Social Media and Education

I have been “on the internet” (if you count e-mail) since before most of my students were born.

(Side note: Holy Moses. How can that be true?? I am so youthful! Ahem.)

In college (late 90’s/early 00’s), I had my first website — a sample teaching site I created using DreamWeaver that I thought was amazing (it was not, and I never used it again).

Later, I, like the rest of the planet, joined MySpace.

I was already a teacher by then and made it my policy to not “friend” students — not that any of them knew I had a MySpace account anyway. In fact, the only people in my “friends” were people I actually knew in real life.

Really I don’t remember much about MySpace. It was really short-lived because it was so…teeny-bopper.

After MySpace, came Facebook and soon after, Twitter. Sometime in there — in 2007 — I started a blog.

After my son was born in 2009, my blog that only my mom read became something with actual subscribers and followers. I gained a modest Twitter following and created a fan page for my blog.

I am on Pinterest and LinkedIn.

I know a lot about social media.

I also know that to teenagers, Twitter is the new Facebook.

I know they are not hanging out on G+.

I know many of them have Tumblr accounts.

I know that even though they may not have internet access at home, almost all teenagers are online.

I am also well aware that most teachers and parents have no idea what any of this means and it scares the living crap out of them.

Their reaction is to ban all the things in school. Throw up firewalls.

I mean, do you know what kids put “out there” these days? I do, and it ain’t pretty, my friends.

I totally understand the fears. We don’t want kids wasting computer lab/research time chatting on Twitter or Facebook. We don’t want them to be cyber-bullying while in school. We don’t want them to be doing anything non-academic.

If we allow cell phones in class, won’t kids text their friends? And won’t they Instagram each other test questions?

I suppose this is all possible. We have all seen the instances where kids take video with their phones of something in school and it goes viral and becomes problematic for someone.

But I have a different idea.

What if we didn’t ban it and try to pretend that school is a social media-free zone?

What if…and this may be hard for some people to wrap their heads around…what if we embraced it and learned about it and used it as a tool in our classrooms?

What if we incorporated the use of social media into the technology we use in our classrooms? What if we were able to model and guide students to be better internet citizens instead of acting like Lindsay Lohan Gone Wild?

One of the biggest arguments against using social media in the classroom, however, is that students and teachers should not be “connecting” anywhere but the classroom.

I agree with this. To an extent.

Students can already e-mail my school account whenever they have questions (of course I do not give them any of my other e-mail accounts, although my blog e-mail can be found quite easily on my blog), and many have found me on Twitter and have used that avenue to ask me questions on weekends about assignments and test studying.

There are those who have concerns that students follow me on Twitter. My answer to that is always that I never portray myself on any social media in a way that I would not be welcome to my employers, my students, or their parents to see. The point of my Twitter and Facebook fan page are for my blog and my writing. I want people to see an honest version of me (it’s the only version I have), but not so honest that I am talking about things that are incredibly personal.

I want to be someone who brands and companies might want to write for them.

This means that I am careful to not be inappropriate, vulgar, or offensive when I am online.

So if students follow me on Twitter they will probably get to see what I had for dinner, how my three-year old is doing with potty training, and what kind of nap schedule my seven-month old is currently on.

I am just a lame adult to them.

However I am thinking of opening a just for school Twitter account. I would not follow students back (trust me, no one wants to know what they are posting on there.), but they could follow me and I would tweet links for class help, reminders, etc.  It would also give them a way to ask questions about class and whatnot.

I have used blogs with my classes in the past too. Blogs are places I can post discussion type questions or links to things that have to do with themes we see in our literature and they can have a “discussion” in the comments.

These posts can be tweeted out to my students via my school Twitter.

Teenagers readily abuse social media without even knowing it. To bring it in the classroom and teach them how the “real world” uses it and to turn it around and use it positively in class would be a big step in educating the next generation not just in our content, but in how to be a good citizen of the world.

Because that is what social media really is about — making the world a little bit smaller.