Social media in the classroom: Why and how to use it

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    Social media in the classroom can be useful

    The use of social media in the classroom can improve participation and enhance learning, as long as some rules are set. (Shutterstock)

    Whether you like it or not, social media is here to stay. But, what about social media in the classroom?

    A recent study revealed 27 percent of our time online is spent on a social network. For perspective on how things have changed in less than a generation, YouTube now reaches more American adults ages 18 to 34 than any cable network. More so, when it comes to kids and YouTube, well, it’s the MTV of the new modern generation.

    Today, schools are hoping to tap into the social media phenomenon for educational purposes.

    Take for instance Massachusetts’ Burlington Public Schools, which not only boasts a progressive social media policy but also uses a unique concept called Project 365 where daily blogs are posted featuring entries from students, educators, parents and additional school-related views, ideas or news.

    “I think we need to rethink the way we’re doing education,” said Burlington Public Schools Assistant Superintendent For Learning Patrick Larkin. “It has to start with the leaders in the schools embracing [social media] and modeling it, not just talking about it. And that trickles to the teachers, because eventually we want it to end up in the classroom.”

    Larkin believes social media in the classroom helps students develop proficiency with technology, as well as learn to create, critique, analyze and evaluate multimedia text. He also feels it allows kids to manage and analyze streams of information.

    University of Wisconsin-Madison’s Center for Communication Research Director Joanne Cantor [yourmindonmedia.com] told VOXXI that use of social media in the classroom encourages kids to use their smart phones and tablets.

    “Kids are really into their gadgets so if you can allow them to use them in class for things that they used to have to do with paper and pencil they might actually be more inclined to do it.”

    How to use social media in the classroom

    Still in its infancy, social media in the classroom is somewhat exotic for many educators and administrators. Media Psychology Research Center Director Dr. Pamela Brown Rutledge told VOXXI that its use varies depending on the age of the students.

    “You can use it in a pretty controlled way to sort of introduce younger kids to the concept,” Rutledge said. “You would be using it almost like an online classroom where you’d let them participate by posting things about the work.”

    Conversely, she said in high school-age students social media acts almost like a virtual classroom.

    “Kids are largely already on Facebook posting assignments and answering questions about homework,” Rutledge said. “In large lecture halls teachers who are using Twitter to encourage students who don’t normally participate to jump in on the back channel. So you can project the Twitter feed and see what’s going on, and hear what’s on people’s minds.”

    Rutledge stressed overall it’s important to make clear to students, parents and the school administration that there are very clear privacy limits regarding social media in the classroom.

    Naturally, with any new technology or educational approach there will be issues, but Rutledge suggested administrators view such setbacks not as an indictment against social media in the classroom but as a function of productivity. That is, stepping back and taking a different approach to the technology.

    “Otherwise it’s like holding a beach ball under water,” Rutledge said. “It’s going to pop up someplace and you might as well have a say how it’s being used and making sure it’s being used well rather than deny it. That’s really the positive side to embracing it.”

    Still, there are dangers to social media in the classroom, which ranges from its unchecked use to not clearly laying out educational goals to be attained from the technology. Whether it’s Twitter, Facebook, Pinterest or Blogster, the specialized social media’s strengths and limitations need to be researched with stated goals established from the onset.

    “The idea of social media has become sort of a catchall term,” Rutledge said. “Pretty soon it’ll just be media. This idea that we can connect with one another peer-to-peer is sort of what distinguishes social media and makes it social, right? But that’s going to pretty quickly be the standard, that level of connectivity and communication which means you’ll have a generation of students who don’t understand one-way communication in the sense that it seems antiquated like the rotary phone.”

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