Since its introduction, the personal computer has been hailed as a savior that would revolutionize education. Yet almost 30 years after the debut of the Apple Macintosh, many classrooms still look very much the same as they did in the 1950s. Students still lug around heavy books in thick bags and sit at metal-frame desks while a teacher writes with chalk on a blackboard.

Some attempts to shake things up with technology have failed to bring the changes we’ve expected. There’s still hope, though.

Thanks to new methods of interaction and connectivity in social and mobile media, schools have the chance to rework and re-imagine the educational experience.

Ditching the Book Bag

In many American K-12 schools, budget and overcrowding issues seem insurmountable. In fact, while researching this article we reached out to several K-12 teachers and many seemed to think there was no fit for social media in their classrooms; students’ ages and lack of access to technology were cited as some of the reasons.

Perhaps these teachers are right, or perhaps they’re just not thinking outside the box. For example, The Chicago Tribune recently published an article on first-grade teacher Jodi Conrad and her class at Abraham Lincoln Elementary in Glen Ellyn, Illinois.

Ms. Conrad is using social media tools like Twitter and YouTube in the classroom, where the students publish private content that their parents can interact with. The article also mentions the school’s rollout of iPads loaded with content that the students can check out from their school library.

By adopting social media in the classroom Abraham Lincoln Elementary has found that these tools build confidence and that the students really enjoy themselves. The fact is, today’s children are going to grow up completely immersed in social media. The sooner they learn to understand how to use and manage these tools, the better equipped they will be for the future.

Giving Higher Education a New Voice

Colleges have adapted to social and mobile media much faster than K-12 has. Since some are for-profit institutions, many have been more compelled to add bells and whistles to their websites to attract and retain students.

Todd Sanders of the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay started out as his school’s webmaster and in recent years has seen his focus move entirely towards a new title: “Social Media Specialist.” On the role of social media in post secondary education Mr. Saunders said, “the social web is huge for students. The biggest value … in the social web is building relationships.”

Increasingly teachers are utilizing things like Facebook Groups and Twitter chats to foster a sense of community among their students. These tools have also allowed students to get a better understanding of the lessons and to provide additional context to the subject matter being studied in class.

Some schools have climbed aboard Apple’s iTunes U initiative to offer free course materials. With video, audio, and interactive texts, these courses are not dependent on students being physically in the class. This is a real boon to remote students or those who prefer iPads or iPhones over pen and paper.

Faculty: Going Beyond the Classroom

While lower institutions are sometimes slow to implement social media, the higher education community is not. Since the beginning of the Internet educators have used this platform to collaborate but in recent years the adoption of social media has advanced rapidly. Conferences, communities, and blogs have been created to better utilize social media in the classroom and behind the scenes.

Much as they would with their students, educators are using groups and forums both publicly and privately to swap best practices. Social media is being utilized to mobilize and innovate in every area of higher education.

[Image credits: MDGovpics, floeschieuwbedtech]