century because the world certainly needs people to be self-starting, reflective and developing their learning to learn skills,” Professor Conner says.

She thinks the PISA rankings are an encouraging outcome for Australia’s education system, although improvement is achievable.

“Collaboration is a skill that can be learned and developed over time with practice. It is identified by the OECD as being essential for 21st century learners, along with connectivity, community, creativity and curation.”

Professor Conner’s synthesis of research (including Conner, 2016) highlights that students who use the internet, chat or social networks outside of school learning environments, generally had improved learning outcomes, including a positive attitude, motivation and stronger conceptual understanding. A growing body of research evidence shows that student motivation for learning generally increases when technology is used in the teaching and learning process.

“In today’s increasingly connected digital world, collaboration with others is needed to achieve goals,” says Professor Conner. “Through collaboration, complementary skills can be combined and used for synergistic benefit.

“On the flip side, if people do not collaborate well in a team, tensions that are created can work against achieving commonly desired goals.”

Professor Conner therefore believes that embracing and leveraging students’ engagement with social media can lead to significant benefits in how students approach educational outcomes – particularly in crucial collaborative settings.

“This should be addressed if we are committed to providing innovative education for social change,” says Professor Conner. “I strongly believe it is through education that people have greater life chances. Therefore education should be preparing students for their future participation by using digital technologies.”

The Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA) is an international assessment measuring student performance in reading, mathematical and scientific literacy.

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