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Social media has become an essential part of most people’s everyday lives, from checking Facebook and Twitter to posting blogs, Pinterest listings, and uploading YouTube videos.
However, and with smartphones making it easier than ever to spend time on social media networks, in what ways can these networks be leveraged to engage and build a foundation for future student learning? While the potential of distraction is there, the right social media teaching strategies can lead to creative learning, and a productive approach to making social media part of ongoing professional development.
There is already evidence that teachers are using social media as part of teaching strategies, with the aim of encouraging students to view social networks as less of a pleasurable distraction, and more as something that can be used in projects and for personal expression in a medium they prefer. Steven Anderson has recently proposed a comprehensive set of general approaches to integrating social media into the classroom, and focuses on the need to carefully review existing teaching strategies and understandings of social media before making changes.
Some possible strategies for teachers to use social media have been outlined by Adam Renfro who emphasizes the cost effectiveness of using free social networks and the value of incorporating “real-world experiences into your classroom,” as well as the ability to encourage collaboration between students. Renfro notes several examples of where different social networks can be combined, from a specialized Twitter account for students to post comments on class projects and news stories using hashtags to creating a class Facebook page. In addition, Renfro points to YouTube as a way to both create new teaching material, and to spread videos across different social networking sites.
For students, social networks arguably provide a mix of creative expression and group work through tasks like contributing to a blog, designing websites, uploading video presentations, and creating Facebook pages for class projects. Katie Lepi has offered a range of recent examples of successful social media in practice, from a high school using Twitter to communicate with their principal, to another school that has built an alumni database, through to a middle school in the U.S. that uses blogs, whiteboard, and texting, while employing apps to monitor late arrivals.
Perhaps the key benefit emphasized across studies of social media in schools is the way that using these networks provides creativity and real-world experience. Students that use social media from an early age learn to view it as more than just a distraction, and as something that they use to learn and produce content in a setting that they are familiar with and challenged by. In 2010, Sarah Kessler made a strong argument for schools using social media with students from a young age, suggesting that schools that ban it end up failing to encourage responsibility and understanding of its positives. Kessler also argues that students become more engaged through producing online content read by more than just a teacher. In this way, Kessler argues that gaining online collaboration and networking skills can feed into future employability, where students have experience of working together on projects.
It’s important, then, to view social media as something that is not going away, and that should be used productively, rather than devalued in schools. Doing so can mean that students moving into the workplace know how to use social media as an important tool, rather than a distraction. Indeed, Jack Wallen suggests that social networking in work can actually boost productivity through business pages, Twitter feeds, and LinkedIn profiles that allow workers to stay in touch with professional networks. As a result, it’s important that schools find ways to integrate social media into and beyond the classroom to build future professional skills.