Social Media as a Teaching Tool?

When I asked my colleagues how they use social media as a teacher, I got responses like “I don’t,” and “Ummmm well, I use the website that the school told us we have to use.” However, I got some more enthusiastic approaches to the issue with “I use it everyday! I send my students to my Pinterest page to find the links to videos they have to watch,” and “We have a class Facebook page where students have discussions on the themes of the current unit.” As technology becomes increasingly intertwined in our everyday lives, our students are no exception. In order to reach them (our audience) we need to utilize social media to increase our communication with them as well as their communication with each other. As Christopher Swan writes about how to connect globally on social media in order to “Dissolve boundaries” and “Allow global inclusion,” we can use social media as teachers to accomplish those same goals on a smaller scale.

One teacher who uses Facebook to get her students having classroom and real world relevant discussions said that by using a forum where students are able to think through their contribution to the discussion before putting it out there has allowed for more involvement from some of the quieter students, the ones who don’t tend to speak out in class discussions. It also validates the students’ ideas when they get “likes” on their post. She did say that this sometimes poses a problem when students get competitive about who got the most “likes.” “It’s a learning process for all of us, but I think overall the results have been positive because we’re allowing them to take education into their own world, where they are comfortable,” said Debbie.

James Howe writes that “Social media is about building relationships,” and “Social media is about building community.” In a classroom setting where we as teachers are doing everything we can to get those students to think critically and enter into a deep discussion about content, we sometimes forget that the community of that classroom needs to first be solidified, otherwise the students don’t feel comfortable enough to have those types of discussions. When I asked a few of my colleagues if they had noticed a difference in their classroom environment once they began using social media with their students, I got resounding responses of positivity and relief. One teacher said, “Students who never said a word to one another previously in class are now referencing each other’s posts on our Facebook page and tweeting back and forth about the material we are reading in class!” The togetherness of the classroom can absolutely be improved by having students engage with one another first where they are comfortable (social media) and then face-to-face.  As Fagan-Smith writes, “Face-to-face communication remains the most powerful and effective way to connect and inspire people.” There is no substitute for this, and we cannot rely on only social media to help our students engage and grow, but it is a tool to be utilized in order to improve that face-to-face communication that happens in the classroom and in the real world.

Like every other resource in the classroom, there must be guidelines and expectations, and there will be struggle at the beginning, but if we use social media to enrich our kids’ learning experience and push them to connect with one another on a medium that is familiar to them, then maybe, just maybe, they will continue those practices and building of relationships as they use social media in their personal and professional lives as well.

As teachers, part of our job is to prepare students for the real-world communication which they will have to be participants in. Social media is absolutely one of those mediums, but so are meetings and conferences and phone calls and elevator conversations. In order to scaffold and help our students become more comfortable in those face-to-face situations, we can start from their comfort zone of social media, and progress them further into the world of real-time communication.

References

Fagan-Smith, Barbara. “The Changing Role of the Communication Professional.” IABC. Web.

Howe, James.”10 Social Media Basics Every Nonprofit Needs to Know.” IABC. Web.

Swan, Christopher. “Connecting the World Through Social Media.” IABC. Web.

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7 thoughts on “Social Media as a Teaching Tool?”

  1. Hi Katy,

    Your co-workers positive uses for social media is a breath of fresh air. At my school site, the majority of teachers fall into the “Uummmm” category. We use things like Remind and Edmoto, but most of my fellow teachers barely use the website that our district provides. However, one of our main problems is because many of our students have limited access to technology. Most of our students have smartphones, but I learned last year that some our students don’t have air conditioning. Yikes. Would you think that this could be effective if students were put into a computer lab and participated in an in class, social media discussion? One fear that I have developed while teaching is causing a student to struggle with something that is completely out of their control, like technology.

    I agree completely that students find their voice more easily when they can type it rather than verbalizing it. I find that I enjoy these discussions more when I can take my time, read a blog once or twice, and thoughtfully respond. If this were a verbal conversation, my delayed response would probably seem socially awkward. Wonderful ideas

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  2. You point out that “in order to reach them… we need to utilize social media to increase our communication with them as well as their communication with each other”. I couldn’t agree more. You do well to set up the issue in your introduction with a reflection on how varied this goal is among teachers – some who don’t, some who try, and some who do extensively.
    I love your interview with Debbie, who tries to use Facebook with her students to promote discussion. One problem I might also find here is the problem of access – a great number of my students do not have access to computers at home, and the availability of labs on campus is severely limited. I tried once to reconcile this to, well, meet in the middle, was printed Facebook pages that students used to create a dynamic representation of the play “Othello.” Students had to create a page for each of the major characters, but then create ‘comments’ on each page that reflected the interactions and events and themes of the play. While I realize that this is on paper and thus not really “social media” per se, they loved the activity and helped getting them thinking about their learning in ways relative to “their own world, where are comfortable”.
    I remember during my under-grad education classes at NAU talking a great deal about the importance of classroom community, which has to be “solidified, otherwise students don’t feel comfortable enough to have those types of discussions”. I work very, very hard to establish this place of safety and interaction early on. While this may seem off topic, one way I do this is to make our vocabulary musical. We sing songs from “Rock the SAT” at the beginning of each class for our vocabulary units, and boy does singing as a 10th grader in front of your classmates go a long way in creating a place of familiarity and trust and engagement. By the time we get deeper into other things, they do feel that sense of community you – and Howe – write about here.
    In terms of the use of social media in improving the “togetherness of a class,” you expand well on the various sources and experiences of people who see this as a significant tool in supporting the “face-to-face” communication that still remains so imperative. Your conclusion rings true, too, and I would definitely suggest incorporating extended examples and ideas for your readers on how we might use “social media to enrich our kids’ learning experience and push them to connect with one another.” One idea I have been putting together in ENG519, Technology and Visual Literacy, is a wiki that students will tour in the process of a research project, locating, analyzing, and synthesizing various images and texts to answer the question of how social media impacts our lives. Throughout the unit, students will be engaging in on-going discussions (located at the bottom of each wiki page), publishing their work on the wiki as new pages, and supporting/responding to each other’s work once completed. I have no idea how successful it will be on the first try, but I am truly hoping that it will be a step toward applying many of the principles we have studied in many of the courses for this degree at NAU, including the one you discuss here about social media improving classroom community. What if you included some links or reference texts for your readers to pursue the issue further and to gather ideas on how to effectively incorporate social media in the classroom?

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  3. Katy,

    I thought it was interesting how a teacher would use Facebook for classroom discussion. I do think that students would become competitive, thus losing its focus. Maybe an online discussion board would be better. Also, the site Edmodo.com I think allows for discussion and it’s designed like Facebook. I really don’t think that Facebook is the best avenue for a classroom discussion.

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  4. Katy,

    It really opens up the world of learning, doesn’t it? I’m so glad I’m taking this class I”m taking on Technology and Visual Literacy with Professor Gruber. It has encouraged me to go out and learn some new tricks, like making and uploading videos and using that technology in the class, as well as creating an online platform for a class where students can find necessary material, and comment and interact outside. I have to admit it is definitely intimidating at first, but like I said it’s like a gateway to another world has opened up.

    I like how you mention the importance of setting guidelines, as with young children that is very important. It is another chance to communicate and build relationships between students and the teacher, where the students can have a sense of agency in being a part of making and defining the rules.

    I really enjoyed reading your post; thanks for sharing.

    Rhea

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  5. Hi Katy,

    First, your title really stood out to me as something I want to read. This is such an important topic for the era we live in. I definitely agree that social media in classrooms can be a great advantage, if used correctly. I like your ideas of guidelines. As a teacher, my students constantly were asking me to be their friends on facebook and I would never accept them. So, I decided to create a “teacher” facebook page that I could communicate with them. It worked out very well.

    Thanks!

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  6. hi there-

    Some points to consider:

    “While Christopher Swan writes about how to connect globally on social media in order to “Dissolve boundaries” and “Allow global inclusion,” we can use social media as teachers to accomplish those same goals on a smaller scale.”

    1. The use of “while” to introduce the subordinate clause above might be substituted with “as” or “because” since you are trying to suggest that we follow in the footsteps of Swan. “While” usually denotes a temporal or concessive clause, which does not get your idea across in this context.

    2. Maybe reconsider some word variety — “got” is very distracting to the reader, and there are numerous other words which could encapsulate the same meaning, while adding some precision to the meanings you are conveying.

    3. The personal testimony and sources worked very well, and the analysis was sound. Really a solid piece with noteworthy ideas!

    4. The question mark in your title invited me to enter the conversation regarding social media and its implications in the classroom and beyond. Very effective and subtle.

    Thank you for posting — it was a pleasure to read!

    Danielle

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  7. Katy,

    I’ve done papers and projects on this idea and I agree with you that it’s a great way to engage students. Using technology engages the students on their own turf, so to speak, which is going to increase your credibility. Of course there are parameters for responsible use, as you referred to. We talk all the time about using multiple modalities to hit all learning styles, and this has to be included in that conversation. I think there’s an all-or-nothing mindset by some who feel social media will replace face-to-face interaction. I don’t think that will happen in education, but it is definitely a useful adjunct with a role that can take on many forms. I’m excited to try it myself someday, when I have my own classroom!

    Nice job!

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