Most students are obsessed with social media, incessantly texting, posting comments, sharing pictures and videos, and interacting on a continual basis with their online friends and community.
And, whilst such behaviours can cause disruption when allowed to continue unchecked whilst they are in the classroom, teachers are increasingly looking for ways to harness the power of social media to enhance the learning experience. This makes sense since many young people have an intuitive understanding of how to communicate via social media, which has immediacy and impact which traditional book learning does not.
As a teacher you need to be careful with the way you allow your students to use social media during class since these platforms can easily become a great distraction and every school has different policies as to what they allow. It is important that students understand the importance of social media as an educational tool, but also that it needs to be used responsibly, and that there are rules which need to be followed, just as in any other society.
Here are 10 ways teachers can use social media to help students learn.
1. Ask your students to blog
Blogging can be an enjoyable activity for students of all ages. Explain what a blog is and ask them to pick a niche subject they are passionate about, even if it has nothing to do with the curriculum. Then, tell them how to conduct research and develop plagiarism-free blog posts. You can discuss those blogs once a month in the classroom and all students can post comments on each other’s posts (but make sure they are positive or helpful, and not derogatory in any way).
2. Connect with other classrooms (or schools)
You can use social media to connect to other classrooms, or even schools. This encourages online collaboration and also a healthy spirit of competition. Google Hangouts, podcasts and Facebook all lend themselves to this form of social sharing.
3. Create a Facebook profile as a class
You can create an official profile of the class and post updates that all students and parents can see. You can promote the achievements of your students, and post frequent updates on daily experiences.
4. Create and connect the entire classroom in a Facebook Group
Create a private group and invite all students to join. To do this you need to make sure that every single student in a class has access to a smartphone, tablet, or computer. Parents may also need to be consulted because some of them might not approve of them having Facebook profiles, especially if they are young. However, once these issues have been addressed, you can form the group and start posting discussion topics online.
5. Host a podcast or start a video channel
You can use YouTube to publish your own educational videos or podcasts. Alternatively, if you do not have enough time to maintain a channel yourself, you can search YouTube for relevant content and play it during class. Then, you can all talk about it.
6. Invite guest speakers
You can easily use social media platforms to present speeches by guest speakers in the classroom, even if they cannot physically be present. There are a number of options which facilitate this, such as Skype video conferences, YouTube and Facebook.
7. Start a Flickr photography project
Flickr is a great place where your students can find images for their projects, but students can also make contributions to it. Organise a field trip and ask them to take photos with their phones. Assign random hashtags (#nature, #architecture, #sunset, #history), or anything else you can think of, which will motivate them to take certain types of photos. Then, you can choose the best ones and post them from your Flickr profile.
8. Teach students how to use social media
Although many of them will already be aware of many of the major channels, children rarely get precise instructions on how to use social media platforms. Instead they rely on intuition and the examples which they see from other users, which can sometimes lead them in false directions and encourage wrong behaviours.
Teachers can take the lead and set an example by explaining how social media can help them learn and establish a great online reputation. Introduce them to the concept of responsible digital citizenship and also make clear that cyber bullying is as much to be abhorred as any other form of physical or mental intimidation.
Twitter is an extremely fun network for students. If all students in your class have phones with Internet access, you can organise an active Twitter discussion during class. Think of a hashtag related to the discussion and ask them to conduct an online research and post a tweet with an interesting fact in 15 minutes.
10. Use Pinterest
Pinterest is a very effective platform that students and teachers can use for collecting educational resources. You can ask them to create separate boards for related topics, and ask them to follow each other’s collections. Then, you can choose the best resources and present them in class. For example, you can ask your students to pick the most inspiring traveling destinations, find different facts, and create Pinterest boards that they will present as projects for a geography class.
A word of warning to teachers
Before undertaking any interactions with students on social media, teachers need to be aware that misuse of such platforms can have serious personal and professional consequences. Separate personal and professional social media accounts, and make sure that not only do you have strict privacy settings, but that they are reviewed frequently.
Self-censor and refrain from unprofessional or offensive public postings, and do not share too much. Personal pictures of your home life have no business being on your professional profile.