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.