Everywhere you turn nowadays, you see evidence of the popularity of social media networks. They are on our laptops, Ipods and Smartphones.
Our students are even more connected and engaged in various forms of social media websites. Facebook, MySpace, Twitter, the list goes on and on. Our students are far more confident at navigating their way through social media sites than the average adult is. As educators, many of us fear social media and shudder at the thought of incorporating it into our classes. Why do so many of us hesitate to use social media with our students? Are we worried that our students will be off-task, more engaged socially than educationally? Are we concerned that our students are so advanced that we may no longer be the expert? Or, do we believe that social media is not a part of educationally sound practice?
Some schools ban access to social media sites. Why? Students still find ways to connect to social media networks despite the fact they are supposedly banned. Furthermore, a 'social media-free' world is not our students' reality. Each day, at lunchtime and afterschool there is a big spike in our wireless internet usage at school. This is because when students leave our classrooms, where they are often prohibited from using their smartphones, they immediately connect to social media websites.
Social media has become so popular that some students no longer have email addresses. Many students no longer communicate in that way. Facebook is by far the most popular network used by students. Kids use Facebook for social reasons because it is one of the easiest ways to contact their network of friends. Facebook also provides students the ability to control who views the information they post. Unquestionably, high school students have all had their taste of social media. Elementary students have been born into a world of social media. One thing is for certain, they are not turning back! Banning these websites and completely prohibiting the use of smartphones in classes means we are creating an artificial environment in our classes, an environment that does not resemble our students' worlds outside of school. We musn't shy away from our responsibility to teach students how to be respectful digital citizens, how to use social media appropriately and in a positive way.
Often times, we work with students who have posted inappropriate photos, comments or messages on Facebook or other social media networks. I'm not advocating for social media to become the content or to be included in every lesson of every class, but when and where it is approrpriate as a learning tool for students to engage in the curricular content, we should encourage the use of social media in the classroom. Examples include using Twitter as a forum for a class discussion around an open-ended question or topic. Twitter could also be used as a way for students to request ideas and thoughts of others. Facebook can be used by students as a way to promote or market an idea to the student body or the local community. It is through using these tools to accomplish these types of projects that students will learn to use social media in not only an appropriate way, but also a way that promotes positive change. Where else are our students going to learn how to communicate properly and effectively in a digital world if they don't learn it at school. Schools should be safe places for students to make mistakes. If we don't allow our students to make mistakes at school, where we can guide or redirect them, where else or who else will they take their cues from? Who will model for them what we consider appropriate digital communication?
Our students already know how to operate the technology. What many of them don't know is how powerful a tool it can be and how to use it to inspire positive change in their local and global communities. Students are growing up in a shrinking world, where people from all over the globe are being drawn closer and closer together through the use of technology. Social media can facilitate a reciprocal sharing and learning process between students from distant parts of the world. Our students of today are going to become our leading thinkers of tomorrow. They are the ones who will be asking the challenging questions and collaborating to solve the world's problems. If they aren't already doing so, in the future our students will be drawing the attention of people worldwide by publishing thought provoking questions, statements, pictures, videos, etc. The information they publish has the potential to initiate local and global change.
I know many of us are hesitant when it comes to using social media in the classroom, but we must be willing to take the risk. We can't hold our students back any longer. It's time to let our students communicate and influence the world.