George Lucas Educational Foundation
  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Pinterest
  • Share

Students get it. They understand how easy it is to connect with one another, but don't fully realize the greater potential. As educators, we have all benefited greatly from our personal learning network or critical friends group. Some of us have garnered a job, found great content area resources, or tuned in to a conference. But are we transferring that potential to our students? And if so, are we giving them the proper guidance to travel down these varied paths?

There is no denying that students see the potential in using social media, but are they really using it to their advantage? A colleague of mine shared with me a sentiment one of her students said this past week. The student said, "Could you check my Facebook profile, I want to make sure it is appropriate for colleges to view." Eureka! One student gets it, however this sentiment while encouraging to any teacher, is not using social media networks to their full potential. It is only scratching the surface. In short, it's like hearing, "What do I need to know for the test?"

Connect Effectively

Instead of this student asking whether or not his or her Facebook profile is "acceptable" to view by colleges alone, why don't we flip this question around, "How can I strengthen my voice and my abilities better via Facebook so I can market myself to colleges and beyond?" This is what we should come to expect from our students. Let's not only help them connect, but connect effectively. And when they do connect, let's not limit the scope to "What colleges will think."

Connecting is easy. There are various outlets for students to connect and most of them engage this way every day. Simply connecting a student to another classroom via skype, a blog, or a wikispace is not groundbreaking classroom practice. We get it, the classroom is flat and there is no excuse for connectivity, but what are we doing to promote critical thinking, questioning, and constrictive criticism during these lessons?

Qualities of a Strong PLN

A graduate student asked me last week, "What is the criteria for someone joining your PLN?" I really never thought about it too hard, but after brief deliberation I came up with a few ideas. I want someone in my PLN who is going to give me constrictive criticism and also accept it. I want someone in my PLN who is going to share both professionally and personally (i.e. picture of his or her dog). I want someone who has a sense of humor. I want someone who wants to learn, listen, and consistently share. I want someone who provokes my thinking.

What I don't want in my PLN is someone who is going to blindly re-tweet something I post. I don't want someone who is going to cheer me on when my material isn't that good. I don't want someone who is going to bully or criticize without any context or insight into the topic at hand. I don't want someone who is going to give me an award.

PLN as an Engine of Support

And this must be transferred to our students as they begin to connect regularly both inside and outside of school. As educators, we must model positive use of learning networks and groups, and give students the proper foundations in the effective use of social media. Let's move students beyond the simple connections that they get, and really empower their voices, abilities, and talents. Teach students to not just join a PLN or hashtag, but also become an active member. Promote debate and constrictive criticism. Encourage students to find ways to improve the work they post and share. Part of being in a PLN is having that constant drive to provoke thought, accept constrictive criticism, and debate freely. Simply allowing students to connect is only the beginning.

Was this useful? (1)

Comments (8) Sign in or register to comment Follow Subscribe to comments via RSS

SP's picture

Yes totally agree Andrew! If we give students an opportunity to explore learning and provide them with tools and some guidance I think they will become 'self-learners' instead of 'forced learners'.
To that end I built a website called which enables students to manage group projects online and provides them with tools and advice. The site is free.

Alli's picture
Online Education Writer

Totally agree! We write a lot about education technology and so after conducting a lot of research on the subject, it's necessary to point out the importance of teaching students to properly and constructively use social media and education technology. So many students on Facebook and Twitter could benefit by using the sites to contact and research colleges or to find information about jobs.

Well said!

Laurie Boettcher's picture

Andrew you are so dead on! I couldn't agree more. Barriers within our education system prevent us from providing our students with this invaluable skill that will give them a highly competitve edge in college and the workforce. Instead of fearing it, we need to understand it, gain confidence, and use it to educate. Love it!

paul garofano's picture
paul garofano
K-12 Ed Tech Specialist, STEAM Educator

As an ed tech specialist at the elementary level, I realized how limited my students were when it came to empowerment with social media. So, a colleague and I created a keyboarding program called qwertytown that not only now promotes our students fluency on a keyboard, but allows them to communicate in a safe and secure social media environment.

We realized that the main reason our students wanted to become fluent keyboard communicators was to communicate online. Their initial progress has been outstanding and by giving them a safe safe social media environment it gave us as educators a chance to discuss with them appropriate online conversation techniques and etiquette.

Jim's picture

Check out the new law in Missouri the prohibits all teachers from using a social network to contact teachers. Lawmakers are trying to prohibit pedophiles, but all the are really doing is prohibiting education.

Corey McKinnon's picture
Corey McKinnon
Middle School Teacher from Minnesota

I love the word "empower". As educators, I truly believe that is one of our highest callings. We are not to just "connect" with our students but to empower them; to bring them from the level they are currently at to a level they cannot reach by them selves (hence the reason we, as teachers, exist). This article did a great job of highlighting how a good social networking interaction could have been transformed into a great interaction. The key lies in not scratching the surface when it comes to what is "do-able" and what could potentially become great. By taking social networking to the next level (and beyond) we are then able to empower our students (and dare I say ourselves) to become a greater influence in the culture we live in!

Vjačeslavs Matvejevs's picture
Vjačeslavs Matvejevs
Learning Technology Specialist

Article is valid in a way to engage students to use/leverage technology to deepen their knowledge and move towards successful "life plans" implementation. However, you mentioned briefly one problem we need to address urgently - faculty readeness to participate in technology advancement. I found it very sound due to lack of specialists in schools to work with faculty and move those teachers on the same level as students, technology wise.
I'm working on portal creation for technology-challenged faculty in order to make easy transition.
Any experience sharing advices are welcome.

Kristy Godbout's picture

Thank you for this thought provoking post. I am challenged to think about the ways in which I am connecting and the criteria for which I am building my PLN. I love the idea that PLNs should be engines for support and that not only our students, but we can also take the connections we make deeper. Your statement at the end was the most powerful for me. For the most part, we all have the ability and access to connect, but you are right... that is only the beginning. We must actively choose how to engage in those connections and it is up to us how active we want to be and what we want to gain or contribute. What's the point of being passive? The only statement I didn't necessarily agree with was that the flat classroom is nothing new. I say this only because this was a new concept for me just this year. I imagine your audience on here is a bit more tech savvy, but for some the concept of a flat classroom may not be a part of their schema. Thanks again for the write up!

Sign in to comment. Not a member? Register.