Teachers Embracing Social Media in the Classroom
The number of educators who now welcome social media into the classroom is growing. Some go so far as to say that the use of services such as Facebook, Twitter and YouTube are an integral part of a 21st century education.
This represents a sea change for educators. Until recently, most schools banned students from using social media tools in the classroom. But progressive educators say this represents a major disconnect with the world that awaits them outside the school walls. It's not protecting them today so much as handicapping them tomorrow.
Chris Lehmann, principal of the Science Leadership Academy (SLA) in Philadelphia, is in the vocal vanguard calling for an end to the arbitrary digital divide between the classroom and the real world.
"Kids work and live in the world," Lehmann told TechNewsDaily. "And that is a very different paradigm than what we are used to."
To him, the use of social media enables students to see how their social networks can influence their school activities and vice versa.
A real-world perspective
"One of the things we try to do is not just look at the idea of social networking, but also look at the notion of academic networking," Lehmann said. "We want kids to understand that the digital footprint they leave matters. We try to teach kids that they can be a force in the world. Their voice can matter."
Social and academic networking in the context of their education allows kids to see their work in a wider world, he said. "We're at the point now where kids have access to the world beyond their walls. I think that's an amazing thing."
Social media such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube bring additional voices and views into the classroom and help stimulate both engagement and understanding. “Now, when you have something like the Haitian earthquake happen, kids are accessing the most current and powerful information right along with the rest of the world,” Lehmann said. “They’re analyzing that and they’re making sense of the world. And they’re doing that with a teacher who cares about them.”
But, Lehmann cautions, the use of social media in school can't be left to chance; it needs to be mediated. "It's very much a part of our curriculum," he said. "The kids take a semester-long technology class at the beginning of the ninth grade. It teaches the kids to use the tools in the context of their academic classrooms."
Social media does not replace the existing curriculum, Lehmann said – it's a transformation of it.
Eric Sheninger, the principal of New Milford High School in New Jersey, agreed. "You can utilize all these tools to help engage students and make lessons and learning even better," he said. "But you must have a solid pedagogical foundation. You still need to teach things like handwriting, spelling and grammar."
Kids use social media tools to communicate with each other outside of school; it's the new lingua franca. Sheninger finds it hard to understand why educators are reluctant to tap that interest and level of engagement and make it part of the interaction between teachers and students as well.
"Schools need to think how powerful it could be as a learning tool to bring that engagement outside the classroom into the classroom," he said. "This is a simple way that we can teach the curriculum. We all know that some parts of the curriculum are not that exciting. But if you're teaching something that's usually bland and you insert a simple tool that allows students to connect with each other or their peers in other schools and countries whenever they want, you just see kids' faces light up. That's what we saw in a class where our kids were talking to students in Iowa."
Social media helps students learn how to collaborate, Sheninger believes. Collaboration is viewed by educators of all stripes as being the quintessential skill for students in the 21st century. New Milford High School has made collaboration a pillar of its educational platform.
“We’re rewriting the curriculum,” Sheninger said. “We have a computer application course here that every ninth grader takes. They learn Office, meaning Word, PowerPoint and Excel. Now, I’ve rewritten it so that every kid has to register for a Google account. We’re going to teach students how to collaborate using Google Docs so when they do cooperative learning assignment they don’t have to be in the same space. They can work on the assignment where it’s convenient for them.”
'Not the enemy'
For Sheninger, Twitter is the tool of choice for real-time communication and collaboration. “My whole premise for being on Twitter is to establish this network of passionate educators who will really see value in integrating technology ,” he said. “For me, it’s like a 24/7 buffet of whatever I need at a given point in time.”
Social media allows anyone to collaborate anywhere in the world at any time and pull from the whole sea of resources out there, Sheninger believes. "We as schools owe it to the communities to help students become engaged with these types of media," he said. "Our major responsibility is to teach kids to be socially responsible. If we're not doing it in school, who's doing it at home? Most kids are unsupervised when they're on Facebook or YouTube. Who is actually teaching these kids how to use them for learning?"
Social media can also play a valuable public-facing role for schools, says Shenninger, an avid and active social media participant. "This is the best public relations tool at our disposal," he told TechNewsDaily. "I want to flood every medium I can to get the world out that educators are doing great things with social media. It's not the enemy."
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