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Guest Blog: Making the Case for Social Media in Education

Steve Johnson

Technology Facilitator, Writer
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During the time it takes me to write this intro (approx. one minute), 42,000 people will update their Facebook status, 36,000 tweets will be sent, and fifteen hours of video will be uploaded to YouTube.

Undoubtedly, the world as we know it is quickly becoming wired through social media. Our guest blogger, Steve Johnson (@edtechsteve) sheds some light on the current state of social media in schools and even provides some handy talking points to make the case to lift internet filters within schools.

--Betty Ray, Community Manager (@EdutopiaBetty) and Elana Leoni, Social Media Marketing Coordinator (@elanaleoni)

The 3/9/10 #edchat discussion was another example of the most scrolling fun you can have in an hour on the Internet. The topic this time was "How can social media create real change in education?"

Right away, folks got busy reframing the question in more "real" terms:

@blairteach: Question might be better to say, "How IS social media creating real change in education?"

@dtitle: better topic... how will education keep up with social media and not be left in the dust

@unklar: I don't see any change at all at my school since the district is trying its best to block any and all social media

These additions brought to light the fact that we are struggling once again in education to keep up with the pace of a drastically changing society. Outside of schools, social media outlets are THE way that people now communicate, young and old alike (stop sending me chickens in Farmville, Mom!). The fact that we as educators even have to have discussions on whether or not social media is good for schools is sad. Social media just's life.

Despite this, inside the vast majority of our school walls, social media tools are blocked and filtered. Why? In #edchat, the general consensus for the answer to this question revolved around fear - fear of cyberbullying and inappropriate use by students. Many blamed the media for blowing the negative out of proportion. In light of these fears, @benpaddlejones summed up exactly where we need to shift in the coming years:

We need to stop talking cyberbullying and start talking cybercitizenship. Flip to the positive.

He's absolutely correct. Our focus in schools needs to shift towards responsible, positive use of social media. The giant elephant darting about in the shadows needs to be drug into the light. In a world where this type of communication is king amongst our students, we need to stop ignoring and blocking and start embracing and amplifying.

When the filters come down, will there be problems? Will there be inappropriate use by students and staff? Absolutely! As a parent of two young girls, I understand the fear that this type of shift can create. But my response is that I would MUCH rather have these mistakes happen transparently where learning can take place. Every mistake and misstep in social media is a brilliant learning opportunity for all involved. I'd much rather these mistakes occur in the open and with the support structure of caring adults, rather than in the pockets or bedrooms our students are currently making them.

So we have this institution that has permeated society but is still blocked by your school. How can you make the case for the filters to be lifted? Here are some points you might make to bolster your case:

  • It is quickly becoming our duty as educators in the 21st century to guide our students towards responsible use of social media. We teach sex ed, we teach healthy living, we teach about drugs, we teach character ed., and on and on. We do these things each and every day, yet we are ignoring the aspect of our students' lives that is larger than all of these things (and completely interconnected with them as well). It is our duty to our students to start modeling responsible use of social media and encouraging them to follow our lead. We can no longer afford the veil.
  • Social Media use is becoming our new first impression. In June 2009, a Harris Interactive Poll found that 45% of employers researched social networking sites of prospective employees. This was more than double the percentage of employers stating they did this type of research in June 2008 (22%). What this means is simple - when our students start looking for jobs or applying for college, their use of social media is going to be studied. We must act now to ensure our students are portraying their skills and creativity in a positive way so that they can separate themselves from the pack and create opportunities for themselves that they may otherwise be shut out from.
  • Connected, community based learning is important. By blocking social media use, we are depriving our students of a huge opportunity to allow them to learn in connected ways. Society is moving toward a model of shared knowledge building, where people from all over the world can interact, question, reflect, and reshape thinking in meaningful ways. #edchat itself is a perfect example of this very phenomenon. Blocking our students off from this opportunity is a mistake.
  • In five years, the filters will be gone whether you like it or not. The expansion of wifi networks linked directly into smart phones that are being carried by students each and every day is inevitable. They will have an unfiltered access point in their pocket, whether we want them to or not. Wouldn't it make sense to be proactive? Wouldn't it make sense to guide our students towards responsible, productive use?

It is my hope that when the filters come down, transparent use will allow everyone in the school system - students, teachers, parents, admin - to grow and utilize social media in responsible, productive ways. Let's stop holding sparsely attended workshops about internet safety and start modeling the process of unlocking the power these highly relevant tools hold for both ourselves and our students!

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Lora Evanouski's picture
Lora Evanouski
Graduate Student at Boise State University in Educational Technology

I agree with your comments about social network sites for learning. I am in my last 2 classes of Educational Technology and I am never more amazed at the fear of introducing a new way to think and learn that is outside the "normal" box. Indeed, we should prepare our students for the learning that they are already doing in Facebook, Twitter etc. It all begins with teaching the teacher to utilize these tools.

Topher Mueller's picture
Topher Mueller
Director of Education Technology PK-8

We manage to have 6-8 on their own laptops available in all classes. As part of their technology class every week, I open with ways that people are making positive differences in the world using technology, often via video or online article that we discuss.

Sure, we cover digital citizenship - we spend ample time on the idea of online safety, privacy, cyberbullying... but this everyday message to them gets them *excited* to create, to innovate... they wonder what they can to do make the digital world a better place. I agree with the author - if we belabor the imminent dangers of the digital world, what does that teach them? Better to create an environment where they can make mistakes, but make them safely, learn from them and move on.

Do we let them use facebook? No, but we don't block it either. Do they use it in class? No. We've created our own social networks for classes and projects by way of Edumoto and Ning, and the kids liken it to "Facebook for school". We let them use a tool that they are familiar with and excited about - at the same time they learn to communicate & network in a productive manner. Do they log in from home? Yes. :)

Students that have this practice with social networking - mixed with an understanding that they are empowered to do great things - but also knowing how to recognize any red flags and dangers - will be ready for what the digital world brings.


Doris H. Jones's picture

Taking a quote from an article discussing the use of technology in the classroom, "Resistance is Futile". I agree as educators we must keep up with technology and social medium networks have become a tool of the present and will continue in the future. In order to help teachers keep up and not struggle,training is needed. A commitment from the top down is needed to put in the time, money and energy for teachers to feel comfortable with using these tools in the classroom. With proper training I am ready to lift the veil!

Jaime's picture
Middle School Teacher in PA

I am a middle school teacher and my students lives are controlled by social media, they are addicted. I think using social media in the class room would be an extreamly effective way to reach young people. Social media is such a huge part of everyones lives it would be a great way to teach. However, there would need to be some training or policy on how social media is used in the school. As mentioned too much focus is put on the negative and not on the positive. The schools teach so many other social skills, it would only make sense to teach students how to properly use social media. We as educators are missing the biggest part of our students lives. I hope in the near future my school decides that using social media and teaching students how to use it responsibly will become part of our curriculum.

thomashopes75's picture

As we are just aware of the issue of involving social media in education systems most of the kids are found more busy in these activities basically social media is the way for promoting your basic skills of interacting and community building power and also make a way to stay connected with other world of network, and now social media is the first impression of over thousands of schools.

zenisalee's picture

Social media provides an interactive web-based platform where users could be able to communicate and share their feeling through this after utilizing incredible and amazing features of this.So proper integration of this social media in education system definitely creates an advantageous comprehensive media which is the best educational platform to achieve their goal more successfully.

BSkiba14's picture

I am a prospective educator working on a project at the College of Wooster in which my group is exploring this idea of social media in the classroom. Larry D. Rosen's book, Rewired inspired many of our ideas about educational technology - we really hope to be able to pass on knowledge of this tool to educators (our focus is on eighth grade teachers). We have a website that will be public soon that will provide a resource for educators as well as more information on Rosen's book and the need for technology and social media in the classroom. Here's a link to our YouTube video that gives a bit more information as well as some tips for using Facebook in the classroom:

Kenzie84's picture

Social media is now being the most prominent connection for the community which bring a revolutionary change among the people, so now these concepts are used in most of the educational organizations for developing the student's strategies and interaction powers, social media are the easiest source to generate our views and opinions.

Sean's picture

Social media/networks can also be key to professional development. I am part of the team at, which is a social network specifically for algebra teachers that includes resources and a discussion forum. No sign up required and the entire site is a non-profit enterprise with totally free resources. I've found the site a great place to talk to other math teachers as I am the only ms/hs math teacher at my school.

Ms. Staci's picture

In today's society, social media is on the rise - not just in everyday life but in the classroom as well. Teacher uses social media in the classroom now more than they ever have. Students see their parents using social media at home to communicate with friends and family; they feel they should be able to do this at school as well. The problem that I see with social media in the classroom is teachers not having the adequate amount of training in the new technology; as well, school districts are not making teachers attend the training. Teachers see the potential of technology and since they do not have an adequate amount of technology available, it becomes the students just using google. Teachers do not have enough knowledge of their research before assigning a project. There could be Web 2.0 tools that the students could use for the assigned projects. There could also be certain apps or sites that could be used by students on their projects to make it fun and exciting. Just searching google for facts is not fun and exciting to me and turns me away from technology.
The problem with technology being used in the classroom is safety issues with the internet and social media. Parents know the types of people that live in this world and want their child safe. The parents can keep themselves safe online but when it comes to children, a filter is needed. As a result, parents usually put up a battle with teachers about their child using social media and internet in the classroom. Teachers need to understand these parental concerns. At the first of the year, teachers need to demonstrate and develop a project for the students on internet and social media safety. Teachers need to have community members come into their classroom to show real life examples of what can happen if students step over the boundary.

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