Social media is ubiquitous in most teens’ lives – as of 2012, 81% of teens who used the internet used social media, with 77% on Facebook and 24% on Twitter (Pew Research Center, 2012). Teens use these sites to connect and socialize with friends, but also to express their opinions and create and share their own content. (Check out this great video of Mimi Ito discussing the ways students use social media outside of the classroom to further their learning.)
Despite social media’s widespread use among teens and adults, social networking is banned in 52% of American schools due to fears of bullying, inappropriate use, and distraction from learning (Finley, 2014). Although these are all valid concerns about students’ use of social media, we limit ourselves and our students when we remove social media from schools. Because students and teachers use social media in their daily lives, schools miss a valuable opportunity to educate them about digital citizenship, media literacy, and the potential power of creating and sharing content when they ignore its ubiquity. Although it may seem easier to ban the sites to avoid difficult conversations, it is our responsibility to educate and encourage students to use these tools effectively and responsibly.
Bringing social media tools into schools can help with the following:
- Identity Development: Social networking is a space where students can express themselves and connect with peers as a community. Using sites like Instagram and YouTube, students can create their own content that reflects their beliefs and creativity.
- Collaboration: Social media platforms allow for organic collaboration outside of the classroom. Students can comment on and respond to each others work, expanding their learning by reflecting on peers’ ideas.
- Audience for Writing: Students may be more motivated knowing their peers will be reading and reflecting on their work. Starting a classroom blog is a simple way to allow for this type of dialogue outside of school.
- Connection to the World Outside of School: Incorporating social networking into the classroom connects school to students’ worlds outside, making the work more relevant to their daily lives. Depending on the project, students can also use social media to reach a broader audience, making an impact in the community.
- Media Literacy: Social media uses images, video, text, and graphics to communicate a message, creating an opportunity for students to explore how to navigate and interpret multimodal texts. As creators of content, students can learn about fair use and how to responsibly cite and respond to others.
- Skills for the Future: As technology becomes a primary means of communication globally, students will be asked to use these skills in higher education and future careers. Students who begin to think critically about these tools and use them creatively will have an advantage later on.
- Student Engagement: If teachers use these tools in authentic, rather than stilted ways, students will be more engaged with these projects that connect to their experiences outside of the classroom.
- Reflect on Reliability: Using social media provides school librarians and teachers with the opportunity to talk about reliability. Students must evaluate authors’ biases, backgrounds, and messages before successfully interpreting their content.
- Deeper Learning: When students create personas for characters or historical figures on Facebook or Twitter, they are forced to explore the person as a whole, reflecting on the way they would communicate with the various people in their lives, how they would react to certain situations, how they would write, and what types of music, books, and other media they would enjoy. This pushes students further than traditional reports and allows them to reflect and build upon their learning.
- Types of Writing: Using social media also allows teachers to talk about how tone and style shifts when writing for different audiences. Although learning to write academically is a critical skill, students can be introduced to more informal discourse through social media.
Of course, teaching with social media also allows librarians and teachers to open up conversations with students about cyberbullying, respect for others, privacy, safety, and being a responsible digital citizen. By incorporating social media into the curriculum, we can encourage students to use these tools thoughtfully, creatively, and effectively.
Finley, T. (2014). Siphoning the Fumes of Teen Culture: How to Co-opt Students’ Favorite Social Media Tools. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/teen-culture-social-media-tools-todd-finley
Pew Research Center. (2012). Teens Fact Sheet. Retrieved from http://www.pewinternet.org/fact-sheets/teens-fact-sheet/