Social media involves creating, sharing, discussing or exchanging ideas and information online. It is distinct from traditional media, which typically involves formal one-to-many communications. Social media is much less formal and more collaborative. It allows people to connect immediately in virtual communities and networks, generating and sharing their own content and interacting directly with the content of others.
When people think of social media, they tend to think of networking sites like Facebook or Twitter, where people socialise, but educators and professionals can use social networking sites, too. For instance, schools can use Facebook and Twitter to market themselves in the same way as any business or organisation. Social networking sites can help to promote the school’s image, and because both allow two-way communication, they can help build a sense of community.
Schools can create groups on Facebook to communicate with students or teachers. Privacy settings allow users to restrict membership, which means teachers can answer questions from, share documents and videos with, and post homework to, students enrolled in a specific class. Teachers and students can also use groups to share information.
Schools can use Twitter in a number of ways, too. Schools can link to an RSS feed from their website that automatically tweets a news article when it is published, while teachers can tweet information related to their class, such as lesson recaps, links and homework, and answer questions from the students who follow them.
Social networking sites can help to promote the school’s image, and because both allow two-way communication, they can help build a sense of community.
Social media can also involve education-specific tools like Edmodo, which allows teachers to create a group calendar, post assignments, share and upload files, and host secure classroom discussions.
Blogging platforms like Kidblog.org and edublog.org allow teachers and students to participate in academic discussion within a secure blogging community. Teachers can create classroom discussions, students can practice writing skills, create an e-portfolio, post videos, documents and podcasts.
There are many benefits of using social media in schools. The use of social media encourages collaboration, the exchange of ideas and best practices, boosting a school’s professional community. Social media can increase communication between teachers and students, and can help parents see what teachers expect from their students, facilitating classroom involvement. Its use can increase educational networking, stimulating engagement, discussion and understanding. Students can learn to collaborate in a real-world setting and develop positive attitudes to technology. Social media can also connect students with experts around the globe, allowing them to learn about many topics from different viewpoints. Students can create their own learning materials to share, and blogs encourage students to express themselves.
The use of social media encourages collaboration, the exchange of ideas and best practices.
Of course, there are downsides to using social media in schools, too. Social media has been accused of affecting student’s ability to concentrate in class, with fears that student’s work is suffering as a result. Given the unmediated and impermanent nature of online content, students regularly use and are exposed to various shorthand words, poor spelling and grammar, and so-called ‘txt’ speak, which is increasingly reflected in the quality of work being submitted. Some fear social media may also contribute to delayed and/or distorted social and emotional development.
There is therefore an argument for schools to employ social media in careful ways, to model its selective and educational use, while providing students with a framework and the critical thinking skills to compartmentalise how they use it. By using and modelling social media in the classroom, schools can help students recognise the need to put boundaries in place, so that the ways they engage with social media are balanced and appropriate. In this way, schools can equip their students to reap the benefits of social connectedness while helping them develop an understanding of the risks they encounter online every day.