Social media can be a controversial topic in education. The reality is that there are practical benefits, as well as negatives teachers need to be mindful of when deciding whether or not to delve into social media with students.
The Rise of Social Media
While social media pervades society today, it wasn't always the case. For a lot of us, when we think back to our days in high school if we wanted to talk to our friends we called them, went to the movies, had face to face study groups. That was our way of forming relationships amongst our peers. Then social media came. I remember the first time I had to deal with it from the seat of a teacher. Facebook was on the rise, and I helped break up a fight amongst a group of young ladies in the hallway. When we finally were done figuring out how the fight had started, it went back to comments someone had posted on Facebook. For many educators, their experiences are not that different from mine. Over time our mandatory lessons on bullying came to include cyberbullying, and sharing our classrooms on social media became an expectation of administration. Whether we like it or not as educators, social media is part of the fabric of our classrooms.
The Trouble with Social Media in Classrooms
While there are benefits to including social media in your classroom, there are negatives as wells. In some ways bringing social media into the classroom is like opening Pandora's Box. Once done, you can't ever completely shut it again. As the American Academy of Pediatrics reports, children, tweens, and even teens don't typically have the maturity or experience to manage their behavior on social media. For teachers, this lack of maturity can create huge issues.
For example, imagine you have your students create Twitter accounts as part of a class project on World War II. You create a hashtag for each class to post their comments to as students work in groups to research different aspects of the war and share what they have learned. Then it happens, as it inevitably does, one student makes a poor choice and decides to add to your class hashtag something inappropriate. What will follow for the next few days in your life as a teacher: screen shots, phone calls to the parent, conversations with the administration, a conference with the parent who chastises you for setting her child up to make this poor choice, etc. And in your mind, you are saying to yourself, ''Why did they encourage us to use social media with teenagers again?''
Another con of using social media in your classroom is that you have to spend the time and effort to teach students about cyber-safety, and using social media appropriately in an educational setting. Otherwise, it is in many ways like giving a sixteen-year-old girl or boy keys to a brand new car, without ever sending them to a driver's education course. As teachers, we almost always struggle to have enough time just to get through what we are mandated to teach, let alone take a few days to detour and teach students how to behave, and manage, their social media accounts as part of a project.
Opening the Information Superhighway
In spite of the perils social media presents for educators, it does open up a world of opportunity for educators at all levels. First and foremost, as the NEA acknowledges, it allows teachers to expand the content conversations beyond their classroom walls and engage every student. Often in traditional classroom discussions, your discussion can easily become dominated by 1-2 students. Using social media, you can give every student an opportunity to get into the conversation and share their ideas.
For example, let's pretend you decide to bring Twitter into your classroom to discuss the Genetically Modified Organisms (GMO) in our foods. You could create a hashtag for your classroom discussion, and students can have discussions with one another using their handles and the class hashtag. You can even use your hashtag to invite experts into your discussion if you wish to. As the teacher, you can control the discussion by Tweeting different questions, or articles, to your hashtag for students to respond to.
Using Social Media to Cross the Continents
Using social media, you can even get students to get your students to engage others, and write more extensively than they would on platforms such as Twitter. For example, have students create their blog online through any number of free, and easy, social media platforms. The beauty of most blogs for teachers is that it has options that allow you to prescreen any responses before they get posted to the blog itself. Features such as this enhance student safety online, which is a pro for any teacher looking to incorporate social media into the classroom.
Students can do any number of projects using blogs. For example, they could post various creative writing assignments on it throughout the year, or even pictures of their artwork. Students will get so excited to see how the world responds to their work. Additionally, you can easily facilitate a student's connection with other students from around the globe. There are programs specifically designed to train and connect teachers across different continents, or you can even find schools to partner with through your local military base and the Department of Defense network of schools.
Looking at Social Media in Classrooms Objectively
Social media can be a tricky issue for educators wanting to bring it into their classroom. While there are cons to consider, such as student safety and appropriate use. The horror stories of children on social media are usually at the forefront of teachers who shy away from using social media with students. However, it can be a powerful tool for students. As you approach social media in the classroom, be sure to remember you have to train students how to use it and be safe. Once you do that, there are unlimited ways you can use it to connect your students across your class periods and perhaps even across the globe.