SOCIAL MEDIA IN HIGHER EDUCATION
Neil Selwyn This essay was first published in The Europa World of Learning 2012. For further information see the final page of this PDF or visit www.worldoflearning.com. © Routledge 2011, all rights reserved.
Few people will have failed to notice the recent emergence of social media—especially much-publicized applications such as Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Wikipedia. Even the most casual of internet users will now be aware of the notion of social network sites and blogs, maybe even wikis and virtual worlds. Since being declared Time Magazine‘s ‘Person of the Year’ at the end of 2006, social media have come to dominate the ways in which digital technology is now used around the world.
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The social web is therefore seen to be arranged along substantially different lines than the cyberspace-era internet of the 1990s and 2000s. This sense of internet use now being a participatory and collective activity is reflected in the language used to describe social media applications. Social media use is often described in terms of collaboration, conviviality and creativity. Social media applications are seen to be open rather than closed, bottom-up rather than top-down. Social media users go online to share and rate, mash-up and remix, friend and trend. The ways in which the internet is imagined in 2012 is certainly very different to that of 10 years earlier—hence the coining of the label web 2.0. Amidst these technological developments, many higher education institutions (and educators) now find themselves expected to catch up with this world of social media applications and social media users. Of course, accusations of a technological lag between higher education and the rest of society can be traced back to the introduction of film and radio during the first decades of the 20th century. Indeed, as with most of these previous waves of new technology, social media remain an area of considerable expectation, exaggeration and hyperbole. It is essential, therefore, that the higher educators are able to