You doubt social media in the classroom? Let’s talk …

You doubt social media in the classroom? Let's talk ...

Social media in the classroom has true learning power, and it’s a way to help students develop a positive image online. We can ignore it, or we can help students become savvy about it.

Thanks for coming to this meeting. I know you’re nervous about using social media in the classroom, so I hope that this open discussion will be a good thing.

Yeah, I just don’t get it. I know using social media in class is trendy these days, but I don’t see the concrete application of it.

The most important ones I see are the connections students can make and the authentic audience they can write for:

  • Connections: Students can meet people and gain valuable viewpoints from people they come in contact with. In the past, they were limited to the voices of the teacher and what they found in their textbooks. Now, on Twitter, they have the potential to reach thousands (even millions) of people by including certain hashtags in the messages they send. They can ask questions and seek opinions from people they never had access to before.
  • Authentic audience: By posting their work on social media, the audience that students create content for increases from one (the teacher) or a handful (teacher and class) to the aforementioned thousands. It’s tough to get kids motivated to write for an audience of just the teacher. They’re more motivated to do well in front of their peers. But when they know their work could be seen by people all over the world, you’re more likely to see their best work.

Can student work really be seen by that many people? How does this hashtag thing work anyway?

It really can. There are more than 645 million active users on Twitter. Any one of those users could potentially search a specific hashtag — a word/phrase with a “#” before that acts as an organizational category or keyword — and find student work. Depending on how compelling the work is and how cleverly phrased the tweet is, it could be seen by many, many eyes.

That many, many eyes part scares me. There are bad people out there, and I don’t want to subject kids to them online. If we don’t use social media, we protect them from those people.

We certainly need to protect our students when they use the Internet. But reality is that the Internet is out there and it’s not going away. If we “put our heads in the sand” about social media and pretend it isn’t there, that won’t keep kids from accessing it. One report shows that 96 percent of students with Internet access report using social media. We have a choice: try to hide social media from kids or help them navigate it safely and effectively.

Is that really the school’s place? Why should we teach them that?

If the school doesn’t do it, and if parents don’t do it, then who will? Whether they think they are or not, students are creating digital footprints. Their presence on the web doesn’t just disappear when they want it to. They add to it when they post personal pictures, status updates and videos. But they also can add to it by posting their best work from school and engaging in meaningful conversations online. Employers and college admissions offices, among others, will search for our students online. We should help our kids develop a fine reputation instead of hoping they earn one by chance.

This social media still seems like a huge distraction. Won’t they just get on their social media accounts all the time and waste time?

They probably will if we give them time to waste. Much of it comes down to classroom management. If students are disengaged, off topic, not actively doing meaningful work, there’s a chance they might wander to social media. But the truth is, if they’re bored and want to kill time on social media in class, they’re probably already doing it on their phones. Again, instead of pretending like it doesn’t exist, let’s engage this issue proactively and show students the possibilities and benefits of using this powerful tool in meaningful ways.

This whole social media thing is starting to make more sense. Even though I still may have some doubts, I can see how it can be a positive force in education.

I’m glad we had this talk.

How do you see social media in education? Does it have a place? How could you see it being used — or how have you used it? Leave your thoughts in a comment below!

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Matt is scheduled to present at the following conferences this school year:

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