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The Role of the Internet in Higher Education

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There are many pros and cons to the issue of the Internet’s influences on education, and experts have called it everything from the hemlock of higher education to an innovative boon. While it’s probably neither of these extremes, there are some high and low points of the Internet’s role in higher education that can be observed on their own. By enabling students to take advantage of the positive elements of the Internet for educational purposes and restricting the detrimental sides of the Web, academic success can become a more widespread reality. 

Social Media and Networks 

The social facet of the Internet is growing in popularity and significance, and its influence on education can be incredibly strong. For example, due to the interactive opportunities available online, learning has taken on more social significance. Rather than regarding knowledge as a commodity that can be acquired via one-way instruction, understanding is socially constructed. The object of learning is the same – understanding new material and being able to apply it to real-world situations – but the process is evolving as the Internet helps to enable more social learning. According to Californian professors Brown and Adler, participation in social media and networks is becoming more of an integral part of the educational process. 

Social networks like Facebook and Twitter aren’t exactly educational material, but LinkedIn helps students make connections in their potential industries, learn how to communicate professionally, and appreciate the value of a good recommendation. Other educational opportunities include creating classrooms in Second Life, using an online forum similar to India’s Digital StudyHall (DSH), and having students take advantage of school-based online communities. 

Media sites like YouTube are often deprecated as distractions and wastes of time, but they can be helpful in some situations. For example, music, dance, and performing arts students often use online videos to find examples and “study” elements like choreography, chord progressions, or monologue techniques. However, much of the popular content on these sites isn’t useful, so videos shown in class should be chosen wisely and watched all the way through before being introduced. 

Online Resources 

Here’s a facet of the Internet that’s a little stickier – sites like Wikipedia abound with falsified facts, sub-par explanations, and prank content. But online journals are an incredible resource for undergraduate research, and search engines like Google Scholar can enable students to find exactly what they need. These are two very opposite ends of the spectrum, so it’s important for students to understand how to identify legitimate resources among a slew of half-baked “fact” pages. Without this understanding, the openness of the Internet is a detriment to education. Put simply, students who know how to find high-quality information benefit from online research, while those who don’t understand why Wikipedia isn’t a credible source are left struggling.  

Blogging 

Jeremy Williams of U21Global (an online graduate school) and Joanne Jacobs of the Queensland University of Technology have determined that blogs have the potential to be successful “learning spaces” in higher education. They attribute this to the interactivity of blogs with established styles and readerships, pointing out that blogging could be used in higher education to motivate students in the areas of studying, networking with others, implementing what they learn, and taking a real interest in the material. The blog is a simple mechanism, developed for convenience – and that doesn’t sound much like an educational tool. Many blogs aren’t intended to be educational, but those that are have the potential to make a difference in teaching and learning approaches. Study abroad, research projects, instructional initiatives, and more aspects of higher education lend themselves well to blogging, and many students are willing to write the content. Like many Web pages, blogs aren’t usually credible sources of information, but they’re a great way to encourage academic interactivity and practical learning. 

*The post is written by – Maria Rainier 

About the Author: Maria Rainier is a freelance writer and blog junkie. She is currently a resident blogger at First in Education and performs research surrounding online degrees. In her spare time, she enjoys square-foot gardening, swimming, and avoiding her laptop.

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