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WHAT WORKS IN EDUCATION The George Lucas Educational Foundation
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How to Help Students Use Social Media Effectively

Today more than ever, people are capable of publishing their thoughts to a vast audience. Comments, tweets, and status updates are ubiquitous and constant. However, are we really focusing on the quality of the message we are putting out there? Are we really providing useful information or are we just adding to the noise?

Simply giving students a blogger ID and a twitter username is not enough. Unless they are working to develop the skills necessary to effectively convey their message to a receptive audience, then the value of the message is diluted. If that same student stood at a podium with a microphone, yet has not prepared a speech and has trouble using proper grammar, this student's message could be lost on his or her audience. However, in this world of instant communication our students have the opportunity to engage and share with a global audience. As educators, we cannot let this chance slip by.

Keep Standards High

If we are going to enable our students to find and share their voice with the world, we need to equip them with a powerful skill that is timeless: writing effectively. Our students must realize that there is a BIG difference between "your" and "you're" no matter what forum they are using to communicate a message. Consider this, how much effort does it take to edit 140 characters? Not much. I have spent the last eight years of my teaching career combing through student essays that are chock full of common errors: "then" vs. "than", "it's" vs. "its", and knowing when to use an apostrophe to denote possession. These students learn from my feedback that their message is diluted. If I were to let this student move on without correcting his or her errors, this trend would continue and possibly diminish their capacity to reach their full potential. The same principles must apply in all forms of social media.

Educators must model effective writing and editing as well. I comb through thousands of tweets, blogs, and status updates from week to week, and one glaring pattern is typos. Some may argue that this is just a simple error and not a big deal. However, it is a big deal if we want to maintain the sanctity of the English language and get people to connect to our message. If you regularly cannot self-edit 140 characters, do you really think I am going to want to pay to see you speak? Want to buy your book? Or take you seriously as an educator? Not likely.

More Is Not Always Better

The second frustrating element of social media is the perpetual sharing of watered-down guides e.g., "500 Tips for Google" or "100 Ways to Use YouTube in the Classroom." This is not conducive to learning or immediate implementation. Teachers must learn to filter and edit before throwing up one thousand and one ways to use something in the classroom. Focus on the message and think about the practicality of sharing suggestions. Will this help someone in his or her daily practice? Will it engage or entertain someone? Luckily, I have never been to a conference where the presenter gives the audience a book of one hundred pages and says, "Within these 100 pages you will find 100 unique ways to use Google in your classroom." The presenter walks off stage and we clap. This would never happen. Think about your audience when you are publishing a tweet or blog post. We would never teach this way.

I am not trying to be preachy and humbly admit that I have been guilty of putting a message out there without proper edits. However, we must have high expectations of our students' work. We need to get them to understand that college admissions counselors, prospective employers, etc. will not take them seriously if they are putting out poorly worded messages.

Before Posting, Examine Your Motives

Every educator I know is trying to find ways to present authentic assessment and give their students an audience for feedback and reflection. However, we must convey to our learners that a lot more eyes are watching than ever before. We all want our students to blog, connect, and, communicate, but we must make sure they are putting out polished, substantive information. The same goes for Twitter and any other form of social media. The best educators must model this skill daily and practice what they preach. Think about what information you are putting out there and why you're presenting this to your PLN. What is your motive? Can someone really learn from this tweet? Or am I just looking to build my following number and increase the activity of my mentions column? Think about these questions and think about your audience. Are you really giving them something of substance?

As we reflect on how best to refine our students' 21st century skills we must not lose sight of the timeless skill of effective communication. Remind students of the power of digital media and how much their words can impact the lives of others.

Comments (18)Sign in or register to postSubscribe to comments via RSS

Andrew T. Garcia's picture
Andrew T. Garcia
Professional Development Coordinator and Instrumental Music Teacher

The title of your post is misleading. Perhaps it should have been: Don't Forget Your Grammar While Tweeting or Typos Tick Me Off or How to Enforce Old School Language Limitations in New Modes of Communication.

Part of me is right with you-I get it. Quality matters. Proper, clear and articulate communication is desirable. But: Typos happen. Lists ARE helpful and not intended to be the end of the conversation. Eh?

Tony's picture

comments like agree and yes etc in the social media cloud are just a reflection of people conversing in the offline world. Whilst some will add quality to a conversation or topic others will just agree. I think if social media was concerned about "noise" then it would not be real conversation. Just my humble opinion. Interesting article.
Tony @ accident claims

Tony's picture

comments like agree and yes etc in the social media cloud are just a reflection of people conversing in the offline world. Whilst some will add quality to a conversation or topic others will just agree. I think if social media was concerned about "noise" then it would not be real conversation. Just my humble opinion. Interesting article.
Tony @ accident claims

Chantel Sukraw's picture

In response to your blog. Andrew you have several valid points concerning the use of networking sites yet I found your focus rather limited. You neglected the area of personal content. My students are amazed when I share with them the extent in which social media invades their, "personal lives" and that they can be held responsible for every tweet or IM they post. So often my students assume that what they are posting is between a small intimate group. They do not consider the ramifications of excessive information. In the past I have had some wonderful guest speakers come to my classroom and share how admissions departments view social websites for college applicants. Also, Forbes recently published an article concerning the use of networking sites to prescreen applicants. Grammar is vital but a grievous blunder made on social networking can impact our students now and in the future.
On the lighter side I did run spell check before I posted and here is the URL for the article posted by Forbes.
http://www.forbes.com/2009/09/28/twitter-facebook-myspace-technology-per...

Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher's picture
Vicki Davis @coolcatteacher
Computer Fundamentals, Computer Science and IT Integrator from Camilla, GA
Blogger 2014

Quality does matter. I will say this.

Right now, I am having a horrible time with my laptop because the space bar is sticking and NOT WORKING. Therefore, I have an inordinate number of errors with spacing. I edit and try to catch it but have missed a few of late.

It is a struggle to check and recheck and still once you've looked over it a thousand times, unless you want to hire an editor you're going to make mistakes. I've thought about hiring one for my own blog when I make the inevitable mistake but then again, I'm a full time teacher and don't have the money to do that at this point.

So, to me, I think that in order to "preserve the sanctity of language" that perhaps it is best to teach people how to let others know when they've made a mistake. My engineering husband is a genius but God bless him, he cannot spell. If he tweeted he would make mistakes. As for me, I type quickly and rarely have more than a few minutes here and there to blog, sometimes I make mistakes for that reason.

As a blogger, I really appreciate when my friends send me a private message or dm to let me know I've messed up -- then I quickly ALWAYS go fix it. I appreciate the kindness and grace and truly count those who help me edit as friends.

Then there are the "grammar sharks." They descend upon my every mistake like sharks tearing me apart for unprofessionalism and slackness WHEN I make a mistake. Note that I said WHEN not if.

If you look at this, you've hit upon a reason I think more educators don't share. They are afraid they don't have time to be perfect. As for me, if I have a friend who isn't a great speller but has wonderful thoughts, I'd rather have a once a day tweet with a typo and learn something than a perfect tweet once a week. Perhaps it is shallow but often I have to edit tweets to get them down to 140 characters and intentionally cause typos because of it! It is the nature of the tweet.

So, I think you're right:
1) As educators, we should aim for grammatical perfection.

But I also think you should add that

2) The Community Ethos of Grammar.

Communicating with social media is about developing relationships. Our communities should encourage striving for grammatical excellence by editing one another and helping each other improve our writing as a community belief system. This should be done in ways that are positive and build relationships.

3) Good grammar should be encouraged because of those who speak English as a second language.

IM speak and mistakes are probably most harmful to those who speak English as a second language. For this reason, I don't let my students use IM speak.

Finally, motive is an interesting thing as they are as varied as we all look! Last time I checked I could not see into your heart nor could you into mine. Pure motives are important, however, who is to determine the "purity of a motive." If a motive is to make money is it impure to want to get more subscribers? If a motive is to share a message, is it impure to want to share that with as many people as possible?

We must be careful to allow students to understand the medium and ethical behaviors of using the medium, but it is also important to discuss ethical issues and realize that motives are unique to individuals. I'm not sure that teaching kids "proper motives for using social media" would really fit neatly in a package as the teacher's own belief system might be too entrenched in what comes out of it.

Seth Godin, I think, is a great blogger and writer. Does he have pure motives? Who can tell -- he most certainly as multiple motives that are a lot more complex than can be clearly ascertained. One of them certainly is to maximize his number of followers and RSS readers - I don't fault him for that. In fact, I want to teach my students how to be an effective contributor that does receive followership! Is that bad -- I don't think so.

I applaud you for encouraging this conversation because it is an important one. As you expand on this, perhaps considering the social aspect of things and also fostering communities that positively encourage excellence is more important than telling kids they have to be perfect. Knowing how to deal with mistakes WHEN they happen and discussing lots of cases of those who use social media can help students make up their own minds and become part of a community in the career that they choose.

Thank you for encouraging the conversation.

Tiffany Collins's picture

I do agree that if we are encouraging our kids to write we must teach them to do it correctly. The good thing about the new social media is that the kids enjoy being on the computer and don't really consider it work.

vicki acosta's picture

There's a time and place for everything. We have public behavior and language. We have home behavior and language. We are different people in different settings. Academic behavior and language needs to be safe guarded, honored, and valued. Teachers must model and explicitly teach proper language so that students can demonstrate their intelligence and move forward in the world. Our world needs leaders, teachers, and innovators. All hail the English language!

Terbs44's picture

Mr. Marcinkek,

Hi, it is one of the students from Mr, Brannicks Web Class. I agree with you 100% from your point of view. Students need to be held to a higher standard with there writting and they also need to be taught how to effectivly use twitter and blogs to convey their thoughts.

Della's picture

I have to agree with you entirely. The quality of writing is one of the most important factors of using social networks effectively for studying and establishing oneself in general.

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Della's picture

I also wanted to thank you for this excellent post. I've read it for the second time today and realized it was actually a great tutorial for an educator and I'm I can learn a lot from you.

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