Social Networking in STEM Education

By Anna Zernone Giorgi

As educators recognize the value of social networking in STEM (Science, Technology, Engineering, and Math) education, students of all ages are tapping into social media for more than sharing photos and keeping track of their friends’ activities. Educators are using social networking platforms such as Facebook, YouTube, and Twitter to keep students engaged in subjects including: chemistry, engineering, life sciences, and mathematics. There are many thought leaders within the STEM community using social networking to connect with others interested in the field. Using social networking in STEM education can yield valuable results in promoting the study of these important subjects.

Foundations for the Future

Keeping students interested and excited about STEM education today is an important investment in their futures. The U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics (BLS) predicts that the number of STEM jobs will increase to 9 million between 2012 and 2022, resulting in an increase of about 1 million more STEM jobs than existed in 2012. Overall, STEM occupations, including those in healthcare, engineering, computers, education, and management, are projected to grow at a faster rate and offer higher salaries than the average for all occupations, according to the BLS.

The Institute of Electrical and Electronics Engineers (IEEE) advocates the use of social networking in STEM classrooms as an opportunity to redirect students’ use of social media platforms toward positive outcomes. With examples of educators who use YouTube to post scientific experiments, Pinterest to share do-it-yourself (DIY) projects, or Facebook to communicate to students, the IEEE encourages educators to consider social networking as another way to spark interest and maintain enthusiasm on STEM subjects away from the classroom.

Dusty Fisher, chair of the IEEE-USA Precollege Education Committee, encourages educators to embrace the variety of communication options offered by social networking. Fisher says tying STEM education into social networking is another way to help students connect with the subject matter. “We’ve known for years that if students are physically engaged instead of being lectured to or shown slides, they will learn more and retain more,” Fisher says.

Infinite Adaptable Options

With numerous social networking platforms, educators can pick and choose the most appropriate venues for each application or lesson plan. Twitter and Facebook offer options for ongoing communication, comment, and reminders since students may be using those sites throughout the day. Other examples for using social networking in STEM classrooms include:

  • Instagram: Using this photosharing app, educators can post photos of students’ progress in experiments or long-term projects. Students can post photos of at-home research and progress for sharing and comments.
  • Pinterest: This DIY site is a resource for crafts and projects that students can access while away from the classroom. Using photos and text, the site allows educators to identify previously posted projects or create their own and share them with students.
  • Skype: This videoconferencing tool can allow students to interact with guest speakers such as inventors, scientists, and entrepreneurs. Students can use a Skype connection to collaborate on projects with other classrooms, or get a front row seat to scientific demonstrations and exhibits anywhere in the world.
  • YouTube: This global video website is ideal for sharing live-action instruction, ranging from lab experiments to space exploration, complete with audio and subtitles. Educators can create their own videos or share those that others have posted.
  • Massive Open Online Courses (MOOCs): MOOCs can help students gain access to education that might be otherwise unavailable due to financial or geographical constraints. When used in tandem with traditional classroom learning, MOOCs can introduce another point of view in topics such as mathematical problem solving and scientific analysis.

STEM students also can take advantage of wide-scale programs designed to integrate social networking programs into the classroom. For example, the Global Ozone Project in Boulder, Colorado, supplies middle and high school students with equipment to collect and analyze air pollution data. Once collected, the data is uploaded onto a public database, where it is graphed and displayed on Google Earth. The reports are used by scientists and government groups for research and planning. Students also upload their findings onto social networks, allowing other students worldwide to interact with each other and share observations on their data. The program, which includes almost 2,000 students, has over 100 sites being observed in 25 countries around the world.

Using social networking for STEM education can help interested students explore, experiment, and examine limitless concepts and solutions. Encouraging students to contribute to the process also is beneficial. Allowing students to take the initiative in  integrating social networking into STEM education can tie into computer programming and design, which are important areas of STEM study.

Social networking for STEM education also may yield significant benefits for students who have marginal interests in the study of STEM-related subjects. For those who are less than enthusiastic, any opportunity to present STEM subjects in an interesting and exciting light should be expanded upon. Doing so can increase the potential for creating a spark of excitement among indifferent students who may consider STEM subjects boring or uninteresting.

With so many potential opportunities in the STEM occupations, using social networking in STEM education can benefit students with a wide range of interests and encourage long-term study in this growing and lucrative field.

 

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