Before we ask how, I think we should address why social media should be taught in schools.
Students may appear to be comfortable using social media, but don’t assume that they know how to use it appropriately in a classroom setting.
Educators Baiyun Chen and Thomas Bryer from the University of Central Florida conducted research on instructional strategies for social media last year, and they pointed out that, “one of the common themes in previous research is that students use social media for personal reasons, but rarely for educational or learning purposes.”
With this in mind, teaching students how to appropriately use social media becomes not just a good idea; it becomes a school’s responsibility.
Social media can provide two things that are critical for student engagement in a literate environment: audience and purpose.
Audience refers to those who will see what students create and share. By expanding the audience for classroom content, students no longer write for their teacher or peers alone. A project on a classroom blog or on Edmodo, a safe social media site for classrooms, can now reach other students, family members and teachers across the globe.
The feedback from this sharing can help students grow, but it also reinforces the need to teach students the importance of revision and being appropriate when posting online.
Purpose is the reason students are doing the work. Before students post their thoughts and work online, essential questions should first be considered. Is my project original and creative? What will my audience gain from what I am presenting? Will it make a positive impact on my community? The world? Can others add to what I shared and collaborate with me, potentially making it better?
Once the why for social media has been established, teaching the how should be much easier.
Training students on how to use social media is a bit like teaching kids to ride a bike. They start off with training wheels, which provide them with confidence and stability, but eventually, they’ll have to ride freely on their own to truly flourish.
The instructional framework my school subscribes to is the Optimal Learning Model, sometimes referred to as the gradual release of responsibility.
In this framework, the teacher first models the concept or skill to be learned. Will Richardson and Rob Mancabelli value this framework within the context of social media, stating in their book Personal Learning Networks that “the ability to model your own learning networks in front of your students might be your most important pedagogy of all.”
To start, the teacher and students could share one thing they learned that day on a classroom Twitter account or Facebook page. They could also explore other classrooms’ blogs to read how students at their age level write online.
Once everyone is comfortable navigating online, the teacher can do an interactive writing activity on a classroom blog. Interactive writing is an example of shared demonstration, when the students and teacher share the responsibility for the work.
Reinforcing the notion that “we do it” is critical when building student confidence so that they can eventually learn independently. When the teacher believes the students are ready to work on their own, he or she can set up blogs for each of them.
I recommend starting with Kidblog. It’s safe and simple for students to master. Using this platform, the teacher can encourage students to write for their own purposes, while consistently reminding them that their potential audience is anyone in the world.
Once the training wheels are off, the sky is the limit. Students can curate digital portfolios that show their own learning growth over time. They can also collaborate with students in other communities on school projects and facilitate conversations with their audience in the comments. And that’s just blogs. Skype, wikis and podcasts are just a few of the many other available social media tools students can use for learning.
But the platform or tool isn’t the key to unlocking social learning. The key is having a teacher as a guide, helping students create a safe and positive digital footprint, while enabling an authentic, purposeful and immersive learning experience for the world to see.