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.
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.