Today, technology is virtually inescapable, but has it improved education and learning? Is it possible that the ways in which we use technology have made us worse readers? Are we all becoming a bunch of non-critical readers with eight-second attention spans (Maybin)? In order to even attempt to answer these questions, as well as the essential question above, one would have to define literacy. According to the New Oxford American Dictionary, “literacy” refers to “the ability to read and write,” and also to “competence or knowledge in a specified area.” These definitions didn’t help me as much they did give a sense of direction as I tried to answer these questions for myself.
A lot of research shows that, depending on how it’s used, technology can actually enhance your learning experience. Technology has given us quick access to the largest volume of information in the world with just the tap of a screen that was completely unimaginable not long ago: the Internet. But new technologies have also created new concerns, perhaps because we don’t yet understand their impact. Some studies suggest that technology can actually support teaching and learning (Using Technology to Enhance Teaching & Learning). Other studies suggest that young Americans are often turning to the Internet instead of using their textbooks (Zickuhr). This can be alarming to some because of how much junk there is on the Internet, whether in the form of fake news, biased political articles, clickbait, etc. Perhaps it’s more about educating learners on how to be informed users of technology so they know how to evaluate the information, whether reliable or not. It’s no surprise that a lot of textbooks have companion apps and websites; even the ITGS textbook we’re using for class has its very own companion site. Publishers know learners want to supplement their learning in this way, so publishers make good use of the available technology.
In an article I read by the University of Washington, Stephanie Harvey realized in 2002 that her classroom housed mostly fiction books for her students. But adults read a variety of both fiction and nonfiction, not just the former exclusively, so she recommended to teachers nationwide to use online resources to give students a variety of materials. This can actually motivate students to use the Internet to read more and learn on their own. Many professors and teachers, especially here at Mid-Pacific, know that they can (and should) integrate technology into their classrooms. But why utilize social media, blogs, YouTube, and other such resources that some may consider “time wasters?” I believe that it’s important to use what’s relevant to learners as a springboard for their learning. Another concern, especially regarding social media, is that it may give a false sense of understanding a topic. One could read an article about something and think “I know all about this, because I read about it!” This would be silly. Ultimately, it’s up to each of us individually to be critical readers and choose to find more and better information about a topic.
Social media can be considered the “gateway drug” to consumer products. Similarly, social media could also be used as a “gateway drug” to reading and learning. We don’t read only for academic purposes. I often read because I have a reason to. Other times, I find something so fascinating that I want to know more about, so I conduct my own extensive research. The problem here is that the Internet is full of both good information and misinformation. We’ve been taught many times that questions like “Who posted the information?”, “What sources did they use?”, and “Are they experts in the field?” are always important to consider in academic research. If we can’t tell, we must take the information with a grain of salt. But that’s the point: if we’re really interested in something, we make sure it’s from a reputable source. We compare different sources, we really question the information. So in a sense, social media, a short article on the Internet, even a YouTube video, can be a starting point of interest and can amount to a world of information and learning.
In terms of social and ethical significances, social media and technology in general have raised many ethical questions, and have impacted us both positively and negatively. Things such as passwords and security questions are used when creating an account to authenticate the identity of users when they try to sign in (1.2 Security). When creating new accounts on social media applications, personal information, like phone numbers, email addresses, and birthdays, is often required. After inputting this information, many apps assure that user information will be kept private and will not be distributed or sold to third party companies and advertisers (1.3 Privacy and Anonymity). The content posted on social media accounts is considered the user’s “intellectual property.” Users also cannot post the content and intellectual property of others accounts, at least not without their permission or crediting them (1.4 Intellectual Property). When applying for a job or even for a school, an applicant’s social media could be surveilled and analyzed for material that misrepresents or creates a bad image for the applicant or the place they are applying to (1.7 Surveillance). When creating a social media account, there are conduct policies and terms and conditions that users must follow/accept in order to minimize the chances of inappropriate behavior being revealed to the online world (1.9 Policies).
In regards to application to specific scenarios, social media has affected many aspects of society, including health, government, business, etc. Social media is a powerful tool used by businesses to give themselves a larger presence in their respective communities, which increase their influence, exposure, and overall business as well as job candidates (2.1 Business and Employment). In all of my classes this year, YouTube, a form of social media, has been used to teach class material numerous times. Social media also helps to deliver news and current events to students (2.2 Education and Employment). Social media may be fun and interesting, but it has been shown to increase depression and suicide rates amongst its users. With our addiction to our devices and social media, we also experience health drawbacks from digital screens, as they have shown to damage eyesight. Earphones have also shown to negatively affect hearing (2.4 Health). Social media constantly takes up our free time, even when when it shouldn’t be used, like in class, while doing homework at home, etc. (2.5 Home and Leisure).
Devices, such as phones, laptops, and iPads, are used to access the Internet and social media (3.1 Hardware). Software is used to download and access social media apps, portals to the social media world, and the accounts held within them (3.2 Software). Networks are the platforms on which social media sites operate upon (3.3 Networks), and the Internet is needed in order to access social media (3.4 Internet). Communication is the main purpose and function for many social media users, as it’s the most common type of communication in our digital age (3.5 Personal and Public Communications). Social media itself is multimedia, as it comes in the form of text, video, animations, audio, etc. (3.6 Multimedia). Information associated with social media, like posts and account information, is held within databases and the cloud (3.7 Databases).
There are a few groups of people that are affected by social media and the IT systems they operate on. Social media users are the people who actually have the social media accounts that drive many of the issues outlined above. The police and justice systems search accounts for illegal material and track criminals. Similarly, app developers search accounts for inappropriate material and penalize social media users accordingly. Lastly, businesses and advertisers use social media as a platform for their business to occur and a place where they can increase exposure.