Two years ago, my home computer’s internet connection stopped working. Until it was fixed, I utilized the computers at my local public library to go online. Often I had to wait for computer time behind teenagers poring over their Facebook or MySpace pages. Naïve as it was, I didn’t realize then just how pervasive social media already had become to teenagers. Now it’s even more so. Teens, tweens, and even younger children have embraced their roles as digital natives. Social media is a cornerstone of that identity, and that’s creating a challenge for educators. Questions have arisen about the appropriateness of social media in the classroom. Should it be banned outright? Can it be used to the educational advantage of students, or is it a surefire hindrance to learning? And, is it even safe?
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We first have to acknowledge that, at least for the foreseeable future, social media is here to stay. Second, we have to admit that students will be using it, with or without the blessings of teachers and parents. Third, we have to accept that it undoubtedly has the potential to be both great and terrible. So the real question is, how can we use social media as a tool for educational growth, while keeping our students as safe and focused as possible? Sadly, there is no one, surefire solution. There are, however, a few suggestions for where to begin.
For schools, accountability is key. Make clear social media policies for your teachers, administrators, and students. Write them down. Inform parents about them. Make sure to include what penalties will result from rule-breaking. Recognize that whatever policy you start with will almost invariably need to be altered over time, so set up regular reviews for it. Invite parents, legal advisors, education and social media experts, students, and the community to weigh in. Tweak the policy as necessary, and make sure everyone is aware of any changes. Finally, on the small chance that a severe infraction occurs—inappropriate contact between a student and teacher online, for example—act both immediately and as openly as possible to resolve the issue.
Social media isn’t just for posting pictures of friends or playing games. It presents tremendous opportunities for learning. NASA has a Facebook page and Twitter account. So does the New York Public Library. Yellowstone National Park, President and First Lady Obama, and The Art Institute of Chicago all do too. The list goes on and on. Don’t deny students the chance to learn from social media in the classroom. Just make sure they—and their educators—do so wisely.
What’s your take on social media in the classroom? Do you have examples of why it should or should not be used in schools? We want to hear about it in the comment section. And don’t forget to LIKE our Facebook page!
Robin Anderson grew up in Houston, Texas. She received her BA in English from The University of Texas. She currently lives in Austin with Puck, a tabby, and Ruby, a rat terrier mix. Robin has worked in the marketing department at Compass Learning since 2011.