Role of Social Media in the Curriculum

Introduction

As asserted by Selby and Kagawa (2012), approximately 302 hazards were experienced worldwide in the year 2011, most of which escalated to disasters claiming over 30,000 lives and affecting over 206 million individuals. The loss that was attributed as a result of these disasters was approximated to be around $366 billion (Selby & Kagawa 2012).

From a critical point of view, it was evident that students, mainly females were the main population group that was highly affected by these disasters. As a result, these group of students is denied their fundamental right to health, safety, and education as a result of disasters that happen all around the world (Cole 2009). This comes about as a result of education, health, and accommodation facilities, disruption of the education calendar, and limited access to education facilities all affecting the overall quality of education (Sardjunani & Hadi 2010).

One of the most effective means of reducing the impacts of disasters is through education. A study conducted by Raju and Shahi (2013) concluded that the addition of disaster education in the school curriculum is an important step given the dangers that communities stand to face in the contemporary world, as a means of reducing their overall vulnerability and to enhance preparedness among individuals. Education is an integral aspect of the development of individuals. With regards to disaster risk reduction, education can play a critical role in building and developing the necessary knowledge, skills, and attitude that an individual and the community at large require to have prior, during, and after a disaster (Raju & Shahi 2013).

It is due to this fact that several countries around the world have integrated disaster risk reduction (DRR) programs into their educational curricula (Akram 2012). These curricula provide the best examples and innovative solutions to various disasters all around the world. Jason (n.d.) stated that the integration of education with DRR programs is an important move in achieving sustainable development in the contemporary world since it not only ensures that loss of life and property is minimized but also gives the future generation a chance to live and thrive.

For instance, the Indonesian government, through its various educational authorities developed materials and introduced a DRR program in its educational curricula that mainly focused on the causes and responses of disasters such as earthquakes, tsunamis, floods, and so on (RCC 2007). This program reached out to over 33,000 students and had a profound impact on not only the direct focus group (the students) but also other community members who were related either directly or indirectly to the students (RCC 2007).

The results of this new system were put into test in the year 2006 when Indonesia experienced an earthquake in Yogjakarta region. In this disaster, approximately 5000 people lost their lives, but it is believed that the figure would have been much higher had students not learned how to respond to such a situation and passed the same information to their parents, family members, and other members of the community (RCC 2007). It was reported that during this incident, most individuals did not leave their homes and sought protection under tables, beds, and places with reinforcements within their houses such as door frames and stairs, responses that greatly reduced the level and extent of injuries and fatalities.

Research Topic and Problem Statement

In the era when man-made disasters have become increasingly frequent, teaching people to detect both man-made and natural cataclysms and protect themselves is crucial (Rubin 2015). The research focuses on the issue of disaster awareness, pointing to the possible avenues for increasing students’ skills and knowledge successfully in the UAE. The UAE, like many other parts of the world, has experienced its fair share of disasters. In Abu Dhabi, for instance, flooding is considered as being a major cause of disaster within the region mainly affecting traffic (Al Shamsi & Pathirage 2015).

In March 2014, there were over 2000 traffic-related emergency calls with regards to approximately 1800 traffic incidences that had occurred as a result of flooding (Al Shamsi & Pathirage 2015). Earlier in March 2008, a traffic incident occurred as a result of fog resulting in the death of 3 individuals. This incidence had profound repercussions since an additional 347 people suffered injuries and over 200 vehicles were involved in the incident (Al Shamsi & Pathirage 2015).

From a critical point of view, it is clear that bad weather is among the leading causes of disasters in the UAE. Moreover, given the pattern of disasters and other incidences in the UAE, it is also evident that they tend to escalate in an unprecedented manner resulting in loss of lives, injury, and destruction of property. It is therefore imminent to come up with innovative and creative measures that will not only enhance the preparedness of individuals but also increase the level of knowledge and awareness of such incidences, especially on females.

Purpose of the Study, Research Questions and Hypothesis

The study is aimed at exploring the opportunities that social media provides for including Disaster Risk Reduction (DRR) in the curriculum of a UAE all-female school. Particularly, the effects of social media on the students’ ability to acquire the relevant knowledge and skills, as well as the opportunities for disseminating the information about DRR among students will be determined. To achieve this, this study will focus on the following research question:

  1. Does the incorporation of social media tools into the curriculum allow improving students’ understanding and management of DRR?
  2. Based on the above research question, the arguments of this study will be based on the following hypothesis:
  3. Ho1. Social media can be actively used as a part of the school curriculum helps to improve the students’ concept of DRR.
  4. HA1. Social media cannot be actively used as a part of the school curriculum helps to improve the students’ concept of DRR

Literature Review

Integrating DRR in School Curriculum and Resultant Challenges

The integration of DRR in the school curriculum is a relatively new concept in many nations across the world with a few exceptions (Ronan 2015). The report by Selby and Kagawa (2012) states that most DRR programs tend to be summative and written, and not formative to meet the changing nature and trends of disasters around the world. Under these programs, information is disseminated to students with little or no opportunities for application whereby self-assessment, peer assessment, or portfolio assessment is encouraged (Johnson 2011). Under these assessment approaches, it is evident that any shortcomings in the learning and acquisition process by the student will not be catered for, hence leaving the entire integration process incomplete.

From practice, a learning process is best achieved if the instruction is trained and experienced in a respective field (INEE 2010). This is the reason why teachers have to undergo a rigorous training and learning exercise that enables them to acquire the relevant skills and expertise required for them to teach in a respective field. In most cases, however, such training and learning exercises are usually not present in DRR programs. Instead, most instructors are usually provided with a manual or a guide from which they are to disseminate the information. Occasionally, teachers might undergo a short term training exercise that lasts only for a few days, and in most cases, lack the required standard follow up in terms of learning reinforcement (UNISDR 2008).

Given these challenges facing the implementation of DRR in school curricula, it is clear that a comprehensive and innovative teaching approach is required to successfully integrate this program. Traditional integration approaches fail to achieve the desired expectation and outcomes. This phenomenon can be explained by the affective-filter hypothesis that is contained in the monitor model. According to this hypothesis, the process of teaching and learning might be slow even though all the necessary conditions for this process have been provided (Lightbrown & Spada 2007). It is common for students to develop a negative attitude towards learning given the fact that the information decimated to them is relatively new and they might not realize its need or application in real-life situations. This negative attitude greatly reduced the motivation that they might have about the process of learning.

According to Vygotsky’s social development theory, the environment and society that surrounds an individual play an important role in his/her development (Lightbrown & Spada 2007). According to Aguilar and Retamal (2009), students need to support each other to ensure that the learning acquisition process is effective and efficient. However, as put by NDMO(2008), no initial teacher training programs have been developed in the field of DRR. This not only affects the instruction passed to the students but also affect the learning, acquisition, and application of the knowledge and skills that these programs aim at disseminating. It is as a result of this finding there has been a great interest and application of the use of social media as a tool for addressing the knowledge deficit in the implementation of DRR in school curricula, especially in the UAE.

Social Media

Since they were first introduced on the internet, social media networks have attracted millions of users. According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), most of these users have made social media sites to be part and parcel of their lives. This is because these users use these sites on an almost daily basis. Some of the users never log out from these sites since they form a platform through which they interact with the outside world. Now, there are hundreds if not thousands of social media sites online.

Each one of these sites is unique in the sense that it has different affordances (Haythornthwaite 2009). This makes each site to attract different kinds of people who have similar characteristics, likes, and interests. Most sites attract individuals who have a common characteristic. This might be racial background, language, sexuality, culture, religion, or nationality (Stelzner 2010).

However, the technological base that these sites have is relatively the same. How these sites operate is also somewhat different. Some sites operate on blogging, mobile communication, and so on. On the other hand, there are those sites that concentrate on video and picture sharing. Despite these differences, the result that users achieve after utilizing these sites is more or less the same. Currently, the giants of social networks sites include Facebook, Twitter, Google+, YouTube, and LinkedIn (Boyd & Ellison 2007; Lazer 2009).

Several statements have been advanced to define the term social network sites. According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), social network sites are web-based applications that enable users to create personal profiles that are public or semi-public that are only viewed by individuals within the network. These sites normally have a list of users who can share information. Thus, users within the same network can view some (if not all) of the information that is contained in the profiles of the respective users. Besides, users can traverse the connections that have been made by the host and at the same time, they have the chance to create their networks and connections within the site. However, the nature of the connection and how they are named are variable. This mainly depends on the network’s tastes and preferences.

While accessing various networks, users have a different mode of communication that they can utilize. Most sites give the users a chance to state what is on their mind at a specific time. In Facebook, this concept is referred to as ‘status update’ and on Twitter, this concept is referred to as tweeting (Gajjala 2007). Additionally, in most sites, users have the option of leaving comments (although this name may vary depending on different sites). This comment can be on a picture, a link, or an update/tweet of a user.

The number of users and comments that can be left on one entry is unlimited. Users also have the option of a private communication platform. Here, users can send private messages to each other. This form of communication is different from the rest since only the sender and the recipient of the message can view the content of the message. Other sites also have the chat option. Here, users who are online at the same time can send instant messages to one another. On some occasions, some sites have chat runs that are either open to all users or are private. Here, users can talk about anything. This brings about virtual communication as they were all together at one physical location.

Social networks operate beyond status updates, comments, private messaging, and instant chat. Additional features that these sites have depended on the nature of the site (Nora 2008). There are those sites that allow their users to share photos and videos across the network. Also, other sites are based on cellular phones that allow their users to send instant messages. Some integrate both of these options. All this depends on the nature and preferences of the sites itself and the users that the site contains (Nora 2008).

According to Boyd and Ellison (2007), different social networks have different target groups. These target groups depend on the geographical location of the users, their language, culture, or background. However, this is not always the case. Orkut, for instance, was based in the United States. During its early days, the site had an English interface. However, with time, the site was taken over by Portuguese Speaking Brazilians who now form the dominant group accessing the site. Other sites are designed to attract individuals with similar interests, religions, sexuality, or social identification. To an extreme extent, social networks have been created for dogs and cats (Dogster and caster respectively) (Kaplan 2010). However, the owners of the pets who are the users of these sites have to manage these profiles.

Currently, social network sites have increased in numbers and size, especially on the internet. However, there is no current data that can be used to give out reliable information with regards to the number of social network sites that are currently in operation or the number of users of these platforms. However, according to Boyd and Ellison (2007), social network sites have already become a global phenomenon. Their operation and impacts can be felt in all the corners of the world.

This phenomenon has thus made giant corporations, educational institutions, governmental and non-governmental agencies as well as other institutions to join in hand to ensure that social networks grow and thrive (Akram 2012). To achieve this, these institutions have been involved in the process of buying, promoting, and advertising on these social sites. Due to the influence that social network sites have now, business entities have also tried to be affiliated with them in one way or the other to ensure that they gain popularity and public support, especially in regions that such entities are not entirely popular (Benzie 4).

Social Media and DRR

Recent studies have shown very low DRR awareness rates among UAE residents of all ages (Al Hmoudi & Aziz 2015). It is due to this fact that there is a need to enhance the level of DRR awareness in schools, particularly female students through the use of innovative techniques such as social media. Social networks can be used as the mean of disseminating information efficiently among not only learners but also other members of the society, as well as to promote the active acquisition of the relevant knowledge and skills (Muttarak & Lutz 2014).

Social media is currently a global phenomenon that is used to network people from all around the world. In this respect, social media can be an effective tool not only for disseminating DRR information to students but also as a platform through which students can use to put the acquired knowledge and skills into practice.

Given its characteristics, social media can be considered as an effective tool in the process of disseminating information between teachers and students, among students, and between students and the community in general. Given its features, this platform is also effective in disaster planning and training, especially given the fact that people do not need to be physically in the same location to pass information between one another. Finally, through its networking capacity, social media provides a conducive platform for collaborative response and solutions to disasters, as well as an avenue for information gathering and collection.

Methodology

Study Design

This study took a mixture of qualitative and quantitative approaches. As a result, the study utilized several methods and approached to gather the relevant data that was required to give out the required information with regards to the research questions at hand. To answer the research questions, firstly, open-ended interviews were conducted. These interviews were conducted on female students only to establish the impact of social media on this population group.

Population and Sample

The participants of this study were female students between the ages of 15 and 25 yeas (high school and college-level students). This age group is composed of female students who have the highest tendency of suing social network sites for one need or the other. This sample group thus ensured that the attitudes and perceptions of the target population are captured. As a result, the data that was collected for the study and the inferences that were made were easily generalized to reflect the trends of the entire population target population. The random sampling technique was applied while selecting the individuals to be interviewed. This ensured that the interviews that were conducted were not biased.

Data Analysis

For accurate analysis of the statistical data, a computer SPSS 16.0 was used for descriptive data analysis. The data were explored using descriptive statistics and histogram plots to determine the shape of the distribution for each sample variable. The name given to each variable for the data analysis was given in a table. Data analysis was carried out using parametric tests where the data followed a normal distribution and where the sample number was equal to or greater statistical power. Where the data did not follow a normal distribution or where the data was split into groups of less than the sample size (n), a non-parametric test was used. For example, a Pearson correlation test was carried out on the data to explore any linear relationships between the variables (the relationship between results from interviews and results from observation).

Ethical Considerations

For the data to represent a true and fair view, the study had a few considerations on ethics. The data collection exercise was conducted within the heart of a society. It is here that it was possible to find interviewees for the study. The questions for the interviews were structured in a manner that avoided any conflicts with the gender, traditions, and religion of the respondents. It mainly focused on collecting the data that was required for the study. Before the commencement of an interview, the respondents’ consents were sought. The purpose of the study was explained and the confidentiality of their information was guaranteed.

Results and Discussion

The results that were found in the study were very interesting. The data that was acquired from the interviews were interpreted using the Likert scale. 81 % of the students who were interviewed confirmed that they had used the internet within the past six months. Of this number, 74% stated that they used the internet on an almost daily basis. The main use of the internet that was gathered from the interviews included access to social network sites, seeking employment, blogging, shopping, and gathering new information.

Of these constraints, the interviewees had the option of selecting more than one choice and a maximum of five. It emerged that 69% of the interviewees used the internet to access social network sites. Of all the respondents who were interviewed, an overwhelming 77% had accounts in online social network sites. The most common sites were Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, and Whatsapp. When asked why they are users of social network sites, a variety of responses were gathered. However, they all were in the same context.

Most of these users preferred social network sites over other forms of interaction and communication since it was a faster form of communication, almost free (since they only need to incur internet costs that in some cases is available for free) and it was available at the comfort of their homes, work, school and even on their phones. However, most of the users chose social media over communication and interaction options due to its ease of use. The interface of these sites made it easy for users to sign up, find friends, create and update their profiles, communicate with people within the network, and share pictures and videos. These features, according to most of them, were only available in social network sites and not in any other place.

The results of the interviews that were conducted on teachers were also interesting. All of the teachers who were interviewed were teaching in girls-only schools. Of all the teachers who were interviewed, 80% had adopted at least one form of e-learning strategies either in their teaching practice or higher learning. 73.3% of them utilized social networks for socialization, education, or communication. A further 63% of the teachers that were interviewed agreed on the fact that social networks have improved their interaction and relationship with their students.

There was also a high correlation between the responses that were received from the interviews that were conducted on teachers and students. The table below shows the results for the correlation test.

Correlations
Students Teachers
Students Pearson Correlation 1 0.618
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.626
N 30 30
Teachers Pearson Correlation 0.618 1
Sig. (2-tailed) 0.626
N 30 30

A Pearson correlation of 0.618 implies a strong positive relationship with insignificance at 5%. The responses of both teachers and students coupled with the outcome of the correlation test thus led to the acceptance of this study’s hypothesis that stated that social media can be actively used as a part of the school curriculum helps to improve the students’ concept of DRR. This is high because both students are constantly using this platform for communication and networking.

The contemporary world is characterized by increased hazards and disasters from either natural or manmade calamities. With this in mind, it is imminent for individuals to be prepared to handle such situations, especially vulnerable populations that include female students. At the same time, the world is also experiencing massive advancements in the field of information communication and technology, especially concerning social media and networks. From the results of this study, it is clear that social media can play an integral role in the integration of DRR programs in school curricula.

Social media is a powerful tool for communication, dissemination of information, and also learning since, unlike traditional forms of media, it can be utilized at any place and at any time. Traditional approaches on the other hand were limited by reach, accessibility, and performance (Jason n.d.). This is because social media is collective, thus capable of connecting people with common interests despite any physical boundaries that might be in place (Jason n.d.). Social media is also interactive since it allows the participation of various connected users. In this study, it was found that both teachers and students used social media because it is fast, free, and convenient.

Therefore, the use of social media in integrating DRR curriculum in the UAE will greatly benefit all students, especially females who tend to be vulnerable when disasters strike. In a UAE all-female school curriculum, social media can be used as a means of maintaining the connection between students and teachers as well as providing consultations, clarifications, and feedback about assignments (Plough et al. 2013). Through proper training, female students can play a significant role in warning, responding, and coming up with solutions that would greatly help in reducing the overall impact of a disaster. This approach will thus contribute to the development of resilient communities who possess civil values and norms that are influential in encouraging community members, especially female students to play an active role in helping themselves and others during events of crisis (Takahashi et al. 2015).

Conclusion

This study has focused on contemporary disasters and crises and the impacts that they have on the human population, especially vulnerable groups such as female students. To minimize the effects of these calamities in the contemporary world and also to ensure that future generations not only survive, but remain sustainable, it is evident that DRR programs not only need to be introduced into school curricula, but comprehensive and innovative approaches need to be used in this integration process.

Given its growth, development, and applicability, this paper found social media as being an effective tool in the integration of DRR programs in school curricular due to its networking capability, ease of use, convenience, and effectiveness. If implemented effectively and efficiently this approach will greatly enhance the awareness and participation of female students in response to various disasters and crises in the contemporary world.

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