George Lucas Educational Foundation
Technology Integration

SocialEdCon: What the Heck Do We Do with Social Media?

June 24, 2012

Greetings from sunny San Diego. I'm here for the annual ISTE conference and its innovative kick-off gathering, SocialEdCon -- the one-day unconference formerly known as EduBloggerCon. (Organizer Steve Hargadon changed the name to reflect the change in emphasis from blogging to the larger social media universe that brings educators together.)

Topics this year ranged from how to expedite technology adoption to the impact of technology on social and emotional learning; blended learning; and tools and ideas for making media in the classroom. (See the entire SocialEdCon schedule) Over the next week or so, we'll hear from some of these participants as guest bloggers here on Edutopia.

In the mean time, I wanted to cover some of the many discussions around social media. Clearly social media is here to stay, yet many educators are still grappling with what the heck to do with it.

So, What the Heck Do We Do with Social Media??

Social media is arguably the single most disruptive innovation in the history of industrialized civilization. It's redefining how we engage with each other, how we do business, how we get our news, how we spend our free time and how we revolt against repressive regimes. It's no wonder that people are terrified of it. And to that end, it's not surprising that many educators find themselves in schools where social media is blocked -- and/or with draconian social media policies in place.

But, as educator/author Angela Maiers (@angelamaiers) pointed out in yesterday's conversation, "We need to see [social media] through a bigger lens -- as a tool for global empowerment." With social media, and Twitter in particular, anyone can have a voice in a global conversation.

Maiers and others told stories of students who were participating in the online discussions around bullying and digital citizenship. These kids got really excited when they got positive responses from others both on Twitter and off; they saw that their words had impact -- in a positive way. This kind of participation and being part of something bigger is way more rewarding than small-time bullying, though it likely comes from the same need: to be noticed, validated, seen.

Of course this type of mindful and engaged social media behavior must be scaffolded and modeled by adults.

A Courageous Approach Pays Off

Darren Draper (no relation to Don) is the Director of Educational Technology at the Canyons District in Sandy, Utah. He told a story of some bullies who created a fake Twitter account and posed as an official school channel, tweeting out obnoxious and hurtful things about other students.

Draper and his team quickly realized they couldn't stop it by blocking Twitter at school -- that's easy enough to circumvent by posting from a cell phone or from home. Instead they concluded that it's necessary to get ahead of these behaviors by working with parents and the greater community to bring more of an adult presence to social media. Rather than try to shut it down -- which, by the way, drives it underground and creates a great environment for bullies -- Draper argued that the school should take a leadership role in modeling strong social media engagement. The school administration, teachers, and parents worked together, and with students, did manage to curb the bullying problem across his district.

Likewise, Jason Epstein, Chief Information Officer at Worcester Academy in Worcester, MA shared that they had taken a similar approach with community involvement, and reduced their bullying infractions to under five in the last 18 months.

Susan Bearden IT Director at Holy Trinity Episcopal Academy (@s_bearden) and educator/writer Jerry Blumengarten (@cybraryman1) challenged us to share some ways we can engage more deeply and authentically with the community. What could that look like? Some suggestions:

So How to Get Started?

There are many answers to this question but the main idea is to demonstrate social media as a tool for collaboration and empowerment. This can be done in Edmodo and other so-called "walled gardens" - which may be a fine first step since it's a closed community. Otherwise, Facebook and Twitter are also good places to start since there are so many people already there. But one step at a time. The goal is to empower yourself and your community, not freak everyone out.

1. Jump in
It's tough to teach empowerment without being empowered. Here are some useful tips to get started on Twitter.

2. Find the others
Are there people in your school community who are already on social media? Brainstorm how you might be able to bring parents, administrators and students online in non-threatening ways.

3. Start small
If your administrators are really adverse to social media, start by proposing a short one-class pilot project to help everyone put a toe in the water. (If you've done a project like this, please share in the comments below!)

4. Get parent buy-in early
Some teachers talked of the benefit of reaching parents at the beginning of the year by letting them know their kids will be participating in online projects. One teacher told a cautionary tale of having to put the kibosh on a project that had been months in the making, due to a parent rejection.

5. Be smart about your identity
It's always a good idea to keep your personal and professional accounts separate. On Edmodo you don't have to worry about personal and professional overlap. On Facebook and Twitter you can create two accounts -- though Facebook lets you set up your personal profile and create a "Page" or "Group" for your class that keeps the two worlds separate.

6. Stay with it
I know we've been banging this drum at Edutopia for a while now but social media isn't going away and the sooner education leadership embraces it, the sooner we can benefit from its ubiquity, power, and attractive price point (free with cost of a computer and internet).

These days, there is a lot of buzz about student "agency" -- their belief in themselves and their impact on the world. Social media can enable all of us to participate in conversations that can change our lives and the lives of others. Yes, we need to be careful, but we can't teach caution if we're not there at all. In the words of Angela Maiers, "We need to lead with the beautiful stuff on the web. There is so much opportunity there if we lead with impact."

Keep an eye out for other blogs coming shortly from ISTE, and if you have other observations from the event, please share them!

  • Build school pride by sharing success stories
  • Promote upcoming school events - sports, arts events, field trips
  • Share daily highlights from within the classroom
  • School trivia contests or online scavenger hunts (could be designed by students)
  • Teachers use social media (Edmodo, a Facebook page or twitter hashtag) to post assignments or additional resources directly to students

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Filed Under

  • Technology Integration
  • Bullying Prevention
  • Media Literacy
  • 3-5 Upper Elementary
  • 6-8 Middle School
  • 9-12 High School

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