Clarify your doubts, view digital dissections, videos of experiments and listen to lectures by experts from around the world on the social media… Learning could be fun this way.

If you think that the teacher-student relationship is confined to the campus and libraries or lectures are the only source of additional information to supplement your prescribed text book, you must be stuck in the Dark Ages!

The Internet has thrown open a whole new world of information access and it’s not just the regular educational sites we’re talking about. Even those platforms assumed to be of a frivolous, social nature are now being seen as powerful tools of education. Who would have thought Facebook, Twitter and YouTube would help you score extra in your tests?

“If anything, it (social media) just opens up another channel of communication from students to teachers,” comments a person on a website. Not just a channel but numerous and simultaneous channels that connect you to several material at one shot.

Here’s a look at the social media spaces that are underestimated educational tools.

Facebook

From subscribers (people you can follow) to pages and apps, Facebook lets you connect with not just people you know, but with information, ideas and opinions too.

A school in Amsterdam supplemented their learning with Facebook timeline updates. The students created Facebook pages on topics like “20th Century Inventions”, “Fashion – 1950 To Now” and “Magellan’s Voyage” and would post related material for the rest of the class/school to look up and learn. Now this could work on a college level too where students and teachers post lesson updates, scheduled time of lectures, podcasts, announcements and even lesson-related doubts.

Twitter

Want to know what’s happening in the world of mathematics, finance or world cinema? Looking for expert opinions on academic issues and problems, then Twitter is the place for you.

While your general timeline can be a page where tweets from all and sundry can be read, “Lists” lets you categorise tweets from people. For instance, Maths enthusiasts could create a list for “Math” where you can follow Republic of Math (@republicofmath) Mathematics of the people, for the people, by the people: encouraging mathematical happiness, Nrich maths (@nrichmaths) Specialists in rich mathematics and other related accounts that tweet math problems events and interesting trivia.

Through these you will stumble upon some interesting facts such as: Lily Serna’s equation for the perfect dress, skirt or short hemline is the length of your body from shoulder tip (cm) added to the heel height (cm) divided by 1.618 gives every individual their golden number!

YouTube

Not just the latest pop videos, trailers and viral videos, the video site has innumerable educational videos that teach you the Complete Life Cycle of the Monarch Butterfly, History of Vijayanagara Empire or even explain an atomic particle using cue balls.

YouTube channels such as NPTEL put up technical lectures from all seven Indian Institutes of Technology and Indian Institute of Science, Bangalore. The vidoes are categorised according to subjects — Core Sciences, Civil Engineering, Computer Science and Engineering, Electrical Engineering, Electronics and Communication Engineering and Mechanical Engineering.

Garden City College, Bangalore, has its own channel that features videos ranging from its Independence Day celebrations to Introduction to programming concepts.

Blogs

Blogs are still popular as personal web spaces where one can rave, rant, get creative or just seem smart. The concept of using these virtual platforms for education is new but not without prospect.

Take for instance computinged.wordpress.com which is a blog dedicated to computing education started by Mark Guzdial, a professor in the School of Interactive Computing at Georgia Institute of Technology. The multitude of comments professing thanks are proof that knowledge-sharing can happen beyond classrooms and research journals.

Blogs are a great space for professors and researchers to share their findings, interests and ponder on relevant subjects. They serve as a platform for fellow professors or researchers to connect and diversify resources on hand.

Games

Yes! What better way to learn about your subject than by playing a game!

The online protein-folding game on Foldit was crucial to the publishing of the paper: Crystal structure of a monomeric retroviral protease solved by protein-folding game players. Simply put, a group of computer programmers “figured out the structure of a protein crucial to the functioning of the HIV-like Mason-Pfizer monkey virus, which causes AIDS in monkeys.”

It’s not just science. There are games to help you understand the plight of the 2.5 million refugees in the Darfur region of Sudan (you play to keep your virtual refugee camp going despite the threat of the militia in “Darfur is Dying”) to practice rare, complex, or high-risk procedures virtually in “HumanSim”; or learn the basics of management and economics with “Virtonomics”.

Crowd sourcing

Mumbai-based education startup, Gyaanexchange.com has launched an open web-based video learning platform with over 100 hours of crowd sourced, affordable, credible and high quality content in multiple disciplines such as academia, professional development, technology, literature, mathematics and much more.

Gyaanexchange.com allows users to learn anything, anywhere. The aim is to provide the largest high quality repository of skills and academic based content by enabling anyone to contribute to the platform — crowd sourcing a video encyclopedia!

Anyone can share their knowledge and make it available to an audience of millions of learners across the world. Videos can be uploaded to the platform, without following any tedious procedures, facilitating anyone to teach from everywhere at minimized or no costs. Every piece of content submitted to Gyaanexchange is verified and checked for quality, accuracy and credibility. The website also provides support in creating and producing high quality educational content.

Gyaanexchange is placing India on the map of education innovation by enabling universities, schools, training institute and individuals to use its platform for free to reach out to the large underserved segment of learners in our country and across the world. Their ‘curated class’ feature allows one to embed rich media form any source on the Internet into a chapter and topic structure in order to create a free valuable learning experience. Gyaanexchange was founded in Mumbai in October of 2011 by Siddharth Bhansali and Vishad Shanghvi.

Academic resources

I was always interested in writing and I like my subject. So I combined both and began my blog in 2006 that deals with nano science.

I also post class notes in pdf format in my blog. Blogs make for great educational resources; unfortunately they aren’t yet considered as an elevated medium of communication by the academia. As for me, I feel, with blogs I need not restrict my thinking. When I am taking class, I have to prepare my presentation to address the lowest common denominator. I don’t have to do that in my blog. My students love it too! They like it because they can read it at their own time and it lets them see the other dimension of a faculty. “Oh! He likes Pink Floyd too!” That makes them appreciate you better.

Dr. Arunn Narasimhan is associate professor, department of mechanical engineering, IIT-M. His blog is: http://www.nonoscience.info/