In the ongoing search for new ways to teach students, educators and researchers have turned toward integrating technology into the classroom. Often, this approach to education involves using software specifically designed to help educate. However, students are increasingly tech savvy.
Away from school, they engage with one another using mobile apps and sometimes desktop software. This is exemplified by social media software, which has become increasingly popular among teens. However, the social media landscape has increasingly grown and fragmented over the past decade. While once Facebook dominated the social media scene, many new forms of social media have become increasingly popular.
Social media refers to a wide number of websites and applications meant, inherently, to bring people together. Previously, the internet was dominated by websites that segregated users. Forums required membership and even chatrooms were committed to single topics.
To share topics one enjoyed, a user had to send an email to a friend or friends with a link to a website, or perhaps send that link over a chat messenger. However, there was little that allowed for the widespread sharing of content on the scale that can be accomplished today.
The modern internet revolves around social media, and the success of social media arises from the fact that users can quickly spread content they enjoy or have made themselves to numerous friends. Friends can then share that content with their own circles as well, allowing for some content to quickly reach anywhere from a few dozen people to potentially millions.
Social media’s strength is in its ability to encourage collaboration and sharing, but each social media platform has its own set of strengths that can be leveraged in the classroom.
Although the list of social media sites is long, this review of social media in the classroom focuses on five of the largest platforms in existence: Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, YouTube, and Pinterest.
In the 21st century, Twitter has become more well known than almost any other form of social media thanks to its use by politicians and other high-profile celebrities. The service allows for rapid communication and the sharing of ideas in a way that few other forms of social media can. In brief, Twitter limits users to posts of 280 characters in which images and video can also be posted. Typically, people work within limits to debate ideas and discuss new global events.
However, Twitter also has a unique format that allows teachers to take advantage of it in ways that other social media formats are less adept at. In particular, Twitter relies on hashtags to quickly spread messages and restrict conversations to specific topics. For instance, anyone using the #Avengers hashtag may be trying to discuss the coming Marvel Avengers movie. Anyone searching that hashtag could see that thousands, if not millions, of Tweets being used to discuss the film.
Teachers can actually turn this reliance on hashtags to their advantage in the classroom. One of the simplest ways is by creating a hashtag that’s unique to your own classroom. For instance, #TeacherKenHistory. After coming up with your own hashtag, you can project a Twitter stream on the screen. Search up your hashtag, and you’ll see a feed of everyone who has made a post and attached your hashtag to it. During the class, you can use this in a variety of ways.
For instance, say that you want to encourage class participation, but you have students who are too shy to speak up. That doesn’t mean they don’t have questions about the material. As you’re going through your lecture, a student’s questions will pop up on the Twitter feed whenever they tag their question with their hashtag. They can even remain even more anonymous by creating a new Twitter profile.
You can also use the same twitter feed to get class feedback. Say that you ask the class a tough question and want to gather a few responses. You can ask your students to write up their responses and tag them with your hashtag so that you can read a few responses to the classroom. Or, you can create a Twitter poll on your profile and have students vote for their answer. This approach also doubles as a real time way of judging just how well students are understanding the material you’re covering.
One way of really ensuring that your students remain anonymous is by asking them to create a class specific Twitter name and submitting it. Using this approach, only you will know which student is posting responses. This can help you keep track of which students still aren’t participating in the class.
Facebook is a good deal different in its format than Twitter, lending it very different strengths that can be leveraged in a completely different way. Facebook can be used as an organizational tool that helps you keep your class up to date with assignments and changes to the course. To start your Facebook experience, you need to begin by creating a group on Facebook specifically for your class. Students don’t have to join the group, but they should still be able to access the group to find information that you post on there.
A Facebook group is a great way for keeping your students up to date on what’s due when and upcoming events. For instance, you can make a post to your group that includes a list of major dates, including dates of quizzes and tests. You can stick really important posts to the top of your group as well so that students can always see it every time they visit the group.
Returning to the idea of making a list of important dates, you can pin that post to the top of the group page so that students never have an excuse for forgetting major dates. Throughout the year, you can also make posts reminding students about homework that’s due or special events. You don’t have to pin these posts, and they will naturally fall to the bottom of the group as new posts are made.
Facebook can also be an important way of sharing resources with your students. For instance, there are copyright limits on what instructors can appropriate for their own lectures or post to their own videos. However, linking to the original sources can help your students access materials directly.
Say that you have a video that your students might enjoy or might help them with an assignment. You can post it directly to the group page so that they can follow the link and watch it on their own. You can use the same approach to connect to other materials, like reading materials or even educational games. When you have videos or pictures of your own you’d like to share, you can add them directly into one of your own posts for them to view on the group page.
Instagram is an entirely different form of social media that’s heavily focused on the sharing of visuals, including video and image. In design, it’s closer to Twitter than it is to Facebook, and users can even use hashtags to share visuals of a certain kind. For instance, searching the hashtag #butterfly would lead to images of only butterflies, although these could be anything from flying butterflies to drawings of butterflies.
Teachers can leverage Instagram in unique ways to add creative elements of the class and build comradery between students. For instance, teachers can use Instagram to enhance field trips.
On the one hand, memories of field trips can be captured and preserved using Instagram. Fun times between students can be preserved for the class to look up at any time. This process can be made easier by coming up with unique hashtags for the field trip pictures, such as #LibrayTripKensClass2016.
However, pictures taken on field trips don’t just have to be of memories. Students can take pictures as part of an activity. For instance, say you take a field trip to a nature area and ask your students to explore and take pictures of different types of flowers. They can tag their pictures with a unique hashtag.
Later, as a class, you can search the hashtag and view all the photos your class took. Then, as a group, you can go through each picture and determine what each kind of flower is. You could take a similar approach to trees, insects, and animals, which would help to create a more engaging science course.
Or, say you took your students to a historic battle site. You could ask your students to take photos of interesting places around the site. However, you could also task them with finding out what happened at those locations, perhaps by finding a nearby plaque with information about the surrounding area.
You could then display each picture and have students present their findings on the picture. Or, you could review the photos one by one and mark on a map of the site where every picture came from. This would help the class fill in the blank map with important locations found around the battle site.
Instagram can also be used as a way of generally showcasing student work. You can share pictures and video of work done in any course, although Instagram’s strength lies in powerful visuals. You could show pictures of artwork, science experiments, or collages.
Using Instagram in this way can help you to better connect with parents as well. By sharing the hashtag your class uses, parents can easily look up pictures of the sort of activities that their students are participating in. This is an easy way of helping encourage parental participation in the school lives of their children.
YouTube is completely different from Facebook, Twitter, or Instagram in that it is less focused on sharing messages and more focused on the sharing of videos. Its format is entirely different from the other major forms of social media in that it doesn’t feature a ‘feed’ in which messages from friends are shared and it doesn’t thrive on hashtags for searching related posts. Instead, YouTube is entirely focused on the creation and posting of videos, which can then be shared among friends using the system’s in-built sharing features.
Due to its nature, YouTube is less about bringing individuals together and more about serving up content. For that reason, teachers can use it to find additional resources that they can use in the classroom. It doesn’t take too long of a search for teachers to find entire channels dedicated only to creating educational content.
Sometimes, these might be broad channels that address a number of educational topics. In other cases, a channel might be entirely dedicated to a single subject. For instance, the television-based History Channel also maintains a YouTube channel with multiple playlists that discuss different times in history. Teachers just need to invest a little time in finding the right channels and videos that they can use in the classroom.
Teachers can do more than just find videos to play in the class, though. Instead, they can create their own channels that act as incredible resources for students. Teachers can create their own playlists. In those playlists, they can save videos they’ve found from across YouTube, creating a curated list of resources. A math teacher, for instance, might find creative and engaging videos explaining tough math concepts that students can reference. These videos can be organized in such a way that they discuss progressively more difficult topics.
Teachers who are most effective at using YouTube track down important channels, identify valuable resources, and deploy those resources in the classroom. They create resources lists that students can use to enhance their learning. YouTube can require a time investment to use successfully, but once a teacher has a list of resources, they can reuse those for years to come.
Pinterest is slightly similar to Instagram but is also distinctly different. Just like Instagram, Pinterest is an image sharing site. Where Instagram is heavily rooted in its mobile app roots, Pinterest is more heavily based in traditional desktop use. With Pinterest, users create online Pinterest boards. These boards are meant to discuss a single topic. So, if a history teacher wanted to discuss World War II, they would create a WWII board.
To that board, the history teacher can then pin images related to the war. Images of tanks and soldiers can be pinned. However, more than just general images can be pinned. Informative infographics and charts can be pinned that help students understand a topic better. For instance, a map of the D-Day invasion can be posted that includes detailed notes on how the invasion unfolded. In an adjacent image, the teacher can pin a timeline of how the battle unfolded and statistics of what happened that day.
Pinterest allows instructors to engage students visually while also creating organized sets of resources. Returning to the example of our history teacher, the instructor could create a separate board for different eras in history or create boards that mirror the sections being covered in a history book.
The teacher can then pin appropriate images and graphics that help students understand those segments of history better. Pinterest functions better as a resource because of this ability to organize images through boards, which is a function that Instagram lacks.
One of the issues involved with integrating social media into the classroom is the risk of the loss of privacy. Posting to social media makes students’ usernames available for others to find. However, there are ways of minimizing this risk.
Facebook groups don’t require joining and don’t require posting. This keeps their user names from being revealed publicly. Pinterest also doesn’t require feedback, since it can be integrated into the class mostly as a resource for students to access. YouTube also has the same advantage of acting mostly as a resource.
Tagging posts for services like Instagram and Twitter, however, require students to have a username that is attached to their post. This can be minimized by simply having class assigned user names that students use to interact online. These usernames don’t need to be accessed again after the school year is over. The username can be created by the student, but it may be better for teachers to have a system for creating student usernames. That way, usernames can be generated and assigned to new classes of students each year.
It’s clear that social media can play an important role in enhancing the learning experience, and each social media platform brings its own set of strengths that can be leveraged differently to support learning.
Social media can be used to increase student engagement, get parents involved in their children’s education, keep students up to date on important events, encourage collaboration within classes, and serve as resources that students can reference later on.
There may be a learning curve associated with becoming familiar with different social media platforms, but once mastered, these platforms can serve as valuable tools for teachers in the years to come.
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