How Social Media in Education Can Drive Digital Learning to New Heights
It seems as if fear is used to drive the conversation about social media in the schools. Despite well-founded concerns regarding digital citizenship and internet safety, however, that conversation is changing. According to the 2018-19 State of Digital Learning in K-12 Education Study, nearly half of schools now allow some form of social media use for educational purposes and about a fifth of schools openly permit social media use on campus. These numbers will continue to grow, and leaders must be prepared.
New Skill Sets, New Courses, New Energy
The personal computing revolution came of age more than 30 years ago and the so-called Web 2.0 has already been around for a decade, yet by and large we are still offering the same classes we always have. Your school may do a very good job of introducing students to a basic suite of desktop publishing software tools, and you may even have moved to cloud-based versions of those tools, but are you reaching your full potential?
Why not create a social media marketing class at your high school or a digital citizenship class at your middle school (or both?), taught in a fully online or blended format using your school's learning management system (LMS)? Too often, social media skills are dismissed as non-academic or for younger millennials only. Social media is big business. If you have a business/computer department in your district, shouldn't it be preparing students for their future and not remnants of an era that has already come and gone?
Create a Connection Between Schools and Students
Social media's greatest strength - other than cat videos and political memes - is its ability to create connection on a size and scope that blows the mind. It wasn't too long ago that schools were pouring tens of thousands of dollars into "distance learning labs" that allowed students from one school to take a course offered at another school through the use of video technology that often filled the entire front of the classroom in which it was housed. Today's learning management systems and video chat software have all but eliminated the most expensive elements of "distance learning." Now the school across town or halfway around the world is just an internet connection—and an enthusiastic teacher!—away.
There are unlimited ways to use social media in education and connect with social media in the classroom. Connectivity makes it possible for a seventh grade classroom to video conference with a school in Italy when learning about the Roman Empire. Connectivity makes it possible to start a Twitter hashtag for a flash fiction writing exercise. Connectivity makes it possible to take a virtual field trip to Mars, then conduct a social media discussion or debate about terraforming the red planet with peers around the country. Connectivity makes your LMS the "hub" of all of this activity.
Encourage Students To Use Voice and Choice
Students need opportunities to use voice and choice in authentic ways to make digital learning meaningful to them. With nearly a quarter of schools not allowing social media use at school by anyone, we clearly have a long way to go in carving out space for student voice using social media as a digital tool during the school day.
Educators are encouraged to develop personal learning networks (PLNs) on platforms like Twitter. Why not show students how to do the same and how to add their unique voice to the mix? Schools routinely "blast" out information on a weekly basis. Why not have students in your first grade classroom share a brief video clip of something they learned that week on a topic of their choice? Social media allows for authentic experiences in so many ways. You just have to take advantage of the opportunities.
Share and Celebrate
Social media is supposed to be social! Many teachers have worked with families to establish things like Snapchat group chats, sharing of student work via Instagram, classroom Facebook polls, worldwide (appropriate) social media classroom challenges, and more. The more you participate and actively share, the more you will feel comfortable and connected to the larger community.
Support Staff Through Effective, Meaningful Professional Development
Several of teachers' top digital learning priorities - integrating new edtech tools into the classroom, improving classroom assessment, and implementing new instructional approaches - align perfectly with the top challenges and priorities expressed by school and district administrators: ongoing professional development (PD). Social media in education can't drive digital learning to new heights until your teachers understand the new tools, how to use them, and how to embed them into their classroom instruction. Commit to meaningful, ongoing, job-embedded PD to start seeing real gains.
The only thing we have to fear is… well, you know. Social media and an open, collaborative, digital environment can feel overwhelming even for the most plugged in educator. You don't have to launch your class website, blog, and weekly Twitter chat all in one day. Take the time to plan out how a new classroom social media strategy can serve as a tool, not take the place of the curriculum. Keep the focus on learning, meet your kids where they are, and fear not—you are more social media savvy than you know.
What do you think about social media in education? Tell us on Twitter @Schoology