There is an ongoing discussion between parents, teachers and schools about how to treat social media. Is it a privilege, a distraction…or a tool? Many schools have developed or are in the process of developing policies about social media use. Others are becoming proactive by leveraging social media to further their educational goals.
Teenagers & social media
According to a survey completed by the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project, 95 percent of teenagers ages 12 – 17 use the Internet regularly, and 80 percent of them are active on social networks.
One school saw the results of this survey and decided to react by incorporating social media into their classrooms.
“We were intrigued by a Pew study on the internet in American life,” said Adam Seldow, director of technology at New Milford High in Bergen County, NJ, in an interview with David Raths, a reporter with T.H.E Journal. “The section on teens and social media confirmed our thinking that most teens are on multiple social platforms. We asked how we could bridge the formal learning we do here with the informal learning that can take place there.”
Social media as a teaching tool
David Raths examined how New Milford got ahead of the curve in implementing web-based classroom technology. Eric Sheninger, the school’s principal, talked to Raths about how teachers at New Milford are using social media.
In one example, an AP biology teacher created a hashtag on Twitter and asked students to use it when tweeting their observations of an ongoing experiment. In another example, a group of students went on a 10-day trip to Europe to study the Holocaust and were asked to write daily blog posts about their experience.
Teachers at the school say that social media improves their teaching in a number of ways, allowing them to:
- Discover new resources
- Acquire knowledge
- Get feedback on ideas
- Develop innovative strategies
- Connect to experts and practitioners
- Track conferences from afar
“I am careful not to push or to dictate,” Sheninger said, “because then you get resentment and resistance. I move toward empowerment and autonomy.”
Using Twitter in the classroom
As more schools like New Milford examine the usefulness and application of social media, industry experts have begun to compile best practices.
TeachThought.com provided 60 ways that teachers can use Twitter in their classroom. One way is for teachers to schedule collaborative event watching, where students tweet their reactions to a major event while they watch it at home; the discussion can be continued in the classroom. Another way is for teachers to send out pop quizzes to their students in between classes. Students bring their responses into class, and can earn bonus points for correct answers.
Other ways for teachers to use Twitter include:
- Use hashtags on Twitter to flag content for specific classes.
- Engage students in large lectures by having them tweet comments or questions during the class.
- Communicate with parents about major class deadlines, activities and projects.
- Create digital faculty lounges where faculty members can coordinate teaching, get advice and talk about successes.
- Connect with experts or professionals who may be able to share information related to lessons.
Social media security
Along with considering how to incorporate social media into the curriculum, schools must also determine how to protect their students because these platforms are often open to the public.
There are various ways that schools can establish social media security policies. They can help protect students working outside the classroom by telling students to block applications they don’t use and by spreading awareness of other online security practices. Within a school’s walls, classroom management software can be particularly valuable not only for protecting students but for ensuring productivity as academia utilizes new engagement mediums. Raths said that another option is for teachers to utilize a website like Edmodo, a social network designed specifically for education, instead of Facebook, which doesn’t allow teachers to control and edit content.
Some schools also instruct students not to use their last names on sites where the information they post is public, said Raths. In addition, an effective social networking policy will ensure that parents are informed of practices and potential risks. One school asks guardians and students to sign a media waiver that requires legal guardians to grant permission for the school to publish educational content created by their child. Developing a district-wide social media policy, wrote Raths, will help teachers, students and parents understand what the rules are.
How do you feel about teachers using social media? Can you think of other ways teachers could increase engagement? Please share your ideas below!