Students and online social networks

By Baleng Wutor Mahama. Baleng is a student at Kwame Nkrumah University of Science and Technology in Kumasi, Ghana. He is from Tumu, Ghana.

I am sitting in a lecture on investment and for the first 10 minutes everyone is paying rapt attention. 30 minutes into the lecture, no one seems to be paying attention. The speaker goes on and on talking about the do’s and don’ts of investment, but everyone else seems to be engrossed with something on their phones. So I decide to take a peek. My friend on the left is smiling at a joke on Facebook, the one on the right is thinking about what to reply on Twitter. They couldn’t care less about whatever the lecturer was saying, and yet, the poor speaker went on and on spewing out words of wisdom-well, to no one in particular.

The above scenario unfortunately is not the exception. It is the norm in most universities of late. Whether sitting in lectures, walking on the street or at group discussions, you would often find students doing one thing or another on social networking sites. Social networking and the internet as a whole has come to stay and no matter what we do, it is going to have an impact on our lives as students, parents and teachers. It is an uncontested fact that social networks have improved the academic life of students. I literally get real-time updates on the status of all my classes as well as events in the school through Whatsapp and I pay next to nothing for it.

Through social networks, students also get to connect with one another, form study groups and share ideas on topics of interest. They also get the opportunity of sharing ideas on how best to study in school, how to complete projects and other academic assignments. Therefore social networks have really opened new chapters in the academic life of students.

However, like a double-edged sword, the side effects of social networking are becoming rather problematic. A crystal example of the distractive effect of social networking is the scenario illustrated at the beginning of this piece. Teachers are now competing with social networks for the attention of students and the social networks are unfortunately winning. While a teacher is spewing out words of wisdom, some students would at the same time be in a world of their own. The distractive effect of social networks unfortunately like an insidious cancer is often not noticed until it has dealt a major blow to the academic performance of the student.

“Digital Addiction” is the desperate term that has been coined to describe the novel condition of people wanting to be perpetually connected to the World Wide Web. Some people disagree that the internet can become addictive and yet I have come across several students who want to wean themselves off the internet and yet cannot. They find themselves spending a chunk of their time browsing through social networks and other sites to the detriment of their studies.

We cannot proscribe the use of social networks or the internet because of these untoward consequences, but we can try to fashion out innovative ways of making the internet less problematic for students. Until students, teachers and parents begin to rise up to the occasion and nip this digital addiction in the bud, we risk producing half-baked professionals. Students need to realize the possibility of becoming addicted to the internet and hence develop innovative ways of insulating themselves from this addiction. Parents must also make it a point to monitor what their kids do online because if they are not monitored, children may take up uncouth behaviours that they see online. Teachers must also step up their game and help keep students attentive in class. Some teachers even feel it is none of their business to ensure that their students are paying attention in class-but it is!

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