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Plenty of students may know how to create digital media, but too few know how to produce engaging, high-quality content, the kind that makes them stand out not only to college admission officers, but also to potential employers. What does that kind of quality involve? We need to teach and encourage students to post original, outstanding content that will distinguish their unique identities in a sea of increasingly indistinguishable resumes -- which are going the way of the typewriter.

To help accomplish this task, I model creating a positive digital footprint by making effective use of social networking and blogging. I owe my students that much -- after all, if they don't take control of their online identities, someone else will.

Facebook

Educators do students a tremendous disservice by demonizing Facebook, which can enhance a student's online presence and real-world prospects. To maintain appropriate boundaries, I do not accept friend requests from students or recent graduates. Still, I'm a firm believer in using class time to show students my profile. I explain how my page makes a strong, lasting statement about who I am and what I value. I always think twice before sharing any content, and I tell students that before I hit "Post," I imagine friends or loved ones looking over my shoulder. What would they think? If I feel a shred of unease, I either ask a trusted friend for her thoughts or refrain from posting. My aim is not to frighten students away from Facebook, but rather to help them see how their profile can lead to positive connections and real-world opportunities.

Twitter

I also show students my Twitter account, which includes links to articles that I've written, content that I've enjoyed, and causes that I support. I explain how Twitter has led to a long list of opportunities, relationships, and exchanges -- both online and in person -- contributing greatly to my personal and professional success. I encourage students to follow people that they genuinely admire and from whom they want to learn, not just celebrities, thereby contributing to a positive digital identity. The same holds true for any content that they share, as well as whom and what they tag. I don't follow current students on my Twitter handle, nor do I accept private messages from them. I do, however, encourage them to observe how I engage with others to expand my network. I hope they follow suit.

LinkedIn

When it comes to creating a dynamic curriculum vitae, all students (especially seniors) should direct admission officers and potential employers to LinkedIn. This social networking site is often described as the "Facebook for professionals," but its potential is just as rich for students, who should use it to highlight their accomplishments and interests. It's also simple to upload multimedia content, and I urge students to share digital versions of their best work to highlight their unique passion and potential. LinkedIn allows other users to vouch for a student's skills, lending credibility to self-reported abilities. With that in mind, I'm often torn about accepting LinkedIn requests from current students -- though I err on the side of caution -- but I have no qualms about showing students my LinkedIn page and how I use it to enhance and grow my network.

Snapchat

Educators have an obligation to investigate and talk with students about social networking sites, some of which promote inappropriate, illicit behavior. Snapchat, for example, offers users the ability to send text, photos, and video, which (supposedly) disappear shortly after opening. Of course, nothing ever really disappears on the internet. With limited technical knowledge, anybody can save or recover Snapchat messages. I disdain this tool, but I don't tell students not to use it. Such an authoritarian approach, however well meaning, rarely proves fruitful. Instead, I ask my students to discuss what assumptions, true or not, could be made about anybody who has an account. Moreover, what types of people might make such assumptions, and how could this impact a student's future? Relative to other social networking sites, I also ask if Snapchat can greatly enhance a positive digital footprint. The answer is usually a resounding "No," and I leave it to students to decide if they wish to register or keep their Snapchat accounts active.

Blogging

More than anything else, I want students to share their passions and interests with the world. Along those lines, it has never been easier to create a blog and help make that sharing a reality. Wix and Weebly offer an array of templates with intuitive drag-and-drop options. I teach WordPress in my online journalism class, which involves slightly more brainpower. The technology is the easy part, though. The real challenge is producing quality content on a regular basis, and making wise use of social networking to promote one's work. I share with students how much work and love went into Spin Education, my blog. Often, I relied on my editor, also a talented teacher, to inform me of when I was being unfair, overly harsh, or too kind. I want students to learn from my blogging experience, which has opened the door to even greater sharing opportunities.

How should teachers go about modeling effective use of social networking? Please share your thoughts and experiences in the comments section below.

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AJ Naddaff's picture

Hey David. Nice post! I can attest to how you've been able implement your social media feeds in our past journalism class to show the type of high-quality, engaging, and productive content you talk about. In fact, the positive ways you use social networking subconsciously started manifesting in my own profiles--especially Linked, as you highly advocated for me to create an account as a complemental way to network and relay positive information to college admissions officers during the angst-ridden application process. Moreover, I find this post extremely relevant to some of my own reflecting that I've been doing in a current class I'm enrolled in called Twitter Problems. In examining the ways that social media affects the way we think and interact with the world around us, one author we read argues that social networking "[makes] us forget how to be friends with anyone, and turns [our hearts] into machines." In my own analysis of both my and your social media personas, I can decisively argue differently. While acknowledging that social networking can lead an insidious path of misuse, it can also be an outlet for storing memories, reflecting accurate and positive personas of oneself, and disseminating valuable and insightful information, both personal and impersonal. These are the ways I believe you use your accounts, and I thank you for passing this knowledge onto me.

Lessia Bonn's picture
Lessia Bonn
I am Bullyproof Music

I so agree! This is a great list to begin with. There is an after school club now outside Detroit full of kids who came together because of my lyrics. They send me video clips full of their thoughts around my themes. I then piece together their ponderings into videos we place on youtube (no real names.) The kids are THRILLED to be on youtube - they feel like rock stars. And meanwhile, what they're talking about is awesome; self respect, kindness towards others, the meaning of the universe... Years from now, I'm sure the videos will look great on their resumes :-)

Janel Patterson's picture

David, what a great article! You are setting a great example for other educators and parents as well. You hit the mark by pointing out how important it is for kids to be mindful and intentional about what they post in public social media in order to stand out and be noticed by college admissions officers and/or future employers. We hear a lot about what NOT to post. This article does a great job talking about what kids SHOULD be posting...awesome read!

Eleonora Davila's picture

David, love this article. I agree that it is perfectly ok to use these social media to teach students for example to network with colleges and with potential employers. I really don't think there is nothing wrong with students using these sites/apps as log as they use them responsibly. That's were we come in. We have the responsibility to teach them to use them appropriately. Anyone who engages using social media needs to be fully aware that exposing yourself in a negative manner could jeopardize your well being.

Pamela Davey's picture

I loved this article. I know that our students need to learn how to be responsible students on social media. They need to learn to use all media appropriately.

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