Facebook phenomenon: The literacy angle

Many parents are reluctant to let their children use Facebook thinking that it will damage their study and creativity. The parents and the teachers need to be literate first in this regard so that they can properly educate their children in its proper use.

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Literacy is a pragmatic domain that helps people utilize language and life skills for their meaningful survival. Literacy has gone beyond 3 R’s, reading, writing and arithmetic. Social skills are the cornerstone of any literacy program in the world. In order to be equipped with such social skills, many countries in the world have adopted several measures and invested much in the name of literacy. However, the poor countries end up with the three R’s concentrating on adult literacy. Whether it is the Education for All (EFA) or the Millennium Development Goals (MDG) campaign, the focus is still there on literacy. Besides the regular government programs, literacy is influenced much by the other media. Information and Communication Technology (ICT) is the one that has helped boost the literacy of people in many countries.

These days one can see people crazy in social networking sites like the Facebook. “Facebook Reports Fourth Quarter and Full Year 2013 Results” reported that the number of active Facebook users is 1.2 billion with a monthly growth rate of one per cent. In this context, it will be interesting to note if the “Facebook” has helped promote the literacy of the users. A study carried out by The National Literacy Trust of UK in 2009 found that “schoolchildren who blog or own social networking profiles on Facebook have higher literacy levels and greater confidence in writing”. Moreover, the report also finds that “social networking sites and blogs are linked to young people’s more positive attitudes to writing”. With this result, one can sense that we should not be afraid of allowing our children to use Facebook and help them create their own blogs. Out of 3000 students studied, 56 per cent reported that the use of Facebook increased their confidence in writing, one of the major components of literacy. The report also found that the children were encouraged to engage themselves with more traditional forms of writing because they could see the posting of short stories, poems, letters, songs, diaries etc. by active online users.

Contrary to these findings, another study carried out by Barrow (2013) on 214 secondary school headmasters in UK showed that “Children’s literacy is being damaged by social media. Children are too obstructed by sites like Facebook and Twitter to bother to read a book”. The head-teachers’ major concern was on the spelling and grammar that the users distort and the children learn the same. This is a problem worldwide that spelling mistakes and incorrect grammar has been a headache for language teachers. Moreover, this finding would have an implication on the way to make the children alert while using the social media network.

In 2013, David T. Coad from the University of California observed: “One way to build students’ critical literacy and encourage them to question the design of technologies is to ask them to consider the humans behind the technology, how this human presence changes the user experience on Facebook, and how students choose to interact with these human desires behind the scenes”. He further explains that the user cannot interact with the designer but can sense the effect of the design. The most important factor is the user not the technology. If the technology is not user friendly it will become obsolete soon or somebody needs to make the creator aware.

Coad interestingly quotes one article written by Freishtat and Sandlin’s (2010) on “Shaping Youth Discourse About Technology: Technological Colonization, Manifest Destiny, and the Frontier Myth in Facebook’s Public Pedagogy” where the writers mention the nature of the social networking like Facebook and explain the way the rhetoric of the website interacting with students’ desire. These writers talk more about public pedagogy rather than classroom pedagogy. Although learning is more related with classroom pedagogy the role of public in making themselves literate first is equally important. Coad argues that people blaming the Facebook for its negative effects in learning or critical literacy do not think that Facebook is not the only interaction students will be making in society. And it is true that besides Facebook there are lots of stimuli the students act, react, interact and make them critical learners.

There are several ways a teacher can use Facebook in a constructive way, giving assignments to the students, interacting with the students when they are in need, making a learning circle among their own peers, posing challenging issues and asking them to resolve, encouraging to make their own blogs, making comparisons between and among students about the quality of their writing and encouraging them to compete publicly and so on.

Facebook is a medium and not the message. In order to make its use effective in learning, the users must have Facebook Literacy, so that they know how to use it and yield better results. In many households, parents are reluctant to let their children use Facebook thinking that it will damage their study and creativity. The parents and the teachers need to be literate first in this regard so that they can properly educate their children in its proper use. There is no harm using Facebook for learning, it always promotes the strength of the students and encouragement for further learning.

source:WAGLEY, MANA PRASAD (2014),"Facebook phenomenon: The literacy angle ", The Himalayan Times,1 April 2014
Dr. Wagley is an educationist
photo courtesy: The Himalayan Times

2014-04-01 | EducateNepal


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