Using Social Media in the Classroom Tip 1 ­- 'Be clear what social media is'

This series of 10 posts is an effort to document my thoughts and collate resources on the theme of social media and it’s use by educators. The starting point was a lecture I gave titled ‘Social media -­ 10 tips for using it effectively in the geography classroom’ at the 2016 Geographical Association Conference in Manchester, UK.

Students use it, most parents use it, some parents are concerned about it, a lot of staff use it personally, less staff use it professional and as the ‘Technology for Learning Coordinator’ I am always harping on about how we should all be embracing it more. It has a place in the ‘geography classroom’ and I believe social media can support the teaching and learning in most, if not all classrooms.

When we talk about ‘social media’ - some people applaud, others look away awkwardly and a few state ‘I do not do it’ - it is important to be clear what ‘social media’ is. 

In the words of Ollie Bray ‘social media is ’both powerful and purposeful [1]’. He adds scale to what most of us are seeing by stating ’pretty much the whole of the Web has now turned social and most new content that is published online allows for social interaction [1]’. The rating of a hotel on, the review of a restaurant on TripAdvisor, reading a review before you stay at a hotel or eat at a restaurant, sharing photos with far flung family members and the option to share what you have just bought from Amazon via Twitter or Facebook are all elements of social media. 

I have cobbled together my definition of social media as: digital tools that allow people to create, share or exchange information, ideas and media through a network of 'following' or being 'followed’. 

Not all digital tools that allow you to create something are ‘social’. The creation of a paragraph of text in a Google Document does not have to be ‘social’. As soon as it is shared with the purpose of collaboration it becomes ‘social’. I however do not believe that an educator saying ‘we have ticked social media as we do Google Docs’ is really taking advantage of what is out there! 

Sharing a link to an news article that may be useful to students reflecting upon a certain concept or theme is easy with a whole range of social media platforms. Sharing a link to a resource that you have produced and feel that others would benefit from. Tweeting to share your experiences and offer advice to colleagues (wherever they may be geographical). All these are powerful and purposeful uses of social media.

Exchange is two-way sharing. ‘The more you put in the more you get out.’ It is more than acceptable to be a ‘lurker’ on Twitter hoovering up the good ideas, support and links. However contributing and sharing your views and suggestions enriches the network (more about these in a minute) within which you operate.

Whatever type of information, ideas and media you are after there is a social media network for it. Instragram and Flickr for sharing images, Pinterest for curating them. YouTube and Vimeo for video. Soundcloud or YouTube for audio. Flipboard for curating content into magazines. Twitter for micro-blogging. Facebook for most of the above in one way or another. 

You build a network by following and being ‘followed’. The acting of building a network allows you to control who can see your shares and whose shares you can see. Having a private account and then allowing access to people as they request (as is the case with Facebook, Instagram, Twitter at the very least). Following certain individuals and organisations can really help you connect with the information, media and ideas you may want. An example maybe following a Twitter list that somebody else is curating like IB Geography Teachers on Twitter or the Instagram account of Tony Vincent.

You don’t have to be tweeting what you had for breakfast, sharing all your holiday photos on Facebook or sharing all your lesson plans online to be making effective and efficient use of social media. 

As an educator it is about accessing support and ideas beyond your immediate geographical area. 

As an educator working with students it is about accessing and sharing with a potentially huge audience.

As Dr Doug Belshaw wrote: 'The networks we use to communicate all have benefits and drawbacks, inbuilt biases and tendencies.  However, the question is not whether we should use these platforms, but how. [2]'

[1] Bray, 2012, Social Media in Education: Enhancing Learning and Managing eSafety, Bloxx
[2] Belshaw, Doug. "The Increasing Significance of Social Media in the Learner Journey [FE Week]." Open Educational Thinkering. N.p., 09 July 2015. Web. 15 Sept. 2016.