The debate about whether to use social media tools in the classroom, and if so, how to use them, has never been hotter. According to a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study of 8-18 year-olds, today’s teens spend more than seven and a half hours every day consuming media — watching TV, listening to music, surfing the Web, engaging in social networking and playing video games.
So what does this mean for educators? Many parents and educators feel that classrooms are the one place that social media shouldn't intrude but others aren't so sure. There are increasing numbers of teachers and administrators who believe that schools should harness social media tools and use them effectively in the classroom.
Advocates of this type of social media use argue that, when used properly, social media can help students link to real-world examples of classroom lessons, boost student engagement and enhance collaborative learning. Social media tools can help students develop proficiency with technology, manage and analyze multiple streams of information and create, analyze, and evaluate input that they have on their PC, tablet or smartphone screens.
A significant issue with using social media for classroom applications relates to teacher-resistance. Many teachers simply don't like social media while others have not yet learned to effectively use the tool to enhance their curriculum.
In Burlington Vermont the new school superintendent, Eric Conti, is pushing the district's educators to incorporate more social media tools in their lesson-planning. Assistant superintendent Patrick Larkin expanded on Burlington's new direction. “It has to start with the leaders in the schools embracing [social media] and modeling it, not just talking about it, and that trickles to the teachers, because eventually we want it to end up in the classroom... [Teachers have] access to tools, but we still ask teachers to think about their goals and objectives. A crappy lesson with an iPad is very similar to a crappy lesson without an iPad.”
Larkin explained that incorporating social media tools into classroom instruction has helped the Burlington district expand its reach and educational abilities. “To be able to know where to find people and connect is one of the most important things we can teach our students to do. If we can find out how the world is ticking and how things are changing from [using] social media tools outside of schools, I think it’s past time that we started embracing this tradition in our classrooms.”
One of the tools that Burlington is using as part of its expanded social media policy involves blog posts in which schools feature a student, parent, educator or other school-related piece of news daily.
Another use involves highlighting student projects, research, and extracurricular activities online to motivate students and encourage them to strive for higher achievements. Finally, Burlington teachers and administrators have developed some innovative techniques that demonstrate to the students how social media can be used for good -- or not. When the students see real-life examples of the power of social media, Larkin noted, they are more likely to harness the tool in a positive way.
In summary Larkin offered his suggestions for creating a successful social media presence in the schools. “Make sure administrators support you first; make sure parents know what is coming, and pay attention to age specifications on sites.”