Today’s teens and tweens are connected like no generation before them. They’re connected through gameplay, texting, and, of course, social media. Most of this connectivity, however, is for keeping in touch with friends, occupying downtime, and entertaining themselves. The classroom has historically been a place where a student might lose their mobile device for using Twitter or Instagram during a lesson.
This however, like so many aspects of technology and the behavior around it, is changing quickly. Educators are tapping into the potential of their students’ native communication skills and the platforms to which they are drawn.
And, best of all, unlike most other technology implementations, social media platforms are highly accessible, instantly measurable, and free. Yet, as is the case with introducing any new, dynamic change to the classroom, tapping into the social media ecosystem requires some understanding, planning, and rules of engagement.
Student skills. Social media is, like it or not, a component of being an active part of today’s world—and as such, students need to be involved. Introducing social media in the classroom environment can help students’ use of social media move beyond “likes” and toward more expanded meaning. With guidance from teachers, social media can play a role in helping students to develop their personal voice and communication skills, to take ownership for their thoughts, and to advance their digital citizenship.
Sharing ideas. The more students are exposed to different ideas, the more capable they become of developing their own. Social media allows students to share productively, generating cultural awareness through real-world relevance. In fact, Twitter is somewhat of an equalizer—making interacting with experts a possibility for students at many levels. Entities such as NASA, the U.S. government, and PBS Kids regularly host Twitter chats where students interact with experts. Even authors set up Twitter chats though their publishers, allowing students to stretch beyond a specific lesson and deepen understanding around a given topic.
Connectivity. Involvement in community is a valuable part of learning. Social media makes it much easier to forge student-to-student, class-to-class, class-to-parents, or educator-to-educator connections. For example, Michael Thornton, a fifth grade teacher at Agnor Hurt Elementary School in Albemarle County, Virginia, speaks about projects that have evolved over social media:
“Beyond the four walls that are in this classroom and with their teacher or their parents, they can share it with classes in Chicago, or across the world. And that’s really important to them, because truly what they’re doing, as we know, matters.”
Since social media has manifested itself as a mainstay in the world, there has been a mad dash to create more and more platforms. While the innovation marks progress, the long list of options is often daunting for educators. To assess platform fit, teachers will have to cross-examine how each platform might meld with their personal style, objectives, project scope, and the technical sophistication of both their skills and their classroom’s toolset.
Pros: Straightforward functionality, easily group oriented Limitations: Complex privacy settings
Pros: Equalizer (makes conversing with experts possible), tight privacy settings Limitations: 140-character limit
Pros: Tight privacy settings, straightforward functionality Limitations: Largely image based, only 15 seconds of video capability
Pros: Visually enticing, well organized Limitations: Gender bias with 71 percent of users being female (according to Sprout Social), largely image based
Pros: Multimedia editing Limitations: Concise 6-second format
Pros: Easily applicable to coursework Limitations: Time-consuming (both application and assessment)
While social media offers a world of opportunity for education initiatives, guidelines and guardrails must be put in place. When implementing, teachers need to keep parent concerns in mind, and require approval both from classroom parents and administration.
Any time presence on the Internet is increased, security and safety concerns are raised. Instructors will have to address concerns surrounding those issues as well. The importance of password protection cannot be emphasized enough. Also, teachers will need to help students be intentional about their Internet use, explaining critical areas such as reputation management, inappropriate content, and cyberbullying. While missteps on the Internet might seem nominal to students, they are an opportunity for teachers to remind them of lasting impact. As suggested on www.teacherpop.org, teachers might encourage a “Before you speak: THINK” model, which asks students to consider:
T= Is it true?
H= Is it helpful?
I= Is it inspiring?
N= Is it necessary?
K= Is it kind?
Take one look into any classroom these days and you’re likely to observe noses buried in laptops, tablets, and smartphones; today’s students are digitally inclined. They’ve connected in ways that were unthinkable just a decade ago. Instead of asking students to “disconnect” when they enter the doors of a classroom, educators should attempt to tap into their natural gravitation toward what they know—technology. Not only is technology relevant to the “real world” into which students will eventually be a part of, its use can grant students invaluable learning access through countless other doors.
1. “Connecting a Classroom: Reflections on Using Social Media with My Students” EdWeek. September 9, 2015.
2. “Introducing social media into the classroom: 4 steps to getting started” Webwise.
3. “Social Media: Making Connections Through Twitter” Edutopia. August 7 2015.
4. “Social Media in the Classroom: A Field Guide” TeacherPop. March 11 2015.
5. “8 Pinterest Statistics That Marketers Can’t Ignore” Sprout Social. February 4, 2015.