There is one comment that my professor in Teacher’s College made over 20 years ago which I will always remember. “You need to truly understand your students, where they are coming from and what interests them if you want to have any hope of reaching them.” I believe that statement to be true in many ways. If we truly want to excite and engage our students in learning, then we need to consider their interests, prior experiences and what ultimately motivates them. While the answers to these questions will vary from child to child, there is one area of interest which is virtually unanimous…technology and the use of social media. In fact, according to a relatively new 2013 survey from Pew Internet and American Life Project, together with Harvard’s Berkman Center, 95% of teen students use the Internet and 81% of them utilize social media sites. (1) This is a number which continues to grow daily. With these facts in mind, those in the education field should harness this unique force in order to benefit their students, schools and districts in general.
It is true that there are essentially two trains of thought in regards to using social media in schools, those for it, and those opposed. Quite often those in the “against it camp” point to safety concerns such as bullying, and privacy invasion to illustrate their point. These are actually very real issues. Nevertheless, there are many ways to address them by following proper safety guidelines and protocols. I actually discussed this very issue in one of my previous articles entitled “9 points to consider before posting on social media. I would contend that when used properly, social media is an extremely engaging and powerful educational tool for school districts, schools, teachers, parents and students. To back up this claim, I have listed 7 top reasons to use social media in education.
7 Top Reasons Why Educators Need To Use Social Media:
1. Student Engagement: There can be little doubt that our children are beyond familiar with social media. In fact, it is an excellent tool to help engage and motivate our students. By attempting to provide resources and materials which interest our students, we are going a long way towards increasing their motivation. When social media is used as a learning tool at school and in class, it is an extremely powerful motivator. We need to remember to approach our students based upon their experiences and interests. Also, since we are all aware that social media is not merely a passing trend, we do have the responsibility as educators to teach our students how to use it properly. A great post by Justin Tarte in his blog illustrates why this point is so important.
2. Communication: In education, we are frequently looking for the best ways to communicate messages to our communities. We all know that most of the newsletters which are sent home tend to get lost somewhere along the way, never making it to their destination. Using social media such as Twitter, Facebook or Google+ can allow schools and teachers to communicate directly and instantly with parents and students. Not only that, but it allows school districts to send messages to their various schools and parent populations. It is a very effective communication tool. Actually, it is beyond effective!
3. Parental Engagement: We all know that parent engagement is critical for the success of students and schools. However, we also realize that it can be very difficult for many parents to become involved with their child’s school due to exceptionally long or conflicting work hours. This is a great opportunity for schools to inform and engage parents through various social media outlets. Parents will be able to be informed, involved and engaged in a virtual and meaningful way.
4. Sharing Student Work and Best Practices: Social media is a wonderful place to share amazing accomplishments which are happening at schools and within school districts. It can be very motivating for students to see a Tweet about their amazing work or a Google+ conversation using their work as an exemplar to aspire to. Likewise, social media allows teachers and other staff members to instantly share the best practices they are using in their classrooms. No longer are they confined to the 4 walls of their classrooms or actual school. Best practices can be shared through social media and they open up a whole new network of learning.
5. Cost: I hate to make everything always come back to cost, but it is a very pressing concern. School budgets are tighter than ever before and there are very few signs that this is going to drastically change anytime soon. When schools invest in such things as school display signs, newsletters and website maintenance, they come with a significant cost. The school will end up paying this cost as they want to communicate and share messages. However, social media is not only a very effective way to communicate these messages…but it is also free!
6. Collaboration: Personally, I feel that social media has really helped me collaborate with others on an unprecedented level. Through Twitter, Facebook and Google+ I am able to communicate and collaborate with other educators across the globe. This allows access to brilliant minds, articles and literature and a new form of virtual Professional Learning Teams which never existed before the onset of social media. This is something which can work for all education stakeholders including, teachers, parents and students. I often see different parent groups collaborating on social media as well as various student groups and councils. Also, teachers are able to collaborate through social media and constantly upgrade their skills and participate in ongoing professional development. Not only this, but they are also able to collaborate with their students in regards to assignments in a timely and effective manner. Social media has certainly opened the door to ongoing collaboration for all.
7. Global in Nature: The world is more connected than at any other point in history. There really is very little doubt of that. There are amazing things going on at school districts everywhere around the globe. We can all learn from one another and do not need to be always looking for local solutions. Also, we need to teach our children about the ever increasingly connected world and how to understand, appreciate and accept opinions and ideas we may have never even thought about before. Social media can help us accomplish these goals as it truly is the way of the future.
As educators, it is our responsibility to do whatever it takes to help our students learn. As such, we need to utilize every tool which is provided for us. Social media provides us with something which is very unlike what we have traditionally been accustomed to…and it is very powerful. Not only does it help us to engage the kids with the actual applications, but it helps us to engage, collaborate, communicate and learn from a host of individuals throughout the world. We can then use that information to continually improve the educational experience for our own children. To say that is powerful really is an understatement.