What Role Should Social Media Play in Students’ Education?

January 22, 2013

At Home,In the Classroom

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Less than a decade ago, “friend” was strictly a noun and tweeting was something better left to the birds.  Today, social media websites like Facebook and Twitter have dramatically changed the way we communicate and learn.  While there is much to be excited about, there is also cause for concern when it comes to younger learners.  In a world where technology is gaining traction in schools all around the world, what role should social media play—or not play—in students’ education?

“Parents worry about what’s age-appropriate, what should be kept private, and exposure to cyberbullying, among many other issues,” writes Tina Barseghian in a MindShift blog post about children and media.  We’ve all heard the heart-wrenching news stories of adolescents being bullied online by their peers, sometimes with tragic results.

Middle school principal Anthony Orsini is aware of a growing sense of “angst” in his own school.  “Stranger danger is unbelievably minute compared to the social and emotional damage they receive from each other every day,” he says.

Others take a different perspective, choosing to approach the use of social media as a learning opportunity.  “Schools aren’t teaching kids to be digitally responsible,” says high school principal Eric Sheninger in the same blog post by Barseghian.  “We can’t fault kids for doing something wrong on Facebook or Twitter because we’re not teaching them. We need to have digital citizenship curriculum in schools.”

After all, there are many positive examples of schools using social media to enhance students’ learning experiences.  An article from Edudemic features ten such schools whose social media activity ranges from tweeting videos of student performances for parents to see, to posting updates about homework assignments, to having students use cell phones to answer quizzes in class.

Still, the uncertainty remains:  How should students be using social media in school, if at all?  How old should a child be before he or she engages in social media?  And what does it mean to be a digital citizen?

{ 3 comments… read them below or add one }

Erica D January 22, 2013 at 12:54 pm

We cannot ignore that social media is HERE. As educators, we so often complain of students not taking the steps toward us – “they don’t do homework,” “they won’t read anything,” “they don’t care about anything…” Well, yes, those things are true (sometimes). However, many times we complain without taking a step toward the students. Speaking to students in their “digital language” and “digital landscape” does not have to equate to watering down content or expectations. Instead, we need to find fresh ways to engage students and make their learning authentic and meaningful. If we want students to take two steps toward us (and engage in the work about which we are passionate), we might need to take a few steps to them and speak their language. I think one mark of a great teacher is the one who can make all of our traditional curricular material MEAN SOMETHING in the 21st century, using 21st century tools. If I have to tweet lines from Macbeth to get students to see the connection between his ambition and Lance Armstrong’s, then so be it.

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Nan January 22, 2013 at 3:54 pm

Excellent comment, Erica. I’m just finishing a degree in Instructional Technology. Whining about the good old days will never educate the children of today! I had a very wise principal who once said, we have to teach the kids we have, not the ones we WISH we had. And I find that when we meet the kids where they are and help them reach higher, the job is more fun and it is easier to love the kids.

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Lise February 5, 2013 at 1:50 pm

I love IXL. It makes me feel so smart. I feel like I am always in control of what I am learning and that if at any time I need help I can get it. I have not felt this way about any learning site in my life.

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