Teachers fighting against technology for their students’ attention isn’t a new issue. I remember in my primary school days the devastation that rocked the student body when it was announced that Tamagotchis were banned in school. We suddenly had to trust the fate of our beloved virtual pets to our parents, who would neglect to clean up their digital droppings and cause them to get sick or even die!
The newest nuisance facing teachers today is a generation of students addicted to smartphones and social media. Obnoxious ringtones interrupting lessons, students tuning out teachers to tweet, and the risk of cheating have led teachers to discourage, and in some cases completely ban, smartphone use in the classroom.
However, like any other forms of technology, smartphones and social media have their benefits and drawbacks: it all depends on how you use them. Some teachers have chosen not to fight, but instead embrace the technological trends among students, and even leveraged them to enhance classroom engagement. You know the old saying: If you can’t beat them, join them!
Here are some of the ways social media can be used to engage students in education.
Get Creative with Assignments
The sky’s the limit for assignment ideas with social media. By using social media in assignments, teachers have an opportunity to show they’re in touch with their students’ world. They could start small by posting daily/weekly quizzes on Twitter. These could be anything from a word game for English class to a math puzzle/problem for the students to solve.
If you want to create a bigger assignment, you could try assigning a photo journal on Instagram. Photo journals can be used in any subject: Math, Geography, Science, Art, English; you name it! For a History lesson, you could set an assignment to create a social media account (Facebook page or Twitter account) for a famous historical figure, imagining what they would post or tweet if they lived in today’s digital age.
The great thing about using social media for assignments is you can help your students build a professional portfolio with it. A student’s blog or Instagram account may just come in handy for a job application. If you’re teaching the bigger kids who will soon be graduating high school and moving into the real world, why not set an assignment to create their own LinkedIn page? It’s something they can continue to build upon long after school ends.
It may be no surprise that a girl who grew up to write tech blogs adored writing in primary school. Updating my diary in class was my favourite part of the week, and I put great effort into writing detailed accounts for every entry (unlike my younger brother who used his school diary as merely another medium to slander his sister). I only wish we had blogs when I was in primary school so I could’ve saved myself the finger calluses and wrist strain on my longer entries!
Some lucky students these days will never have to know that pain, as their school embraces blogging as a classroom activity. Their diary entries, paintings or any other school work can be uploaded on their personal blog where teachers can track their progress and learning throughout the year. What’s even better is when you have a digital record, it’s always there to refer back to. Writing pads, sketchbooks and loose pieces of paper get crumpled, marked, lost or thrown away, but a blog is there to stay.
Facebook didn’t exist when I was in high school; we were still stuck in the MSN and Myspace days. However, I did make great use of it once I got to University. Facebook groups were a wonderful way to work on group assignments. Any time there was an update or you needed to ask someone a question, you could just post it in the Facebook group and the reply would come a lot quicker than if you had sent it in an email (because, let’s face it, people check their Facebook way more often). Not only can students utilise this platform for their group assignments, but teachers can make groups for their classroom, where they all have a central place to discuss things.
A lot of schools have also decided to start their own Facebook page. This allows them to distribute any crucial information to parents who are using Facebook. It certainly solves the problem of parents missing out on information printed in the school bulletin, which got crushed and forgotten at the bottom of their kid’s schoolbag. Parents can also be kept in the loop via Instagram. A classroom can start an Instagram account to showcase their student’s work or upload photos from field trips, where parents can view/download them. I know my parents would have preferred a digital copy of my work rather than the bulky A3 paintings I brought home every day from kindergarten.
One of the great ways social media can help students is by keeping them across important lessons even if they’re off sick or on holiday. Teachers can tweet brief overviews of the day’s lessons for anyone who might’ve missed out or even anyone who wants to do extra study on the topic. They can also upload assignment sheets to Google Drive where they can always be accessed. Platforms like Twitter are also extremely useful to post out last minute reminders or act as bulletin boards for crucial dates like essay deadlines!
Social media’s greatest asset is that it is, just as the name suggests, social! Its ability to help us connect is what drove millions to sign up to a variety of social media sites. Facebook has helped me reconnect with old primary school friends and maintain contact with relatives who live far away. So how can teachers use this to their advantage?
Skype is a fantastic way to have face-to-face conversations with people, even if they’re on the other side of the world. You could use Skype to organise a guest lecture/talk with an expert you may have previously thought impossible to get in touch with. If you teach a language or geography, you could Skype with people from other countries to create a really interesting lesson.
Twitter is another great platform to connect with people. Tweet at an expert and see if you get a reply. Create or follow a hashtag to track an issue or topic your class is studying. If you’d rather be the ones doing the sharing, make a YouTube video with your class. Who knows? You could become a new internet sensation!
When it comes to using social media in the classroom, your only limit is your imagination.
Know of any examples where social media has been used positively in schools? Let us know in the comments below.