With the rise of smartphones, expanding WiFi networks, and ever-growing platforms like Instagram and Facebook, social media is becoming ubiquitous. In 2015, the Pew Research Center found that 71 percent of teens use more than one social networking site, and 24 percent are online “almost constantly.” Schools have been enforcing phone-off policies for years, but it may be time to invite social media into the classroom. With a range of platforms and ways to engage users, social media can be a useful tool to connect with new ideas and stay informed about current events and important people, as well as provide a way for students to express themselves. Educators are finding ways to use social media in their lessons, teaching students to think critically and creatively about the world and their place in it.
Social media tools have expanded the possibility for long-distance connections for us all. The networking it provides inspires methods of communication beyond immediate, physical speech. It encourages people to communicate in the ways that work best for them. With an ever-growing list of applications, websites and tools coming available as social media evolves, teachers can explore a variety of different channels for challenging and engaging their classrooms.
Immersion has often been touted as the best way to teach a language. But if you or your students can’t travel to France, let vloggers bring French to you! Damon and Jo will take you all around the world with videos dedicated to their adventures, and French grammar. Occasionally their videos in French are published with English subtitles. Other vloggers dedicate themselves to teaching language specifically, like Comme Une Française for French, Miss Panda Chinese on Mandarin for children or Easy Language, whose hosts ask strangers on the streets of various countries to answer fun questions in their native languages.
Groups of students can be journalists for a day in a short project that is either spontaneous or planned around covering a specific event. Using a Story, they can provide their own perspective that the class can watch before the Story expires. There is room to be creative with how students communicate the news; with video interviews, with captioned images, or with coverage of certain moments. Because a Story can collect multiple points of view in one place, it is also a great opportunity to teach students about news interpretation and bias.
If a student is curious about a particular area of study, they can find some insight into the field and potential career trajectory by looking at a well-known, reputable Tumblr and their interactions with fellow bloggers. The blogger for All Things Linguistic, Gretchen McCulloch, lists other linguistic blogs she likes on her site, such as The Ling Space and Prototumblinguist. Because users are posting other people’s content on their own blogs, it can create new connections or recommendations and lead to new discoveries.
Tumblr’s format also makes it easy to ask questions anonymously or through a user’s own Tumblr. NASA has a Tumblr, as do young adult authors like Leigh Bardugo, Neil Gaiman, Ransom Riggs and Rainbow Rowell. The content on Tumblr is more informal, personal and conversational, and therefore could be more approachable for young people curious to learn more about linguistics, space, writing, or any other number of subjects.
Because Twitch allows users to record a webcam video of themselves as well as share a screenshot of their desktop screen, instructors can lecture and present a PowerPoint, work through math problems on-screen, or show how to format a document. Any student who signs up for a free account can ask a question and receive an answer in real-time. Users can also record their Twitch stream for future reference.
There are a range of intellectual podcasts available through SoundCloud’s free archives. There are language-learning podcasts like Learn French By Podcast, which teaches conversational French to listeners. There are also more unusual informational podcasts, like Roman Mars’ podcast, 99 Percent Invisible, which is about the connection between society and architecture; and Intelligence Squared, which brings together debaters to address a contemporary topic. The sheer number of available podcasts can seem daunting, but may also encourage students to branch out and listen to a variety of people. Educators can build a suggested playlist of interesting podcasts on SoundCloud as a way to engage students in outside learning.
Students flock to major social media platforms like Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Teachers can creatively use these popular applications and sites in the classroom, but there are also specialized social media tools designed to foster a student-friendly learning environment on the Internet. These sites can both connect teachers and students and help track student progress to foster an inclusive learning environment.
Those teachers who do use Facebook in their teaching found more positives than negatives, suggesting it enhances communication between lecturer and student.
We can still follow our students–long after they have left our classroom. Just last week I noticed that ‘John,’ now a senior, is currently reading through all things Vonnegut. Seeing this inspired me to add more Vonnegut to my classroom library, since John may have discovered Vonnegut last year had I made it available. It also tells me that John has increased his rigor, moving from reading trade sci-fi to more challenging sci-fi. And most importantly, John is still reading books on his own–long after he has left my classroom.
…you can use [Google+] circles as ways to manage projects: distribute rubrics, clarify due dates, share critical handouts or disseminate multimedia content. In fact, you can even verify who actually saw the documents by having them ‘+1’ the link (Google’s version of ‘like’).
If you are just using social media, especially Instagram, as a broadcasting tool, you are not going to get the power out of it that you will if you use it to form a community. Find other people who share your interest. Follow them. Chat with them. Send them messages. Comment on their picture. Building a community around yourself of people who are interested in what you are interested in. Then you start to see the power of Instagram.
Student feedback is vital from the start. When I started with Kahoot!, I only used it as a fun break in class for students, and hadn’t explored other possibilities. Little did I know how powerful the platform can be as a collaboration tool!
Pinterest is still one of the best brainstorming sites out there. Students can easily search for ideas in their topic area and gain inspiration from the resources and colorful images they find.
Many subreddits have Ask Me Anything (AMA) session that allow you to have one-on-one conversations with celebrated educators, authors and researchers. Often, subreddits are very responsive to real-world questions, hot topics and controversies on everything from science facts to lesson planning.
Students cram for exams. However, if you Snap consistently throughout the semester, you hit them again and again, and points are made better.
It seems that the opportunity to provide comments that are timed in the audio files, as well as general comments on the audio file page, are features that set SoundCloud apart from other audio hosting websites.
In education, I try to help students with concepts, practice problems by streaming me doing problems related to programming. Definitely last year, I used [Twitch] more, where I would announce when I would be going over problems live, and that way they could email me their problems.
The short, 140-character limit forces students to think about what they are going to say and creates a low-stakes environment for contribution. Twitter encourages quick thoughts and back-and-forth conversations.
…following the students’ Tumblr posts, showing the best ones in class and asking students to talk about what they had posted and why they thought the material was engaging or important. That generated useful discussion about the importance of good writing, good production and thoughtful headlines. It also helped emphasize the importance of audience in curating material.
This video hosting site gives teachers the opportunity to take students around the world, listen to experts on a topic, or hear an explanation for a new idea. One of the reasons why people of all ages are using YouTube is because it’s a powerful tool for teaching and learning.
Wakelet could be used to store links for classes that you are teaching or taking. It can also be used for brainstorming or collaboration projects. You could use this tool to help create a blended learning environment because students could access your collections at home and then discuss the content in class.
While allowing social media in schools is a source of controversy, there can be benefits to incorporating social media platforms into a classroom environment. Teachers should consider the pros and cons of including social media projects in their lesson plans. School and district policies may affect the level of engagement permitted. Take a look at some ideas for working through some of the arguments with creative ideas for social media integration.
Alyssa Tormala, M.Ed., J.D., is the Instructional Technology Coach and Information Science Department Chair at St. Mary’s Academy in Portland, Oregon. She frequently presents on educational technology topics at conferences and in college classes and is an Apple Distinguished Educator and a Microsoft Innovative Educator.
Social media is a powerful form of communication in constant use by students. Like any tool, it can be used wisely or poorly, and students who are given opportunities to engage with this tool in positive ways—publishing their ideas, promoting social justice, discussing important topics civilly—are more likely to make better choices overall. It is just as important for educators to engage positively with social media; otherwise, how can we be truly aware of the challenges students face in the digital world and support them in making positive choices?
The simple answer is that you can’t. Whether a school allows social media or not, students are already engaging in and making choices in that digital world.
This is not to say that educators and schools should give up and have no restrictions, but we need to be smart about it. Any restrictions or guidelines should be designed to promote smart choices and, if possible, help students feel ownership and empowerment in creating a positive online community. Furthermore, schools should invest in educating and empowering parents and families, so they can provide positive guidance at home.
Students will make mistakes. When that happens, educators and parents can and should work together to use it a learning opportunity with consequences and a chance to make a better choice.
Find out what the school or district policies are about social media and make sure that any projects you plan comply with those policies. It may be, for instance, that students cannot access social media in your school, but it is okay to create a classroom account that students can post to.
Discuss your ideas and plans with your administrator first. Administrators do not appreciate being surprised, and they may be able to help you navigate policy and avoid potential problems. Also ask them for help in figuring out what to do if a student makes a poor choice during the project or a parent raises concerns. That way, your administrator can back you up if those problems do arise.
Make sure parents understand why you want to use social media as a tool and how it will benefit students. Encourage them to participate online to the extent that the project allows and to have meaningful conversations at home. Work with reluctant parents to create alternatives if you need to.
Develop classroom norms around social media use the same way you would with in-person communication. Guide students in researching and discussing the powers and potential downsides of social media in their lives.
Never post any student names, personal information, or photos without direct permission from the students and parents. Your school may have permission slips that you can get from parents and students in advance for this purpose.
Educate yourself and be a positive role model in the world of social media. Have your own professional social media accounts where you make positive choices and maintain professional boundaries. All communication with students should be through official school channels (e.g., school email or LMS).
This article provides examples of Wakelet collections and recommends several ways to use this information-gathering application for classroom assignments.
Hosted on Common Sense Media, this lesson plan uses Google Drive and Pinterest to inspire creative, collaborative writing.
This lesson plan suggests using curated Flickr galleries to teach students about selecting useful images, critical thinking about image presentation, and ideas of intellectual property and copyright.
Offered through Common Sense Media, this lesson for kindergarten to second-grade students plan introduces children to the concept of internet privacy and what is safe to share online.
A tutorial on Snapchat for teachers looking to incorporate this social media platform into their classes.
This PDF social studies lesson plan has students imagine what a Facebook page of a historical figure would look like.
This guide has suggestions on how to use Facebook in the classroom from the University of Queensland, including polling students and encouraging journalism and engagement in current events.
This lesson plan from Common Sense Media addresses ways to respect other people’s online privacy and is aimed at middle school students.
This guide suggests ways to engage students through Pinterest, as well as ways for teachers to benefit from Pinterest’s format.
Students use Twitter to interact with their classmates while roleplaying historical figures in this lesson plan through Common Sense Media.
This PDF lesson plan on storytelling is for 4th and 5th graders, requiring them to write a story as a team, line by line, using tweets.
This article suggests using several of Twitter’s features to benefit students’ research experiences in classroom projects.
A teacher offers several ways to engage students with Snapchat in English classes.
English teachers will find many suggestions for using the Goodreads application to engage their students in this guide.
Suggestions on how to explore Instagram as an educational tool and use it in projects with students.
This article suggests several ways to use the social, competitive quiz platform Kahoot! with students without overstimulating them.