Remember when schools had policies outlawing cell phones in the classroom? Teachers used to tell students, “Keep it in your locker, in your backpack, in your car, or at home, just don’t bring it in here. Your phone is a distraction.” Yet here we are, a handful of years later handing out laptops and tablets to every student, holding Bring Your Own Device (BYOD) days, and encouraging students to engage in class work online in ways we never imagined tolerable, or even possible. Today, many forward-thinking teachers are embracing gadgets and social media as a way to connect with students, families, and other classrooms.
Social media is broadly defined as online sites or tools where people create and share content in written and visual formats. Students are social beings and want to share their opinions publicly, so it’s easy to why social media sites hold such an appeal. Perhaps that’s why teachers who used to be concerned with students texting, tweeting, pinning and posting during class time, have begun to harness the power of their students’ favorite online sites. Instead of being seen as a possible distraction, the use of social media in the classroom is now a vehicle for driving engagement and learning. What’s more, by implementing the use of social media as an acceptable form of communication about classroom topics, educators are validating students’ understanding and development.
We’ve put together a few ways that using social media can change your classroom for the better. We also have a few tips for how to get started if BYOD isn’t yet your thing.
6 Ways Social Media Classroom Will Change Your Classroom
- You’ll get a real sense of what students are thinking: Communication styles in person are often very different from those online. Students who are shy and reserved in class may end up contributing more often using social media. Check out this list of ways to use Twitter with students from TeachHUB. You’ll find that asking students to engage with each other and answer questions online will prompt real opinions and discussions, which sure beats staring out at a sea of blank student faces from the front of the classroom.
- You’ll have easy access to in-the-moment materials: Because social media is all about people sharing directly with each other, you’ll have access to breaking news and hyper-relevant resources. Mashable put together this useful infographic on the most viral news sources on both Twitter and Facebook. Imagine assigning a different student each day to monitor the news for developing stories. Other students can contribute social messages as soon as news breaks, as well as throughout the days, weeks, or months as events continue to unfold. You’ll be able to have great discussions about changing opinions in light of new evidence.
- You’ll connect your classroom to people making a big impact: It used to be that in order to connect our students with amazing guest speakers and relevant experts we had to handwrite a letter or email a request. And then we’d hope that we could get a speakerphone in our classroom or be able to reserve a room where we’d be able to hold the phone conference. Social media has changed all of that. Nearly every celebrity, author, scientist, mathematician, historian, and news anchor has some sort of public social media account, and many respond to followers directly. You can sign up for Skype in the classroom and search for guest speakers who are eager to share their experiences with students and teachers via video conferencing.
- You’ll globalize your classroom: One obvious use of social media is to communicate with peers near and far. Teachers using Twitter can have students follow certain hashtags and engage with other students from around the world. Another way to bring the world to your classroom is to follow accounts on different sites from teachers, students, and publications from different countries. Adweek put together this great list of 10 Instagram accounts to follow that bring you photos and viewpoints from around the world.
- You’ll connect with families: With students using social media sites during class, family members can easily be tagged and made aware of what’s going on in the classroom. Many teachers have given up on printed classroom newsletters in favor of classroom blogs and Twitter accounts. Parents appreciate constant updates about what their children are learning. Education World put together this helpful list that gives you tips on using different platforms to communicate with families.
- Students will think about lessons outside of class: Including social media participation in homework assignments can help educators engage students with lesson material after they leave the classroom. You could ask students to create Pinterest boards to reflect the interests of a character in a novel. Or they could collect recipes to rewrite using metric measurements for mathematical conversion practice. We’ve created a Teacher’s Guide to Pinterest to get you started with the site.
3 Ways to Get Started Using Social Media with Your Class
If you don’t already use social media with your students, hopefully the above descriptions of how such platforms can change your classroom for the better have convinced you to jump right in to try it out! Here are a few pointers to help you get started:
- Start with one site: According to the Pew Research Center, Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest, Instagram, and LinkedIn were the top social media sites in 2014. Choose one site to start using with your class. Decide what your goals are in using social media and pick the site or app best suited to achieving those goals.
- Teach social media skills: Before diving into unrestricted use of social media during class time, make sure you set rules and make your expectations of student engagement with the site clear. Teach students how to be respectful digital citizens by using these resources from Digital Citizenship.
- Offer continued support: If students have trouble meeting your expectations about social media use during class time, use those opportunities as lessons. Remind students that colleges and employers will often scan a potential student’s or employee’s social media accounts to get a sense of who that person is. Money magazine put together a list of 7 things on social media than can cost people a job. The classroom experience with social media that you are offering will allow students to build respectful, robust, and intelligent online personas.
The use of social media in the classroom is a growing trend. Educators are beginning to see how connecting with students, parents, and other classrooms in social online settings can positively impact learning. With just a simple app and login, you can bring your students together online for fascinating and thought provoking conversations.