My research essay turned out successfully and also provided me with new learning about both the researching and the writing process. The success of this project was due in part to the appropriate and relevant topic that I chose. Since this is such a timely topic finding relevant literature was not difficult. The theme of the course was technological transformations so I had to continue this theme in this essay. This writing assignment was a research-supported essay which indicated to me that this was not merely to be my thoughts and ideas, or any suppositions or presumptions I may have about the topic. I understood this to mean that I had to research the topic in the appropriate academic literature. On completion of the assignment I felt that I had done a good job of both researching and writing.
I chose the topic ‘social media in higher education’ for this assignment. Making the choice was not difficult since this is such a topical issue in education today. K-12 schools almost everywhere in the world have computers and have been incorporating technology into teaching and learning, but I was particularly interested in the use of social media in higher education and wanted to learn more about the current situation. I have read some articles and heard discussions about the growing use of social media, especially Facebook and Twitter, in both face-to-face and online teaching and learning. My curiosity was aroused by the debate about whether or not these media which were originally created for social interactions could in fact have a positive impact on education and learning. Due to the pervasion of technology tools in classrooms I anticipated that there would be enough literature available in the library databases. Since it is such a current topic that affected such a wide array of teachers and students all around the world I was also fairly certain that there would be no problems researching the topic. I was not wrong.
I started the research with a wide and general structure. As mentioned before I was fairly certain of the availability of a wide range of material on the topic. However I was aware that I needed to keep my research to credible, academic literature as it is an academic course and that is what is expected at tertiary academic level. Although I knew that if I put social media in a Google search I would get millions of hits- I did not use the arbitrary internet sites for my research. I kept in mind the fact that the general internet sites are not reliable sources of valid research. I used Google scholar since that can provide valid academic journal articles. The most trusted source of literature however is always the university library databases so that is what I used the most. I went directly to the education databases and I chose Ebscohost since that covers just about every topic in education. It is an easy database to use as it offers an advance search feature which allows me to narrow my search by topic, date, author, etc. It is also useful as it allows the creation of folders so that articles can be stored for future use.
The initial search term used was ‘social media in higher education’. I thought it would be necessary to be as specific yet as exact as possible since such a term could result in hundreds of articles. With the 42 articles it yielded and the Google search using the same key words I was able to retrieve the necessary articles to help me in writing the essay. One of the considerations in retrieving the articles is that they should be accessed as a pdf file so that page numbers would be available for citing in the paper. There was no difficulty in retrieving these files.
Searching for the articles and retrieving them was not a difficult process. In fact my attention was quite absorbed in the process as I was learning not just how to search for literature but how to discern the quality of the article and the relevance to the topic I had to write about. The difficulty lies in how time consuming it can be to filter through all the results. It took some time to scan through each article to choose the ones that would eventually be used. Sometimes the abstracts were instructive and helpful, other times it was still necessary to scan through the article itself to summarize what the main points were and whether the article had the information to support the points outlined in the essay.
Once the search was complete it was now another process to actually organize and write the essay. I have learned that having a detailed plan makes the actual writing of an essay that much easier, so I took the time to outline the paper carefully. Following this the articles were grouped according to the themes in the essay. It was much easier then to write the complete essay from the notes that were made on reading each article. Following the instructions for the assignment helped in making sure the essay was well-organized.
The major point that came out of the essay was that the evidence is not yet conclusive about the advantages and disadvantages of using social media in higher education. This of course encourages me to think about the possibilities for future research that may be available. Researching the topic in such depth has increased my interest in the general topic of technology and how it can be used to enhance teaching and learning. My commitment to myself at this point is to keep up as much as possible with the growing area.
Good writing always takes practice, and this assignment has contributed to my writing practice. Of course the more one reads the better one becomes as a writer. Therefore the opportunity to read all the academic literature on the topic was welcomed. I must confess that I was sidetracked with reading additional material that seemed interesting as I did the research. Though this may not necessarily be a flaw, it is a point to take note of as it can distract from the focus of the paper and it can add to the length of time that it takes to complete the assignment.
I see no reason not to get a grade of A on this project. The process of research was carried out in an organized and well-planned manner. There was also sufficient learning taking place as I now feel more confident to conduct literature research and report on what is found.