3 Reasons To Encourage Student-Generated Content

It’s hard to talk to adults about high school peer learning and co-creation of content using social media without the dreaded question coming up: “Won’t the kids just upload pictures of ….”. Whilst the comment is mostly said in jest, there is always an underlying element of seriousness behind the remark, disbelief that students are capable of much beside such immaturity. Research hardly makes it any easier, with authors such as Carr (2010), Keen (2007) and Brabazon (2002; 2007) as central conspirators in the prevention of user-generated content gaining momentum, defining it as lacking in quality, an outlet for nefarious activity, and suffering from accuracy and superficial scholarship issues respectively. But such criticisms from adults are unfair, because up until now, all theories and assumptions are mostly drawn from youth engagement in entertainment and gaming contexts, and not from educational contexts.

It is truly unfair to assume some of the behavior of youth in entertainment social media settings would automatically transfer to educational settings. Most kids don’t want to be immature. Often, ironically, we only see such immaturity as backlash or consequence to stifling kids all day in classrooms and giving them too few opportunities to express themselves. Immaturity also surfaces when we fail to give teachers adequate opportunities to guide students emotionally through the world of social media. In some schools and departments of education, social media is like a dirty word. No wonder kids sometimes make mistakes when they engage with it. If I was 15 years old, searching for identity, insecure, exposed constantly to a heavily marketed consumerist culture, and then given access to incredibly powerful technological tools, I think I’d make some mistakes on the way too. It’s remarkable how well kids actually do. Imagine if we embraced the inevitable, and focused on harnessing the power of social media, but also taught responsibility and emotional intelligence with it too? What would we see? At least three improvements, in both cognitive and affective dimensions.

3 Improvements in Cognitive and Affective Dimensions

1. We would see technology used to enhance learning, and to improve learning outcomes, and both initiated by the student. Students will realize that learning needn’t be confined to classrooms, and by involving themselves in an iterative cycle of creating content for the sake of teaching others and themselves and viewing and learning from others’ work, they will decide that user generated content is actually a fun, entertaining experience. Quality would increase exponentially because of a thing called pride, as students, like adults, continually push themselves to achieve and produce work that can stand tall amongst a wide public audience.  As David Preston writes in the outstanding summary of what a quality learning context looks like, ‘Everyone loves learning. At the core of our DNA we are hardwired to learn, to explore, to crave to understand, to absorb new information. We are most engaged when our learning is internally driven, personally meaningful, and purposefully guided’. If you provide students with the right tools (which are there waiting for them right now) they will thrive, and create content of exceptional quality and creativity. Three educators right now are doing incredible things in this area: Don Wettrick, David Preston, and Jim Groom.

2. We would see creativity enhanced and sometimes initiated by the use of technology, and in ways that we can’t even imagine right now. Why? Because digital natives are not shackled by the mindset of an adult. They don’t fear technology. They don’t feel like they are constantly trying to catch up, as the vast majority of teachers do now. They are always at Roger’s innovation stage, and so they use technology intuitively, so naturally, and thus will take on applications and invent new ones that will reshape education in wonderful ways, all furthering learning.

3. We would see students use social media with highly evolved emotional intelligence, because students would invest time into creating quality support networks, as they do on the playground. They would quickly learn to be responsible in using the medium because they know that it’s in their best interest to do so. The benefits outweigh the negative, and so they would not want to lose the opportunity to engage with it. Intrinsic motivation always wins – how many times does the naughty student misbehave on the sports field compared with in class? With adult guidance and mentoring, students can be assisted through difficult moments, as they would if they arose in the schoolyard, and the statistics observed in the Growing up with Social Media Infographic would be reduced significantly. Online resilience education is expanding, but it must become a more prominent feature of welfare curriculum. When it does, in terms of emotional maturity and responsibility, online learning will be on a par with the classroom.

Research is a wonderful thing, but sometimes it gets in the way of plain intuition. Whenever something is new, of course there will be issues of inconsistent quality. That’s because people are working it out as they go, with constant iteration and trial and error used to define advancement of features and modes of function. Name an inventor who didn’t experience such battles. Initial ventures into user-generated content will most certainly suffer from inexperienced creators, and no doubt from issues of accuracy, but using such rationale to quash the potential of user-generated content is short-sighted, and seriously unobservant of what is actually happening in the world of the modern technological youngster. However, worse, is generalizing that a set of raw behaviors in one context would automatically define another. In the end, regardless of what we theorize about user-generated content, it is happening, and gaining momentum with substantial speed. The smartest teachers will be those who understand this, harness its power, teach students to act responsibly with it, and help shape a new learning culture. So watch out theory, because you might just get bowled over. Here comes reality.


Carr (2010), Keen (2007), Brabazon (2002; 2007) all cited by Steve Wheeler, whom is a strong advocate of peer learning through user generated content. 

Growing up with Social Media Infographic

3 Reasons To Encourage Student-Generated Content infographic

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Via: www.letterbox.co.uk