When we hear anything about schools and social media, it’s almost always negative. There are always the stories of teachers and students engaging in inappropriate relationships or students committing suicide as a result of cyber-bullying.
While these problems certainly do occur, it’s unfair to consider them the norm. In fact, I’d argue that the bigger problem with teenagers and social media is the vast amounts of time wasted online in which they achieve absolutely nothing. There’s a time and place for staring vacantly at Facebook or playing mind-numbing games, but the Web has so much more to offer.
In fact, many of the problems that schools face with social media is that it must be learned and no one has ever taught the students (and, in many cases, the teachers) how to use it effectively.
Sure, it doesn’t take a lot of effort to figure out how to post a status update or send out a Tweet. It doesn’t take much effort at all to throw more banalities of everyday life out into the ether and go about our days.
It does, however, take a bit more effort to learn how to carve a spot for oneself within a specific community and engage. Social media is great for keeping in touch with friends and family, but it’s also one of the richest learning tools available to us, and many have no idea how to go about using it. Worse, some don’t even care.
If schools made social media professional development mandatory among teachers and then asked them to incorporate that into their classroom activities, we could begin preparing students as early as elementary school to one day engage a global community.
Even beyond professional development, why not include Social or New Media (or some variation) as a content certification area through the Department of Education? Professional development would still be necessary to staying on top of trends, but it would allow teachers to study this subject closely in college as part of the teacher prep program and then begin teaching students how to use social media in professional, positive, and productive ways.
Social media is where today’s students are, so it makes sense for educators to get on that level with them. Studies have shown time and time again that when students are participating in activities online, they’re more likely to be engaged, and achievement rates rise.
What schools need to do is eliminate any kind of shame or stigma attached to using social media in the classroom, something that could easily be done through education. During my first year of teaching (2005-06), nearly all of my students were on MySpace. They begged me to create an account, so I did. I made it clear, though, that it was a “learning account.”
I used the blog feature to post a log of each day’s activities and homework, as well as any reminders that needed to go out. When students were absent, I could get in touch with them or they could contact me to find out their missed work so that they wouldn’t fall behind. The kids loved it, and even parents added me.
And every day I feared that administration was going to tell me it was inappropriate, even though I was so proud of how I had made it a successful classroom tool that actually lent itself to discussion.
I went on to build a basic Web site for my class that served a very similar purpose, and then I created a second Facebook account specifically for my students. I used it much in the same way that I’d used MySpace, except I also posted pictures of class activities and held “Office Hours” on the chat feature before tests. Students always showed up, and it never failed to surprise me how eager they were to engage on that platform. Students who wouldn’t speak in class would participate online. It really showed me a whole different side to many of my students (and not all positive, which is how I came to believe that social media education is necessary).
Though I only taught for four years, my strong social media presence has kept me connected to many of my former students and I enjoy talking to them, hearing about college and their plans for the future.
Recently, I spoke with one former student who has begun a modeling career and is about to take on the Fashion Institute of Technology in New York City. He’s trying to build a name for himself and get some looks at his portfolio, so I couldn’t believe it when he told me he wasn’t using Twitter.
“You must!” I said.
“I don’t know how,” he replied.
Over the course of the next few days, I gave him some information on personal branding, helped him get established on Twitter, and told him a little bit about what I had learned in terms of using the service to build a professional network. Then I watched as he started doing it for himself.
Being that it wasn’t so long ago that I was the social media student, it was a proud moment for me, made even more proud because, thanks to social media, I was able to help a student again.
While today’s digital native students are tech savvy, they still appear to demonstrate a lack of true understanding when it comes to social media, meaning that, in some sense, they lack an understanding of the future. If we teach them now and prepare them for this kind of market, imagine where they can take us.
Your Turn: How do you feel about social media education in schools? Do you think students could benefit from a structured social media education, or is it best to let them figure it out for themselves and “learn by doing?”
Image Source: Kevin Zollman (Flickr)