Creative Teaching Methods for Engaging Students Through Social Media
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.
The Evolution of Social Media
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.
Growing TrendVideo bloggers are documenting their adventures in every language imaginable.
If you search YouTube, you can find vloggers capturing everything from their travel stops and meals to product reviews and skill tutorials on video. Because social media sites are often international platforms, videos feature narrators speaking a wide variety of different languages.
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.
EvolutionSnapchat Stories collect multiple points of view of an event.
Snapchat allows users to send each other ephemeral images and videos that are deleted within a set span of time, usually less than 24 hours. With Custom Stories, Snapchat users create a curated collection of images together, and Geo Stories allow users in a specific location to add to a Story.
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.
Growing TrendExperts discuss their favorite subjects on Tumblr.
The blogging and self-curating website Tumblr allows users to create a free online personal log (or ‘blog’) and to repost other people’s stories, pictures and videos on their own blog. Successful, creative experts are connecting with each other and discussing their favorite topics and dispensing advice publicly on the site.
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.
Growing TrendTwitch.tv livestreams video and permits real-time feedback for the host.
Through the streaming video service Twitch, gamers have been playing through video games and receiving real-time encouragement from fans through the live text chat. Artists are taking to Twitch as well, showing their processes and taking suggestions from viewers.
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.
Growing TrendSoundCloud opens up sharing possibilities for podcasts as well as original music.
The original audio sharing service SoundCloud allows listeners to comment during specific moments in an audio track. Users upload their own content, which ranges from music to informational podcasts.
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.
14 Useful Social Media Platforms & Tools for Teachers
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.
An online social media and social networking provider where users create a customized profile; add other users as friends and message each other; post status updates; and share photos, videos and links. There are also opportunities to join common-interest user groups.
Those teachers who do use Facebook in their teaching found more positives than negatives, suggesting it enhances communication between lecturer and student.
Julie Prescott, lecturer at University of Bolton (The Washington Post, "How Professors are Using Facebook to Teach")
Social Media Learning: Arguments and Ideas for Integration
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.
According to the Pew Research Center, teens are growing more comfortable sharing more information on social media each year. University of South Carolina Marketing Professor Eva Buechel believes social media allows people to communicate indirectly, which could help students with social anxiety in public settings relieve some of their fears about opening up.
Some behavioral professionals argue that social media use pressures students to only present their “ideal self” to others, which can lead to lower self-confidence for those who already struggle with social anxiety.
Ask students watch it on their own time within a week and use a Twitter channel to have them “live tweet” their reactions to the film as they watch. Allow students a few days to respond and react to one another’s comments online.
After students have participated in the social media feedback session, be sure to open the subject up for in-class discussion. Invite students to explain their thoughts and feelings on the film, refer back to their comments online, and encourage the in-person social bonding that some students may initially fear.
Start a Facebook page where students can post about developing news around a specific topic, either national or international. They can engage in a debate online, picking a side of the issue to defend. Encourage students to find reputable online sources that are informative, and to post these articles to defend their position.
In the classroom, continue the debate. Discuss debate tactics, fallacies, and other strategies for having a civil argument in-person or online. Students can also examine the sources they found to see if they can detect bias and examples of debate tactics.
Of course celebrities are on social media, but so are authors, artists, filmmakers, scientists, and other experts that can be a great resource to students. To engage outside professionals in a class project, English teacher Brianna Crowley suggests that teachers “invite experts to chime in on class discussions by having a student post thoughtful questions through social media or blogs.”
There may be concerns about how appropriate both the questions and the answers will be, depending on who the expert is, what field they are in, the social media platform used to ask questions, and who else online is asking questions.
There are simple, layperson-friendly NASA astronaut updates tweeted through just one of the space organization’s 500 social media outlets. Some astronauts and former astronauts have joined the social media platform themselves and send snapshots, stories and videos from their daily lives of training, or from the International Space Station. They are not required to have a Twitter in space, but astronauts are living a very unusual experience, and social media manager John Yembrick reminds them that they have “the perspective that only astronauts can share”.
Students can learn in real-time what it is like to be an astronaut, and may even have their tweeted questions directly answered by astronauts like Scott Kelly. Following planetary discoveries on the Curiosity rover’s Twitter keeps students engaged and generates enthusiasm around NASA’s work.
Some celebrities or experts will sometimes hold “ask me anything” (AMA) question-and-answer sessions on social media platforms such as Reddit. These sessions are held at specific times, and the AMA host provides some proof of who they are as well as promoting the AMA. Past hosts include actors and musicians, but also professors through the American Geophysical Union, Bill Gates, an assistant philosophy professor and President Obama. The AMA host answers questions at their own discretion, and the audience’s questions can vary depending on how popular the host is and how closely moderated the Reddit board is where the AMA is held.
In 2015, almost three-quarters of teens had access to a smartphone, according to the Pew Research Center. History teacher Ken Halla sees this as a chance to engage students with modern technology if they are working in a school that does not have enough computers for each student.
Having devices in the classroom can distract students from their work and from the teacher. Some argue can be too much of a temptation to focus on status updates, texts, or games on a device instead of listening to a lesson, with colleges students admitting spending up to 20 percent of classroom time on digital activities not related to class in a recent University of Nebraska-Lincoln study.
Journalism students assigned to report on a school event can take multiple roles—interviewer, commentator, photographer or videographer—using Instagram as a reporting platform. A collective, specific hashtag will help collect their work for other students to view, and also allow the teacher to keep tabs on who is working during class time and who isn’t. This can help raise awareness about local events as well as engaging students with the subject matter. It is also an opportunity to teach students how to use photography and filmmaking techniques with their devices.
Finding specific information and ideas can be difficult, but Pinterest makes collecting, organizing and sharing information with a class much easier. Images and aesthetic collections are a major component of Pinterest boards, but students can also collect articles by searching the different tags, such as Native American history or grammar activities for middle school students. Be sure to set guidelines for use, and also use offline techniques for a blended lesson that encourages kids to stay on-task.
Social media is already an outlet for spontaneous thoughts and complaints about everything from homework to current events; why not remind students to use their social media posts as a way to record and track their academic improvement as well? Darrell M. West, vice president and director of Governance Studies at Brookings research group, suggested that social media could engage students in full-time learning and that technology could track student progress in his piece about personalized learning.
The lines of privacy laws have been challenged in the age of social media. Reading through past tweets or posts can bring insight into an individual’s personal history, but could it also be an invasion of privacy? Sharing information over the internet can lead to dangerous situations if students are not cautious about what they share.
Goodreads is an application that can help track student progress through an assigned text. Many major literary works have key quotes posted on their Goodreads page, which is a good resource for analyzing the text as you go. Becoming ‘friends’ on the app allows users to see reading history, how far someone is in a specific book, and what books they have added to ‘Want to Read.’ Users can leave reviews and give up to five stars depending on how they feel about a book.
But keep in mind, all that data is being logged—in 2016, Goodreads started using their user data to sell books. The application can suggest books based on a user’s reading history and allows users to search by genre or author to find more books they may enjoy.
If a student finds a good example of personification, or notices a theme coming up in an assigned book, they can use a Snapchat annotation share this insight with the class and/or the instructor. Snapchat allows users to add text, emojis and drawn images to their ‘snap,’ which offers versatility in the way a student communicates. A video on Snapchat is a great way to share a spontaneous reaction to a story twist or new plot point. Students can also share their literary snap on Twitter under the hashtag #BookSnaps.
How to Incorporate Social Media in Your Classroom
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.
Steps Alyssa Suggests For Incorporating Social Media
Step 1: Follow local laws.
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.
Step 2: Communicate with your administrator.
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.
Step 3: Communicate with parents.
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.
Step 4: Establish classroom boundaries.
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.
Step 5: Protect student privacy.
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.
Step 6: Be a role model on social media.
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).
Lesson Plans and Ideas for Using Social Media in Class
Content Curation on Steroids with Wakelet
This article provides examples of Wakelet collections and recommends several ways to use this information-gathering application for classroom assignments.
Digital Writing Roulette
Hosted on Common Sense Media, this lesson plan uses Google Drive and Pinterest to inspire creative, collaborative writing.
Flickr Gallery Lesson Plan
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.
Follow the Digital Trail
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.
Getting Started with Snapchat in Your Classroom
A tutorial on Snapchat for teachers looking to incorporate this social media platform into their classes.
A Historical Figure’s Facebook
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.
The Teacher’s Guide to Pinterest
This guide suggests ways to engage students through Pinterest, as well as ways for teachers to benefit from Pinterest’s format.
Tweeting as a Historical Figure
Students use Twitter to interact with their classmates while roleplaying historical figures in this lesson plan through Common Sense Media.
Twitter Elementary Storytelling Lesson Plan
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.
5 Ways Students Can Use Twitter for Research
This article suggests using several of Twitter’s features to benefit students’ research experiences in classroom projects.
6 Ways to Use Snapchat in the Classroom
A teacher offers several ways to engage students with Snapchat in English classes.
10 Ways to Use Goodreads in the Classroom
English teachers will find many suggestions for using the Goodreads application to engage their students in this guide.
10 Ways to Use Instagram in the Classroom
Suggestions on how to explore Instagram as an educational tool and use it in projects with students.
12 Ways to Use Kahoot! in Your Classroom
This article suggests several ways to use the social, competitive quiz platform Kahoot! with students without overstimulating them.