Are today’s students tweeting their way to better grades? More than nine out of 10 teenagers hold at least one social media account; Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, Vine, Twitter and Facebook rule the lives of most middle and high school students. And while much attention has been paid to the negative effects of social media, including cyber bullying, there could be a positive upside, too.
From elementary school to college, social media is empowering students, parents and teachers to share information in new ways and build a new sense of community. And students are using social media to do more than just share tips to ace the next exam: They’re turning to Instagram, Twitter and Snapchat to share success stories for student-loan payoffs, find summer internships and collaborate on projects with students across the country.
Are classrooms next?
Given the above statistics, schools don’t need to convince students of the value of social media; they've already been won over. Today’s teens are already collaborating and connecting with other teens outside school via social media; and now, some educators are pushing to make this collaboration happen inside school walls, too.
On the most practical level, integrating social media into day-to-day learning makes sense. Why not talk to teens in the online world where they already spend most of their time inhabiting?
Walk down the hall of any school, and today’s teens are fully absorbed in their smartphones, checking their Instagram feeds, sharing photos and sending Snapchat messages. How can teachers reach this world?
Learning management systems like Blackboard and Moodle have been involved in online learning for more than a decade. Now, public and private schools alike are taking the first steps to embrace social media in the classroom.
As Katie Benmar, then a high school freshman, wrote last April in an Education Week op-ed, “The best teachers I've ever had have used technology to enhance learning, including using Facebook pages for upcoming projects or planned online chats about books we read in class.”
Benmar made a fair point: A book report follows a standard format; so, an online discussion about books is an opportunity to break this format by setting up students to listen and respond to other people’s opinions, with textual evidence.
Teachers are listening. An AP biology teacher at New Milford High School in Bergen County, NJ, recently challenged his students to discuss the stages of meiosis on Twitter, using a shared hashtag; the creative challenge for students was to be succinct enough to describe each stage in 140 characters or less, writes T.H.E. Journal.
“As a digital marketing professor at the Catholic University of Cordoba, Carla Dawson finds it a requirement nowadays to use social media tools to connect with her students and get them motivated to do the tasks at hand. “We live in a digital ecosystem, and it is vital that educational institutions adapt,” says Dawson, who as an international speaker runs her own agency.
Building a stronger school community
Social media integration doesn’t have to stop with teens and teachers; increasingly, administrators are finding new, creative ways to integrate social media into their schools. Today’s parents of younger students are often social media natives; some even had Facebook in college when it first debuted. They use LinkedIn to find jobs. And they may even have a parody account on Twitter about parenting. It’s only natural that principals and school administrators are using social media to share school news and building community.
Consider the experience of Robyn Jones, recently promoted to principal at Rock Prairie Elementary School in College Station, Tex.
“As principal of an elementary school, I don't think there is anything more important about school/home relationships than communication and information dissemination,” says Jones. “Families are busy, but that doesn't mean they don't want and need information from the school. Just as we are looking for ways to incorporate technology into our classrooms, in order to engage students, our communication with families deserves to be engaging and easy to use, as well.”
That's why Jones regularly uses the school’s Facebook page, Twitter and Instagram to share information with parents on everything from weekly homework assignments to class lunch times. Jones says that social media also allows more personal relationships with her students’ families.
“With over 700 children in our school, it is nearly impossible to know all of the families,” she says. “When a family tags the school in a post, retweets a message or responds to the principal or teacher through email, we are getting the opportunity to engage with that family in a way that would not be possible with a paper newsletter.
"I continue to encourage our staff to utilize technology for parent communication, to help families quickly receive much-needed information. Everyone wins when the school and the families are connected.”