Over this past week I’ve been asked a couple of times about my experiences using social media in class. The fact is social media is already part of our students’ daily lives. The are active in various digital spaces. While the media focuses mainly on the potential negatives of kids sharing online, there are many positive aspects to social media. It’s a fun way to find and stay connected with friends, but it’s also a way for us to learn new things, show our creativity, voice our opinions, and collaborate with others.
Many of my sixth graders already have Twitter and Instagram accounts. I know that some are on Tumblr, Facebook, and Google+, and I wouldn’t be surprised to learn some are using Vine, Snapchat, Kik Messenger, WhatsApp, or Whisper. There are so many social apps and websites it’s impossible to keep up, and new ones are developing all the time. It’s not important that you or your students master a particular tool because the apps will come and go. What matters is the deeper thinking, learning, and connecting that social media affords and the dispositions it helps us develop.
Here are four suggestions to help you get started using social media in the classroom:
- Teach and model good citizenship. Don’t differentiate between how one acts in person and how he acts online. The same guidance should apply. Teach students how to use social media in all the positive ways. Model these things through your own use of social media and talk about it with your students. Show them how you learn through Twitter, how you express your creativity on Instagram or YouTube, how you express your opinions through blogging, and how you collaborate with others through Voxer. Most importantly, help them see how you show thoughtfulness and kindness in what you post. Set up guidelines, practice sharing, and offer grace as they make mistakes along the way. A great resource that might help as get started is Common Sense Media’s Social Media Topic Center.
- Connect with other teachers and classrooms. There are many ways you can do this effectively. In the past few years, we’ve connected with other classes on Edmodo during the Global Read Aloud. We’ve also Skyped with other classes to help with research projects and to learn about schools in other countries. This year, I’m considering Quadblogging to help my students develop an audience for their blogs and better connect with other students around the world.
- Share what’s happening in your classroom. Create a Chief Tweeting Officer role in your classroom so different students tweet the learning that happens each day. Your CTO could tweet several times throughout the class period, share a creative headline to summarize important learning, or pose questions to followers to draw in outside opinions. One idea I may try this year is adding a Chief Instagram Officer role to my class. Maybe we’ll share a photo-of-the-day complete with a caption to express our thinking and learning.
- Consider and talk about safety and privacy concerns. Obviously, not everything needs to be shared online. Students need to know the dangers in location-sharing apps. Talk about privacy concerns with your students. One reason I like using class accounts is that my students aren’t sharing their personal information. We identify ourselves in our posts using only initials or first names, and we always get permission before posting a photo of someone else. People have the right to not use social media if they choose and that’s okay. When I a student doesn’t want to use social media, I engage them in a conversation to learn their thoughts on the matter. Why do they want to opt out? Then, we decide together how to move on from there.
Using social media can be a positive addition to our classrooms, but it can also become a distraction if we aren’t careful. Remind students the primary goal is to deepen and share our learning. The tools shouldn’t get in the way of that. If they do, it’s time to reconsider what we’re doing or how we’re doing it.
What tips do you have for using social media in class? What resources have you found useful? What new mediums are you planning to try this year? I’d love to hear your thoughts.