George Lucas Educational Foundation

Using Social Media Tools in the Classroom

Using Social Media Tools in the Classroom

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Over the past few years, Social Media has become less of an edgy new technology for geeks and more of an important information tool. For example, in our recent spate of bad weather here in Pennsylvania, the “early bird” parents would make sure the others knew about school closures, road closures, and even power outages on Facebook as soon as it happened, helping spread the information before the official email or calls started to come in.

When it comes to the classroom, many teachers and parents are a little nervous about social media. Some worry it is a distraction, or can’t be used for serious learning. Other parents are worried that projects, such as having a student create a Facebook-like page for a historical figure, are encouraging kids to use social media, which they may not fully approve of in their home, or that it is somehow trivialising more traditional academic learning.

Many schools block social media sites, and with access restricted, it’s more difficult to use social media as a learning tool within the classroom. Yet with many kids having smart phones, they can usually get around wifi restrictions to access the same sites independently. Is this restriction helpful to try to keep students focused on task, or merely a nuisance that is largely ineffectual in practice? Are we closing the door after the horse has already left the barn?

Ideally, I think schools should not only teach students about digital citizenship and appropriate use of social media, but help them learn and model good behavior by integrating social media into the learning process where appropriate. For example:

Could you help students facilitate study groups via skype or google hangouts?

Could you have virtual office hours for students to ask questions online, via Facebook, Twitter, Google Hangouts or Skype?

Could you have students share pictures of projects via Instagram, and set up a classroom page?

A classroom blog might be a way to help students communicate their learning (like a classroom newspaper) to the outside world, and even open their writing to a wider audience.

Some english classrooms in our District use Goodreads to share book recommendations and critiques.

How do you look at social media as a learning tool both inside and outside the classroom? What have you found most valuable? What hasn’t worked out well?

[And on the professional development front, Do you ever participate in Twitter chats? You can find a pretty comprehensive list of chats here: http://cybraryman.com/chats.html]


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Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Hi Whitney! I have had great success connecting with parents on Facebook via sharing my weekly lesson reflection blog posts on my wall. Here's an example:

http://blogs.ncs-nj.org/k4stemlab/?p=1503

I have many of my students' parents as Facebook friends. I don't actively seek them out (don't want to intrude) but always accept parent friend requests when I get them. This connection has been invaluable as parents can "see" what we're doing in my classroom and as a result we've enjoyed a spike in parent volunteers. We have had as many as FOUR parents volunteering at one time for a single class. It's awesome and so helpful because my lessons are often VERY hands-on.

I look at social media as a tool to strengthen the school-home connection AND to enhance my own professional learning. I'd love to get my kids more active in social media but I've held off for a variety of reasons...but that's another story!

Great post!

-kj-

Whitney Hoffman's picture
Whitney Hoffman
Producer LD Podcast, Digital Media Consultant, Author

Hey Kevin!
Ideally, I think the more open we are in education, the more engagement we get. There's always the concern about security and privacy, of course, but I think the more we look at families and schools in partnership, the better off we're going to be, and using those low touch communication points, like facebook, can be really helpful. We need these casual friend-touch points in order for people to see each other as human as well as in their professional roles. (I always remember being shocked when I saw teachers in the grocery as a kid- they were real people too!)
These relationships also raise trust levels, and everyone gets treated with the understanding they need, even if things go off the rails on either side of the equation.
I think the biggest problems in education actually stem from objectification- treating students, parents, teachers, as chess pieces, rather than as humans. If we can be more people centric and more trusting, many of the more difficult issues will sort themselves out pretty quickly.

Kevin Jarrett's picture
Kevin Jarrett
Maker Educator, Google Certified Innovator, Dreamer, Doer. Learning experience designer, workshop leader/speaker, author. Stanford #Fablearn Fellow. #GoogleEI

Well said, Whitney. "Objectification" is right. Seems as though the point of education is lost on most people - these days, it's all about the end product, the credential, the grade - not the learning. Sometimes it feels like we're all just cogs in a giant, infuriating, ridiculously complex machine...

Gwen Pescatore's picture
Gwen Pescatore
President Home & School Assoc, #ParentCamp Organizer, Co-Moderator #PTchat

As a parent at a school that uses social media...I truly believe no classroom or school should be without the use of social media. The benefits are endless. As you mentioned...the ability for students to collaborate, share and learn from others not only in their classroom - but from around the world.

These tools give equal voice to all in the class...including those possibly too shy to speak in front of others. In addition to expanding learning opportunities, sharing out these experiences throughout the day does wonders for family engagement. Families near and far can follow along, chime in and add their personal experiences/knowledge AND when their child comes home after school....parents are able to ask not only ask the dead end question "how was school," but specifics about a lesson (easiest dinner conversations ever). They can take that lesson and expand on it by going to a museum, reading a book, exploring a website, and more, together as a family. The learning continues beyond the school walls and outside the 9a-3p hours.

These open lines of constant communication also help strengthen the home-school relationships. Nothing bad can come of increasing the number of times a teacher and parent interact from 3 times per year (BTS nights and P/T conferences) to weekly or daily.

I do think that it is important though, that use of social media in school is approached with care. There need to be guidelines clearly stated that remind everyone the best approach to respect privacy and keep everyone safe. Then offer training sessions...to EVERYONE - students, parents, teachers, admin. Finally...role model best use. Lead by example and recognize when it is time to pick up the phone or speak face to face.

Keith Heggart's picture
Keith Heggart
High School Teacher from Sydney, Australia

Powerful, forward thinking post, Whitney. Thanks for sharing! I really like the idea about being open and transparent. We've had a Facebook page for my school for a couple of years now and it's been fantastic - a really strong point of engagement for our parents.

Arnold's picture

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