For many teachers, the thought of using social media in education is unthinkable, especially since there is still such a visible push to eliminate smartphones from school hallways and classrooms. Since one of our major goals as teachers is student choice, voice, and agency, however, it is imperative that we look more closely at social media and how it might encourage, strengthen, and empower our students. Used correctly, social media in the classroom has the power to engage students and teachers, give students authority and voice, and allow teachers to learn from their students.
In our reading for my graduate school course this week, as well as in our teleconference with Marialice B.F.X. Curran, we were bombarded with the importance of giving students agency, as they are so capable of tremendous achievements when given command of their learning. While many of us already accepted this basic tenet of education, the focus on allowing social media to guide student voice and choice is one that not normally given much credence.
When many educators think of social media, they project their own horrible experiences with it on their students. They worry about inappropriate comments; they worry about trolls; they worry about safety. All of these concerns are valid and are areas to consider, but so often, educators, myself included, think first of the negatives and never give ourselves the chance to get to the positives. So what can social media do for our students?
Letting the Students Lead the Way
When we talk about student agency, we want to empower them in order to help them achieve more. One amazing benefit of social media in the classroom is their familiarity with it. As Tracy Brady says in Leveraging Social Media for Learning,"We need to harness the power of what they already know and are comfortable using." Students get to be the masters when we enter the arena of social media. Instead of having them regurgitate facts or fill out worksheets, we can leverage social media to the point where they not only create, but teach others, including teachers, how to accomplish something. If we can get our students teaching what they know to each other, learning will accelerate.
Another benefit of social media is promoting their work in your class to the wider public. Now, certainly we want to keep our students safe, but having class social media accounts can really make their learning visible. As Irene Bal, a lecturer at Loyola University Maryland, recently wrote in a blog post, "social media platforms are great to showcase student work, promote special events/programs, and acknowledge student awards." Student learning and achievements should never be hidden away within the four walls of the classroom. Instead of posting their work on hallways, why not share it digitally where they can receive true recognition? And when a student produces something amazing, tag parents, administrators, educators, and companies who may be interested. Who knows what kinds of contacts will develop!
At my school, we have a program called Solutions Showcase where students are encouraged to contact experts in fields that interest them and gain assistance in identifying and correcting some void. Platforms like Twitter and Facebook are perfect for reaching out to experts and beginning a dialogue.
Extending the last point, social media offers students the opportunity to learn in ways I never could as a younger person. Classrooms cannot be enclosed by four walls, and social media gives us ways to have students learn science from actual scientists, astronauts, and zoologists. They can hop on YouTube and connect with writers to learn more about that book they love. They can follow Neil deGrasse Tyson's amazing Twitter feed to see how deeply odd and wonderful this universe of ours truly is. My mantra through all things edtech lately is, "you are only limited by your imagination." And when it comes to social media, our students' imaginations are far greater than our own. We need to give them the reins and see how far, and how fast, they can take us to promised land of education.
I know social media will come as a shock to many educators, but take your time. Ask students about their preferred platforms. Ask them how they think they could be used in the classroom. Read about the platforms. Consider student safety and privacy concerns. Ask other educators who are more familiar for their help. The benefits of social media far outweigh the disadvantages, and the more you know, the less you'll look like those buffoons in Congress who didn't even know how to ask Mark Zuckerberg about Facebook (BONUS!). And even better, the more you know, the more you can leverage these platforms in the classroom to promote student voice, choice, agency, and achievement!