Using Social Media in the Classroom Tip 2 -­ Be clear why you want to use it

This series of 10 posts is an effort to document my thoughts about and collate resources upon 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.

There is effort involved in using social media in an effective and efficient way. Social media content is usually public facing. There are privacy concerns, copyright issues, school policies to work with. It is a constantly changing environment. Therefore it is necessary to be clear why you would want to use it to make this care and effort worth while!

Two relevant quotes from Dr Doug Belshaw writing about social media in Further Education:

“One thing that social networks have brought us is the ability to follow the everyday work and contact people who, in previous generations, would have been inaccessible.” [1]

“Students can follow debates that public intellectuals and experts in a particular field are having today. This can lend a vibrancy and freshness to learning that textbooks and other ‘static’ media cannot provide.” [1]

I believe it is important to see different use cases of social media. Firstly there is an educator using social media to develop ideas and get support via a network. Secondly there is the integration of social media into teaching and learning practices. Thirdly there is the use of social media in engaging with parents and other stakeholder members of the school community. 

Social media lets me engage with other teaching professionals across the globe. I really enjoy seeing what Matt Podbury is up to in his geography classroom in Toulouse. I use Twitter to harvest ideas for lessons, offer and receive support and encouragement and keep up-to-date with the changing approaches and ideas.

Student (and stakeholder) engagement and the acknowledgment that social media is the current norm in digital communication and are the main reasons I champion it’s use. Our students will be exposed to more social media - not less - as they get older. Social media usage will become a greater element of their further education and academic studies not smaller. Social media engages with (most) students. It is highly culturally relevant to them. I believe that they need help seeing both the useful social and communication elements of it. It doesn’t just have to be the use of a Facebook to ‘collaborate’ on homework. As Dr Doug Belshaw mentioned it allows much easier access to relevant organisations, experts and academics. I feel that our student need support to know how to make the most of this opportunity and approach these individuals and organisation in a polite, respectful and effective way.

The reason why I encourage IB DP geography students to ‘like’ the geographyalltheway Facebook page is that by posting a relevant article (and linking it to the syllabus) I hope to get some academic/geography into their news feeds.

Engaging colleagues within your school with social media can be challenging. Start small. Do not expect to mention Twitter in one professional development session and then expect everybody to be tweeting by the next day. Expect conversations about what is ‘best to try’? Ask questions - what sort of media are you trying to curate and share? Who are you trying to engage with? Do you want to present a flow of information or start a dialogue? These questions and their possible answers are important? Can you get all of one department using the same digital social tool?

Social media has a huge potential in engaging with parents. Social media posts can provide a snapshot into what is happening in a classroom, department or school. My children’s school actively posts to Twitter. I follow those tweets. The conversation that starts ‘so what did you do at school today?’ is extended far beyond ‘not a lot’ if I can add that I saw a photo of my daughter watching a visiting speaker or my son doing some group work. There are privacy issues to deal with - ‘I wasn’t on Twitter at school today Daddy because somebody in my group isn’t allowed’ - but with open communication with parents about the reasons behind what you are doing and by taking sensible steps such as not including names, means positive and productive steps can be taken.

[1] 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.