Social media seems to be everywhere. It’s part of how we receive news, shop, stay in touch, document our lives, and rate the world around us. School-age children and teens dominate the social media universe as well.
Even so, ironically in part due to restrictions on personal devices in school, education may be one of the few remaining ecosystems where social media has been held at bay. Recently, however, pioneering K-12 school principals, teachers, and administrators have come to recognize its utility for learning outcomes, collaboration, and increased connectivity with the outside world. Adoption is increasing, and clear benefits are emerging.
The Social Media Paradox
There’s a paradox at work in the adoption of social media in K-12 schools. A Pew Research Center study found nearly four in five Advanced Placement and writing teachers surveyed say digital tools encourage student creativity and personal expression and foster greater collaboration among students. At the same time, another survey by the Harris Poll says nine of 10 K-12 teachers don’t use social media in classroom settings, and almost two-thirds have received minimal—or no—training in interacting with students and parents via social media.
It seems that it is agreed that social media tools are useful, but there is hesitation to implementing the tools into the classroom. Exceptions to this belief do exist, however.
The Bold See Benefits
Some school districts have tested the waters and offer bold use cases. The Papillion La Vista Public School District in Nebraska has been an early adopter of social media in schools, including Blackboard Sociability. The result, according to the district’s communication director, has been greater contact with parents, better organization, increased community engagement, and more cohesive messaging.
The Albemarle County Public Schools system in Virginia has also integrated social media in classes to great success. Teachers have deployed everything from drone videos to Skype to Twitter in an integrated fashion.
A More Social Curricula
In some forward-thinking districts, curricula are now being designed to integrate social media. Some districts and teachers create and maintain Twitter and Instagram accounts for individual classes or schools, connecting students globally, showcasing work, enabling dialogue, and increasing participation. For example, a Virginia district entered classes in an entertaining Twitter-spread challenge to engineer towers from a package of paper.
Skype and similar tools are being used to take virtual field trips. Possibilities include virtually touring libraries and museums, chatting with students abroad, and talking to experts and educators live. This use of social media leads to a more global classroom and cuts costs as well.
Video channels are another interesting use of social media. Channels have been created and used for sharing school-created videos of campus flyovers, but the possibilities are endless, and they could incorporate class news shows or interviews.
Internal and External Communications
Beyond use as a learning tool, the use of social media for both internal and external communications by K-12 classes, schools, and districts is rising. One district used Instagram and other social media tools to handle internal communications, plus a Blackboard account and its social media extensions to keep faculty and staff in touch, schedule meetings, develop staff, and connect staff to national and global chats and other educational content conversations.
“Social media is becoming a fundamental part of our entire district, from our superintendent … to principals, teachers, and even students,” says Jim Asher, principal of the Jackson P. Burley Middle School in Charlottesville, Virginia.
Additionally, social media is being used to reach out to parents in unprecedented ways, including sharing children’s work with their families in paperless fashion and keeping families updated on schedules and homework assignments.
Innovative Uses to Consider
There are additional benefits accruing to social media use that you may want to consider. Some K-12 districts, such as Washington Township in Indianapolis, are using LinkedIn, Facebook, and other social media tools not only to promote their schools to broader audiences but also to recruit new teachers. A number of colleges are now even considering high school students’ social media chops when reading applications. In both applying for college and applying for jobs, effectively showcasing your skills online can get you noticed and in the door.
Though people often associate social media with privacy concerns, another interesting use for social media is security. Districts are beginning to use social media tools to identify security threats, broadcast emergency information, and address other public safety issues.
Takeaway: Social media is beginning to be taken seriously as a tool within education. Those K-12 districts and teachers at the leading edges who recognize its power are harnessing it to connect students with the world outside school walls, craft newly challenging content, and engage with communities like never before.
1. “Research: 9 in 10 Teachers Don’t Use Social Media in the Classroom” THE Journal. September 2, 2015.
2. “Making the Case for Social Media in Schools” Edutopia. August 7, 2015.
3. “How to Benefit from Social Media’s Evolving Role in K-12 Education” McGraw Hill Education. February 5, 2016.
4. “The Growing Prevalence of Social Media in K-12 Schools” Blackboard Blog. March 23, 2015.
5. “Pew Report Illustrates Impact of Digital Technologies on Student Writing” National Writing Project. July 16, 2013.
6. “To Connect with Candidates, School Recruiters Hone Social Media Skills” Education Week. January 25, 2016.