Also published on the Educational Technology and Change Journal
It's common to hear the argument "we need to use social media in learning because that what the kids are doing." This position has merit but there's a lot that's packed into statement and this can sometimees cause confusion. The sentiment is correct in that there is a desire to engage with school age students on their terms. However, often this gets wrapped up in intentions for more learner centred and collaborative pedagogical stances. That's fine (if that's what you want), but it's important to make a distinction between the medium and the pedagogy. Although the affordance of social media to clearly towards to collaborative.
It's also interesting that this statement is often tied in with increasing the engagement of learners who are not engaged. It's almost like we are saying "let's speak their language." Again, this has merit. But it's important to understand that this is part of a bigger picture. Choosing the right communication channel is important if it will mean greater chance of validity with a particular group of learners. However, this will only take you so far. What most important is good learning design. Take your pedagogical stance, design the learning, and choose the mediums to deliver this learning appropriately. If you are taking a participatory or collaborative stance this could well involve internet based tools. I won't go further on this track as I've been this road before.
What I will say is that it's easier to talk in terms of communication channels. Teenager are communicating through facebook because they can. We now have additional communication channels. These supplement what we had before - talking, telephone, email. They allow people to be in contact in times and places where they couldn't before. We should be interested in using such channels for learning. Expressing the issue in this way takes the edge of statement: "we need to use it because they are using it". It also takes it away from merging it with the pedagogical debates.
Overall, I think it's useful to seperate the tool you use to deliver the learning away from the learning design process. Starting with the medium in mind is dangerous in that it can determine how you teach.