Should Schools Be Teaching Social Media?

Why are schools reluctant to embrace social media?

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.

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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)

Discuss This Article

Comments: 15

  • Kate says:

    I do not think Social Media is going to go away, it will probably just get bigger and bigger. I think there should be a certain aspect of teaching/advice built into say I.C.T education.
    Our ‘little’ generation need to know the correct way of social media for it to grow. They need to know the ‘dangers’ and how to spot them, and understand the consequences of making inappropriate posts.

    Social Media – ‘The correct way forward’ should make an appearance in schools, perhaps not as an ongoing subject but at least in a day long workshop as part of I.C.T and online safety for little people.

  • Thanks for sharing your thoughts, Kate. I see social media education as something that maybe students take an introductory course (much like we used to take “Intro to Typing”) for a semester or half a semester. Then maybe something a bit more advanced later on (as an elective or not). To fill in the gaps, I think teachers could continue to incorporate social media into their subject areas and help students build upon those basic skills. As you said, workshops are also good.

    I know a lot of teachers think it’s a pain to learn it, but it helps them get on their students’ level, making them a more effective teacher and ultimately (we hope) things are easier for them, classroom management-wise.

  • Tim Kubik says:

    “we could begin preparing students as early as elementary school to one day engage a global community”

    Sometimes small semantic differences have HUGE implications, and I like what I saw in this quote! Too often the implied notion of “going global” is that our kids should use new social media and “Flat Classrooms” to master the world, rather than to find their place in it. I firmly believe EACH student has a gift to contribute, and that NSM help them expand their ability to do that, when taught properly.

    Kudos to you, Renee, for your careful choice of words!

  • Thank you, Tim! Glad it struck a chord with you. You’re absolutely correct that kids should be using NSM to find their place in the world rather than master it. I really like that point.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts. :)

  • Pete Bell says:

    Of course, many schools (including mine) are doing this. There are good programs in place such as the e-safety tools that allow teachers to prepare kids for this type of activity. When they hav done this (and are old enough to sign up for accounts according to providers’ TOS, many schools are engaging with blogs, microblogs, wikis and VLEs to demonstrate how tools can be used to form collaborative communities of practice. Where tools are deemed inappropriate (Facebook is a common example) schools introduce students to Edmodo to demonstrate social networking. The GCSE ICT popular qualification and covers this topic well, on situated contexts so that students can apply their knowledge. The Byron Review set the scene for much of the opportunities to argue FOR the intergration of this good practice and I use I alot in my training to encourage schools to participate in education around the use of social media. For more on the GCSE, see here
    Have a look at my site for comments on social networking and grades:
    Would welcome your thoughts :)

  • I think that the GCSE model is an interesting one, and that’s along the lines of what I would like to see more schools adopt. Here in the US, we have some schools asking teachers to incorporate social media while others are actually making it illegal for teachers to interact with their students in those platforms. There’s no sense of uniformity, which I think the students desperately need. We need some standard of social media education because it’s not going away. It’s the future, and if we’re preparing students for the future, we’d be remiss to leave that part out.

    Most teachers are slowly but surely including technology into their classrooms and lessons, which is great, but it still feels like there’s something missing (in a lot of cases, it’s consistency because of that lack of standard). I agree that Facebook is kind of touchy, but I think that, especially as students get older, they really need some training in the social sites that they could be using for work (Twitter, LinkedIn, Facebook Pages, [Next Big Thing]).

    Thank you for this thought-provoking comment and for sharing your thoughts, Pete! I’m going to check out your site right now :)

  • We should definitely teach social media–it’s going to be a prerequisite for any job in the future, and it holds tremendous potential for positive world change. At the upper elementary ages, I believe we should teach “guided social media.” Here’s a link to a post I wrote about it: Thanks for keeping the social media-education conversation going.

  • Maureen,

    Thank you for your comment and for the link to your post, which I enjoyed. I think you’re absolutely correct that upper elementary students can begin engaging in guided social media. It’s a great way to get them used to working with the tools we have currently, which will hopefully make it easier for them to adapt to new and emerging technologies in the future.

    It’s refreshing to see teachers like you embracing social media in the classroom because it helps skeptics to realize that it isn’t a fad. This is the future that our students will inherit and those who say it’s a waste of time don’t understand how powerful it is.

    Thanks for sharing your thoughts *and* for all you do for the kids :)

  • Kristen says:

    Nice post. I don’t follow a lot of writing about education, but this is certainly the first thing I’ve seen about incorporating social media into the educational process. It seems so obvious though, once you spend a moment thinking about it. It’s such a growing force in many professional fields that for schools to either ignore it or portray it as necessarily a negative can both be potentially damaging and wastes a really good tool for teaching kids in a way that’s creative, engaging and relevant.

  • Thank you for the comment, Kristen! I’m glad you enjoyed the article.

    Your point about how damaging and wasteful it can be for schools to portray social media as a negative force is spot on. Like you say, social media is growing. It’s the future, and as educators, our job is to prepare students for that — to be successful either in higher education or in careers. Social media will play a big role in either scenario. Those who say it’s a waste of time and students don’t need to learn it don’t understand how powerful it is, I don’t think.

    I think it would be really interesting to see numbers in districts that would adopt such a policy. Would bullying/cyber-bullying decrease? Would students be willing to interact outside of their cliques and groups? There are so many possibilities, so it seems like a shame that schools aren’t doing more (on a bigger level, anyway).

  • Hi Renee,

    The question is should school children be teaching businesses. In my experience, they have an infinitely wider experience of what Social Media and the internet can achieve than most business owners and managers.
    We should be teaching it in schools, but from a perspective of expanding their knowledge rather than directing it.

    • Definitely makes sense :) And I think you make a great point in saying that school children could be teaching businesses. They know so much about these tools.

      Thank you for sharing your thoughts!

  • Schools should definitely be teaching Social media. One of my friends is an advertising major who is about to graduate and now his degree is almost obsolete since none of it included the use of social media in advertising. Considering the increasing use of social media by companies this is unfortunate for anyone who studied advertising at the same time as him. For right now, social media remains a self taught discipline. Thankfully there are more and more books coming out that give advice and tips on how to manage social media. My university is trying to engage students through social media. So far our efforts have been very effective but we are constantly trying to improve. Our next project is to foster academic conversation through blogging as well as highlighting professors and their interests, topics, research etc. We want to break some of the boundaries between teachers and students. I hope that Social Media becomes something that is taught in the future.

  • Maria says:

    I agree, social media should be taught in schools. I recently found out about a website through my daughter’s school. It is awesome and FREE. soooo cool!!!!!!

  • Awesome! There are a number of really interesting educational social media sites out there. It’s just getting the schools to embrace them. Glad your daughter’s school is doing that and that you’ve had a positive experience! Rest assured that it will help prepare her for the future.

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