Social media is changing the way teachers teach and students learn.
When students from the Montclair Kimberley Academy visited Ireland a few years ago, they blogged about their experiences on WordPress, posted photos on Flickr, uploaded videos to YouTube, and tweeted.
That social media engagement contributed to their education in new and profound ways, said William Stites, the teacher who led the class trip.
“By posting that material online, you open it up to a much larger audience,” Stites, now the school’s director of technology, told TechNewsWorld. “It makes the students feel truly published. They’re true authors.”
His experiments with social media storytelling have since become a model for other classes and instructors at the school, changing the nature of what it means to learn and to teach.
“The blog pulled all of those social pieces together in one place and allowed parents and others to access the content,” Stites said. “We were able to build the number of followers that the Twitter feed had to include professors and politicians. Our pictures on Flickr were used in travel magazines, and our videos have been viewed around the world.”
Brave New Social World
Social media has changed — and will continue to change — the educational landscape. Teachers and students are finding creative and always-evolving ways to use Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn, YouTube, blogs, and other social networks to communicate, collaborate and share information.
“I spend every day with educators from around the world on social media, and we’ve seen exponential growth in the number of educators using social media,” Elana Leoni, director of social media strategy and marketing for Edutopia, told TechNewsWorld. “More and more, educators are turning to social media to empower and engage their students, keep parents updated, and continue to professionally develop their skills by connecting to other educators.”
How social media is being used, however, varies widely among educators and schools.
“I think many of the best uses today are among the simplest,” executive coach Greg Verdino told TechNewsWorld.
“I’ve seen examples of teachers using mainstream social networks like Facebook to maintain class, and Twitter to alert students of upcoming events like quizzes, tests, special subjects,” he noted. “I’ve even heard of some instances in which teachers or administrators have improved attendance rates by sending SMS wake-up messages to students prone to absenteeism or tardiness.”
For teachers, figuring out how and when to use social media requires answering a few basic questions.
“When considering social media, every teacher needs to ask, how will this empower me to be of greater service to my constituents?” explained Verdino. “How will it make learning more effective for my students? How will it better engage their parents? How will it factor into my professional development, peer relationships, and level of innovation as an educator?”
Social media platforms, in themselves, aren’t educational tools. To use them as such, educators must think about how they can be adapted for specific purposes in and outside of the classroom.
“A lot of people mistakenly believe that social media is about the tools and technologies, when in fact it is really about how people use the tools and technology,” said Verdino. “Begin with a solid understanding of how your students are using social today: what platforms they frequent; how they use them; their tolerance for interacting with teachers or other authority figures. These behavioral patterns must — not should, must — inform the approach any given teacher takes if she hopes to truly engage her students in meaningful and relevant ways.”
Becoming Digital Citizens
One of the benefits of using social media in education is that it gives students an opportunity to develop digital portfolios that can be used when applying for colleges or jobs.
“It allows students to develop an electronic portfolio and digital footprint, so when they’re applying to colleges people can find them online and see tangible things they’ve done,” said Stites. “You can begin to talk with students about how to develop an online presence. You can begin to have those kind of conversations about how to conduct yourselves online in a way that’s going to have a positive impact on your life.”
A large part of what students learn by going social at school, after all, is how to be responsible digital citizens. Creating blogs and updating Twitter feeds require understanding how to maintain an online presence — a skill that will well serve 21st Century students long after they leave school. Whether they use education-specific sites like Edmodo or more mainstream social media sites, students learn digital etiquette and communication strategies that are key to their future success.
“Our students need to be able to navigate the online social world in a safe, effective way,” said Leoni. “They also need to be able to not only consume information online — they need to be creators. Social media has empowered students around the world to express themselves in ways that were never possible before, and many students are already using social media outside of the classroom. We need to embrace it and seize the opportunity to truly teach them to navigate it in a safe, effective way.”