Bright ideas for tech-savvy educators, right to your inbox

How Social Media Can Help Your Classroom

Wednesday, November 28, 2012 -- Scott Sterling

Because of a few bad examples set by both educators and students, teachers are understandably worried about using social media in their classrooms. Most districts have adopted stringent guidelines and acceptable-use policies in an effort to protect themselves, their employees, and their students from inappropriate use. For most educators, social networking is viewed as simply too dangerous to use.

But that hesitation means that some classrooms are missing out on valuable learning opportunities. Like it or not, today’s learner grew up with the ability to connect with hundreds of people through technology. It’s time to harness that ability for educational good.

For example, Twitter may prove to be the most prized website in your educational arsenal. You can use it to interact with students outside of class (subject to your district’s guidelines), as well as start classroom conversations with newsmakers and thought leaders of interest to your students. Some teachers use hashtags (the phrases that start with a #) to facilitate backchannel conversations during a lecture or other non-interactive learning activity and display those conversations using an LCD projector.

Students seem to only use Facebook as a massive waste of time, but by establishing a class page you can improve your classes’ organization immensely. You can post assignments, conduct online discussions, and post videos and other supplementary materials that you want the students to access from home or anywhere else outside of class. Just make sure your security settings restrict students to stay on task. You may want to even make it so that you have to approve any messages posted to the page.

A class blog provided through WordPress or another free blogging site could serve multiple purposes as well. If you are the one writing the entries, it may seem like an additional responsibility that you can’t afford. But if the kids are doing the writing, it’s a great way for them to demonstrate their mastery of the subject material and gives parents insight into what’s going on in class. Kids will always choose creative projects over the status quo, so give them the reigns to this new classroom tool (while maintaining final editorial control, of course).

Studies have proven time and again that students tend to respond more to technology than any other educational tool. Believe it or not, this generation of students has grown up with social networking and expects it to play a part in their educational experience. It’s time to turn this perceived enemy into a friend of the classroom and tap it for its potential.