“I think it’s very important to evaluate any new curricular intervention, and in today’s world when technology is seen as a panacea, it is increasingly important to be critical of its integration in education.” – Rey Junco, USA

We talk a lot about student engagement here at Daily Edventures. For educators and students alike, it can be the secret ingredient in learning success. While many educators may wonder what creates the magic of student engagement, Rey Junco may have the answer: social media. Junco, a psychologist and faculty associate at the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University, is widely regarded as a pioneer researcher on social technologies – like Facebook and Twitter – in higher education.

While Junco was interested in technology early on, it wasn’t his original path of study. “I was into all things geeky in my early teenage years,” says Junco. “Then I went off to college and didn’t do much technology – I started doing my graduate work in clinical psychology and neuropsychology and became a big fan of outcomes assessments.”

Just as Junco started teaching and working, Web 2.0 came on the scene.  “I put my IM screen name on my syllabus,” he says. “And I noticed that students who were reticent in class, if they chatted on IM, they were more likely to participate in class discussions.” And thus began Junco’s research.

His findings are fascinating, to say the least.  Not surprisingly, it’s not the use of social media in and of itself that promotes engagement…it’s how the social media is used that makes all the difference.

Junco’s findings are both timely and exciting. But he’s not going to stop there. “Engagement is interesting, but what is more broadly interesting to me is the psychology of interacting online,” he notes. “This year I plan to look at online content creation,” he says. “I am focusing on online identity – the concepts of anonymity, pseudonymity and real names. One of the things I want to look at is if a student creates an image and posts it anonymously, are they more likely to open up artistically because they might not be criticized as much as when using their real name?”

In addition to research that is currently underway, Junco has multiple research projects planned, including one that may just change how computers are used in education altogether. “What we are planning to do is monitor everything students do on their computers and build models to predict learning,” says Junco. Does this mean his study will show the best ways to use technology for success? “Yes,” he says. “For instance – I could say that students who use Facebook more and spend more time on Pinterest might get better grades in chemistry than students that do the opposite.”

I hope you enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Rey Junco as much as we enjoyed talking to him.

Can you describe how your professional achievements have advanced  innovation in education?

I conduct research on how social media affect student psychosocial development and learning. For instance, my research has found that using Facebook in certain ways is more  predictive of student engagement and academic success. My research has also found that educators can integrate Twitter in meaningful ways into the curriculum in order to increase student engagement, academic achievement, and to reduce the dropout rate. In general, I try to conduct research that can be applicable to educational settings. As an example, a recent paper examined two ways to integrate Twitter into the curriculum and provided research-based best practices for educators.

What has changed as a result of your efforts?

My research provides educators with data about how new technologies can be used to not only meet students where they are but to help them be more successful and engaged. I think it’s very important to evaluate any new curricular intervention, and in today’s world when technology is seen as a panacea, it is increasingly important to be critical of its integration in education. We still have a long way to go. Unlike many who cheer-lead the use of any technology (in any way) as a magical way to improve student learning, I am interested in encouraging a more critical approach so we can discover what works well and what doesn’t.

What is the biggest obstacle you have had to overcome to ensure students are receiving a quality education?

In my experiences, student preparation for college-level work has been a major issue. Students are either unprepared academically or unprepared socially/psychologically for what was expected of them in higher education. Like in many other states, the cuts to education funding have hurt the ability of state-owned universities to provide quality education to the state’s residents.

What conditions must change in your region to better support education?

Interestingly enough, there is almost-unregulated fracking and natural gas drilling in Pennsylvania. Instead of a tax on drilling, we have an impact fee that amounts to one of the lowest taxes on gas drilling in the nation. Not that we have to fund our schools and universities with drilling, but given the devastating effects to the natural environment (and given the normative tax rates across the US), such taxation would help fill gaps in the general and education budgets.

What is the best opportunity for innovation in education?

The best opportunity for innovation is the motivation of educators to change the educational process.
Educators who are interested in integrating new technology in meaningful ways into their courses are typically those who are more likely to take risks with different types of teaching methods that could end up paying off greatly.

What advice would you give a new teacher (or to anyone wanting to make a difference in education)?

Take risks, be open to having a lesson plan “fail,” make everything a learning experience and/or a teachable moment.

What educational “trend” do you think is helping students? Is there a trend that is getting in the way of learning?

I think that the “trend” of assuming that technology equals learning is getting in the way. You see this in schools and entire districts adopting iPads. Often, they tout how great they are and how they help students learn “better;” however, there is no data showing that iPads are a better technology tool to support learning, than say, laptops. As a matter of fact, I can see many instances where a tablet would be detrimental to the learning process as compared to a computer. This trend of adopting the “new shiny” just because it’s cool has to stop. Now, I’m not saying that it’s impossible for a tablet to have an effect on the learning process, it’s just disingenuous to say that they have such an effect when there is no data to support it. I’d love to see educators evaluate not just iPad/tablet integration programs, but new curricular interventions. It doesn’t take much to design a study to test the effects of such programs. What I bet we’ll find (as some of my research on social media has found) is that little variance is attributable to the technology – it’s how you use that technology as part of the curriculum that makes a meaningful impact.

If you could give one educational tool to every child in the world, what would it be? Why?

I’d give them access to a quality teacher in a classroom with a low teacher-to-student ratio.

About Rey Junco

  • Birthplace: Miami, Florida
  • Current residence: State College, Pennsylvania
  • Education: D. Ed., Counselor Education, Penn State; M.S. Clinical Psychology, Penn State; B.S. Psychology, University of Florida
  • Website I check every day: Facebook
  • Next travel destination (work or pleasure): Cambridge
  • When was the last time you laughed? Why? Just last night I watched the “Eye of the Sparrow” video by Bad Lip Reading. If you haven’t watched it, please do. You’ll know why I laughed.
  • Favorite book: That’s a hard one. I really love reading and read a lot of books. I would say that it’s either Waiting for Snow in Havana by Carlos Eire or Altered Carbon by Richard Morgan.
  • Favorite music: This is another hard one. I used to be a DJ (it’s how I put myself through my first two years of my undergraduate work) so my tastes are very eclectic. The other day I created a playlist on iTunes by searching for the word “Fire.” I had songs from a diverse list of artists including Dokken, Prodigy, Kaskade, Jimi Hendrix, Bob Marley, Van Halen, Metallica, and Kings of Leon. I’m a big fan of mashups and have kept current with them thanks to my friends at mashup.fm on turntable.fm (I highly recommend SoSimpull’s (http://sosimpull.com/) reviews of new mashups). I’ve also been known to produce a track or two for fun.
  • Your favorite quote or motto: “Fortes fortuna adiuvat” –Terence (it was mine before it was Mark’s 🙂 )
This entry was posted in Beyond the Classroom, People, Social media and tagged , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *