Wednesday, November 28, 2012

What's the Value of Social Media to Teachers and Students?

NOTE: I really would like to hear from you if you have a story about how you or your students use social media to enhance learning. Your comments are appreciated:)

I'm finding myself in more and more conversations in which I am defending social media in the classroom. I am grateful for the opportunity because for a while, the words "social media" would end a discussion about technology in the classroom before it began. Passionate, well-meaning educators refused to even consider social media as a topic of discussion, and would quickly change the subject, citing concerns about privacy, disruption, student safety, and liability, as well as stories about wildly inappropriate student behavior via social media.

All of these were (and are) valid concerns, and the response they triggered to resist acknowledging social media as part of the educational landscape was an understandable one (even if it was unrealistic).

What made the situation worse was that even if I could find someone who would entertain the notion of social media in the classroom, the examples of successful use of social media for education were few and far between, so finding enough examples to support an argument was often difficult over the last few years.

Even worse than that, because the adults who often help kids find their way in new social environments  (teachers and parents) were unfamiliar with and unwilling to enter into these social spaces, the kids who were entering into them in droves lacked guidance and made choices that only confirmed the fears of the adults who would block, ban, and shut down social media (if this were possible).

Clearly, carrying the banner for Facebook in the classroom made for a lonely parade in the beginning.

This year has been different, though. Suddenly, there are all kinds of resources that have been curated on how to use social media in all kinds of classrooms. We have more than enough success stories to show the positive side of social media in education, and the stigma of words like "Facebook" and "Twitter" seems less of a barrier for discussion. I realize that doesn't mean that the case has been made, but there is enough critical mass to at least expand the conversation beyond the early adopters whose tech-cred seems to limit their persuasive powers. "Sure, he uses Twitter in class, but I'm not 'techie' like that."

I had an enlightening conversation with a colleague today that helped me to get a sense of where we are now. She said, "I was afraid of the idea. Now I'm wary about the change, but I'm interested in learning more. What puts me off is a bunch of techies using language that I don't understand like 'crowd-sourcing.' What invites me in are examples of how social media can help kids learn more and do it better." This came about when another colleague shared how her daughter's journalism class is able to pull together photos for yearbook spreads by tweeting out a need for pictures from a particular event. Now a spread that would have taken days, can be done in hours. That's what we were missing before. Those kinds of stories from all kinds of teachers.

So I'm interested in finding better ways to make the case through great anecdotal stories of how real teachers are using social media in classes to make learning better. I'm interested in finding those stories that make it obvious to anyone that social media has a role to play in learning. I want to build a library of real, boots-on-the-ground, non-techie examples of what learning via social media looks like. I'd love to hear from teachers, principals, sponsors, and especially kids, so that I can begin to tell this story better, and we can all get past the discussion of whether social media has a place in learning and move on to the discussion of how we can best use social media to enhance learning. I welcome your comments and ideas below.



  1. As a pre-service teacher, in my classroom experiences, I've seen kids eager to use social media, but when I've explained that I wanted to use Twitter as a tool in class, I've gotten very little participation. The students wanted nothing to do with me being a part of their social world online. I think to turn their minds around, there has to better instruction in digital citizenship by teachers and families. This generation of learners is so different from when and where I came from, and I only graduated from high school five and a half years ago! I want to believe that students won't be as apprehensive as the years go on. I can see how teachers have evolved and been more eager to implement the use of social media tools. I hope I can be a good example to apprehensive educators and help them to see that the benefits outweigh the potential, really minor issues when letting social media be present as a learning tool. Thanks for starting this discussion!

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