George Lucas Educational Foundation

Social Media & Students' Communication Skills

Social Media & Students' Communication Skills

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Two Students on Their Devices

With social media taking up such a large space in our lives, many of us question whether it’s impacting our communication skills, more importantly, our students’ communication skills. As an English teacher, a writer, and a mom, I am always worried about the repercussions social media will have on my kids’ critical thinking, writing and personal & academic communication skills.

But I had to pause and think. We worry about social media’s impact, but “impact” itself doesn’t necessarily mean negative impact. I needed to remind myself that the use of social media by students can either have a positive or negative effect.

But what if we focus on and drive the positive impact that social media can have on student communication?

Let’s start by narrowing down some of the main platforms that students use:

Instagram: A photo sharing app that allows users to edit photos and upload them to share with their followers. Users can choose to have a private or a public account. They can also share a photo directly with a selected few people. This is the equivalent of a private message.

Snapchat: A messaging app that allows you to set a timer on the photos and videos the user sends before they disappear.

Tumblr: A blogging platform but is also similar to twitter in terms of Retweeting and sharing others’ posts. Users can post videos, photos, and writing.

Facebook: A forum that is used to post pictures, videos, write status updates, articles and comments. Facebook also contains an option to create pages for different causes and events.

Twitter: 140 characters microblogging platform to share ideas, thoughts, and what you had for dinner.

Interesting facts about students’ use of social media:

Although we assume that most students have smartphones, research suggests that students who come from low-income households do not own smartphones, thus making their digital communication means mainly through text messaging (Washington Post). This is an interesting fact, as there is an assumption that all students have smartphones, and that can impact the pedagogical strategies that we use to integrate social media in the classroom. As a result, it’s important that we think about accessibility and students’ circumstances when thinking about integrating technology in general in the classroom.

With that being said, a recent study focused on Millennials’ use of social media indicates that the most used social media forum is Facebook (PRRI’s millennial Survey). That is not to say other apps are not used, Snapchat is generally used by students whose family income is over $75000 annually. Income is one of the differentiating factors in the use of social media, race, ethnicity and gender also play a part in determining students’ use of those apps. These factors are important to take into account as the use of social media is determined by the user, who they are, where they come from etc.

Impact of these tools on oral and written communication:

We come back to the question, do these digital tools impact students’ oral and written communication in the classroom?

There is a general consensus amongst teachers that these tools do blur the line between “formal” and “informal” writing. But with that being said, in a survey conducted by The National Writing Project, teachers point out that “writing” does not just encompass academic writing done in the classroom. This indicates that more teachers are attuned that writing as a genre is evolving further than essays, reports, and in class writing assignments.

However, when teachers and students were asked if they would consider blogging, posting and texting to be writing both parties did not think so. Writing to teachers and students was confined in the parameters of classroom assignments. (AP & NWP).

We need to help students see that their blogging, texting, tweeting on social media is real writing. Their writing is real writing because their writing is their voice. Student voice needs to be nurtured and appreciated in the classroom, regardless the outlet they use to communicate it. When teachers show the importance of formal communication to be practiced on social media platforms, students are more inclined to practice good digital citizenship.

Students will believe in themselves if we believe in them. We can believe that they produce great thoughts and ideas. We can also believe that social media's powerful element of connectedness can help to pass on students' thoughts to drive impactful change in this world.

This post was created by a member of Edutopia's community. If you have your own #eduawesome tips, strategies, and ideas for improving education, share them with us.

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Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Thanks Katie! I LOVED Periscope when it first came out. I still appreciate it. There is something cooler than periscope called Beme, it's a video making app as well, but has great reviews. I haven't used it yet, I got the code and will be using soon :). If you're interested in Persicope my friend Sarah Thomas is passionate about using it in the classroom and wrote about it here:

Agree with you about the parent buy in! This also goes hand in hand with educating on privacy, online safety and copyright.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

I agree Dan! I really like this perspective, that digital writing is a new genre and we have to approach it as such. Troy Hicks' book was very helpful when I did some of this research, Crafting Digital Writing, he looked at digital writing as mentor texts. I think often times it's hard for us to see a website, blog, or article as mentor text but that's what students and even us are reading and will continue to read.

Rizza Mae Arpon's picture

As a student, I think that all of the fact mentioned above are true. Social medias have a great impact on my communication skills. Frequent exposure to social medias leads to more informal communication skills. Seeing lots of informal posts, words and communication on social medias is inevitable since people are free to post anything on this sites. However, frequent social media users are influenced by this informality, using informal kind of communication even in formal contexts. It is important for teachers to advocate formal communication use n the classroom and set a side the influences brought about by the social medias. I think it would also be helpful if teachers would promote activities with regards to social medias but in a more formal use. An example of this would be encouraging them to join educational sites just like edutopia for the students to lessen down their use of irrelevant communication skills and start speaking out for something that would make sense.

Carol Askin's picture

Very informative and eye-opening article! I particularly like your paragraph on viewing writing in social media as real writing. "Their writing is real writing because their writing is their voice." This is such a powerful and accurate statement. As we try to encourage student voices, we need to also encourage all means of communication.

Isaac Obseñares Normalista Powers's picture

for me. social media brought a national delimma to young individuals because it encourages the youth to express their full intention or a very vulgar expressions of themselves either the fact that it isn't their points.. these way of too much exposure to social media made our youth to entirely involve themeselves in such hilariou acts like bullying, negatives comments and restricted surfing to porn videos and etc.. i hope that everyone must be responsible of their ownselves to delicacy of too much using of social media... this is one way of restricting from social diseases and detoriorating others privacy..

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Thank you so much Carol for your kind words and encouragement. I think you're write, encouraging all means of communication is important because you never know when that method will speak to one student and allow them to produce great work.

Rusul Alrubail's picture
Rusul Alrubail
Edutopia Community Facilitator/ Student Voice & Literacy at The Writing Project

Hi Rizza, thank you so much for your comment. I totally agree that social media needs to be used in a professional way in the classroom so that students are able to see how that can translate into the real world, or simple to have relevant conversations about the real world.

Many teachers are using twitter to have class discussions, which can benefit students in more ways than one. I think one of the biggest takeaway for students with using twitter is to be able to be as concise as possible while still delivering your point.

Chelzia Garabiles's picture

Amazing Article! Social Media have both positive and negative effects for the students in their communication skills. They are more in writing communication than in oral, so their voice will not be nurtured and appreciated in the classroom but the advantage is their writing skills will improve.

Sue Stinson's picture
Sue Stinson
8th grade Family and Consumer Science Teacher from South Jersey

I think it is very important for any teacher who is using social media within class to review the districts technology use policies. COPPA requirements need to be followed and reviewed with students prior to implementation.

Cameron Brenchley's picture
Cameron Brenchley
Creative communicator

Great article Rusul, but you left off a very important platform that is gaining among teens: Vine. Pew says that 24% of American teens are using Vine, and I suspect that number will grow. Vine is a tough platform for anyone to break into, let alone educators. Once one sees the top Vines each day, you'll be tempted to give up on our youth, but I believe this means there is space for more creativity and a chance to reinforce positive videos. I don't know many schools on Vine, although New Tech High in Napa just joined. Recently the White House invited top Viners to help launch the #BetterMakeRoom education campaign. I'm looking forward to seeing more educators take the leap into six-second videos.

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