Tips for Integrating Social Media into Your Classroom
Facebook may be just 11 years old, but it’s the grandparent of a social media culture that’s rapidly finding its way into our teaching environment. Social media platforms have all the benefits and liabilities of the revolution they ushered in — as long as we have the ability to connect instantly, people will either love it or hate it.
The upside of social media is that it’s a solid platform for people to exchange thoughts and ideas without having to be in the same room (or even the same continent). But it also lacks face-to-face accountability and enables a kind of anonymous viciousness that encourages some to walk away from social media altogether.
What’s the best way to integrate social media into today’s classrooms? A few thoughts spring to mind:
Get the message out
Social media is an excellent outward-bound communication tool. It allows micro-targeting of parents, colleagues and community members, offering an opportunity to spread the message about your class activities, student expectations and class philosophy to the people who need to hear it most.
An online follower with a smartphone or computer has immediate access to information about your work. The sharing of news, information and pictures via social media can be expanded to include student work and presentations. Keep in mind, though, that you need school and parent permission before you can post any identifying information.
Back and forth? Not so much…
Social media’s benefits begin to break down when information exchanges start happening. Imagine passing through a crowded public square and noticing a developing argument between two otherwise civil-looking people. Rather than speaking quietly to each other off to the side, they instead yell at each in short bursts that grow longer and more heated until finally they have no idea what they were originally talking about.
That’s the real-world version of what a “Twitter fight” looks like online. You have to be cautious about deeply engaging someone online, especially if it’s a topic fraught with controversy. Consider the advice of author Emily Bazelon, who says she reads none of the comments about her writing on social media. Furthermore, the seemingly anonymous nature of social media commenting offers a safe harbor for those looking to injure.
You can set the class narrative
Your classroom has a culture whether you realize it or not. A positive and productive social media presence offers you the opportunity to convey that culture beyond the classroom. Parents often tell me they feel unaware of what their children are doing in school. It’s not that they don’t trust the teacher — they just feel unable to assist their children at home with schoolwork and projects.
Informing parents of upcoming class activities and at-home assignments via social media is an efficient and quick way to eliminate that concern. This also runs hand-in-hand with today’s increasingly transparent and open society.
Make it a combo platter
Quality teachers use many tools to engage their students and families. Along with regular use of email, paper newsletters, and phone calls, social media updates can be one piece of the overall puzzle to create open and encouraging classrooms.
As with other parts of your responsibilities, relying on a single strategy should be reserved for when that is the only (and best) way to achieve the goal. Otherwise, offering a wide variety of options is the way to go.
Consider Rushkoff’s work
Author Douglas Rushkoff explored the world of social media in his PBS Frontline special “Generation: Like.” The big takeaway from his work is that social media is here to stay, it’s affecting us in ways we have yet to realize, and we need to integrate it into our lives. This gives us the best chance to use it productively.