Social Media in Classrooms

Blackboard in shape of chat iconWhile discourse about social media in schools has often trended towards the negative, using social media for instruction purposes can bring new life to many subjects. Imagine a Facebook book page created by a class for an author or a figure in history, where the class goal is to speak in the person’s voice, post pictures from their life and comment on the texts they read written by the author or historical figure.

Some old friends of mine who found their way into the teaching professions recently asked on Facebook, ‘what good is social media in a classroom?’ I found I could tick off a number of uses I had encountered, raising intriguing possibilities for how it can be used. First there are professors supervising student teachers, who create a Facebook group each semester for student teachers in the field. Out on your own in a school and stumped? Log onto the Facebook group page for your fellow student teachers and post your inquiry or concern. With a smart phone in hand you are never alone and can access peer advice from any far-flung location.

Then there is Lalitha Vasudevan, a professor in CCTE at Teachers College, Columbia University who likes to construct her class “Culture, Media and Education” completely on a WordPress blog site, with members only access. The freedom of commenting, linking and embedding content is powerful. And all students can post their media projects to YouTube or Vimeo AND link right back to the class. Does it change how you create something for a teacher when you have the whole web as an audience? Learning to communicate beyond a limited world can be very good experience and enlarge your thinking.

And even though the average college professor may think of social media as a potential distraction from class activities and ban cellphone use during lectures, the alternative can be a Twitter account for the class and live Tweeting during class. Once on board with the ban mentality, it was taking a class via Adobe Connect online which convinced me otherwise. My Teachers College, Columbia University class online was interacting with another class at Keio University in Japan, doing presentations on cultural differences and I started to see the value of a dialogue running in the background, in this case via a chat window in the interface.

As I was presenting information about the food accompanying American holidays, I started to see ‘conversation’ in the message window on the benefits of Tofurky versus turkey and the actual merits of fruit cake. Far from a distraction, I realized my presentation was connecting to people, as they debated whether there is an actual fruitcake recipe in existence that is edible! The running dialogue illustrated listening, debate and thinking. In the right circumstances, a teacher can create engagement and overcome the constraints of other problems, like a large lecture room or multiple heads appearing one inch wide in a web connection.

And finally, there is the English class in a high school, where the teacher assigned a book, created a Facebook page and Twitter account and assigned each student a character from the book. The student was then required to post to the Facebook and Twitter page in the voice of the  character they were assigned, as the class marched through the book over a period of weeks. When the class finished the book, the students had one last assignment. Which posts seemed to authentically capture a character? Would the character speak or think like the posts? Why or why not? Far from an easy assignment, people had to learn about the characters enough to understand how a character might think about the world, especially about the world beyond the confines of the world created in the book. Adding the social media aspect can engage students to think in deeper and more meaningful ways about what they read and can be fun too.