With Twitter and Facebook having been around for the better part of a decade, social media is no longer a foreign concept. In fact, 200 million people have Twitter accounts. As a means of communication, social media is all but groundbreaking for most of us, but what about as a means of education?
While most educators and administrators see social media as a tool to humanize themselves with students or report that lunch is now some form of compressed chicken instead of spaghetti, we now see teachers productively integrating social media as an extension of the classroom; a tool for creating the valid 24-hour learning experience that school should be.
Stacy Haynes-Moore, a teacher at Kennedy High School in Cedar Rapids, is using social media as a means to not only communicate with her students, but also to learn curriculum, distribute content, publish students’ work in a public forum, and engage them in professional etiquette.
“There are a lot of different ways that people in business, education and arts communicate through written and spoken word, and that involves social media, web and digital literacies,” says Haynes Moore. Social media has become such a part of everyday communication that excluding it seems negligent.
“It’s important for our students to learn, whatever academic pursuit they are in, that they are going to need to know how to communicate through digital media in the future. So we use those kinds of things in our class,” Haynes-Moore explained. Using these media in a productive way seems to be lacking in education. In her classes she fuses core curriculum, lessons on web-etiquette and content publishing via digital media-all in one assignment.
Social Media as a New Avenue:
An example of Haynes-Moore’s web integration is via vocabulary lessons. “Kids might take a picture of the skies darkening if the snow is coming in or something like that. Then they tag it to our Instagram and they’ll say, ‘Oh, that’s ominous,’ if that’s a vocabulary word that we’re learning. It’s great. It’s an extension of what were doing and learning in class.” What is learned here is not simply how to snap a picture and use a filter. Her students adopt how to properly use the application and create content, all the while getting a better understanding of the vocabulary word itself.
The collaboration of these lessons and tools is transforming the way that the students view social media and communication as a whole. As Haynes-Moore explained, “I think that they’re seeing it as another avenue in which to reach someone, to ask questions, to provide feedback, to compliment others on their work, to share news about what they’re learning. I do think that there is a shift in seeing it as an opportunity, more than just a way to say, ‘hey lets go to a movie later or go to lunch’. They’re seeing it as another viable means to communicate, and that’s really important.“ More important than lunch now being touchdown nuggets.
Hashtags as Community Forums:
Taking in to account all of the potential for learning social media poses for students, one could argue it should be used everywhere. This, however, is not a viable option according to Haynes-Moore. “I don’t think our culture overall in society and in schools really are comfortable with that necessarily. I don’t know that all teachers are comfortable using social media with their students. Not every student has one [Twitter account] and not every parent wants them to have a Twitter account. I respect that. But at the same time, I would be remiss if I didn’t talk about social media as communication.”
She not only talks about it, but uses it in a creative way to teach the same standards. But, it comes as no surprise that while teachers like Haynes-Moore have had success with their efforts to integrate social media as a tool to teach curriculum, other administrators have seen a more vicious use. Twitter “hacking” and cyber-bullying are just a few examples of students’ misuse on these medias. For fear of that happening, or in direct response to these actions, some Iowa schools choose to avoid social media and cell phones entirely.
The Solon Community School District has taken a stance against the inappropriate behavior they saw on their community-wide hashtag #solonstrong. Principal Nathan Wear explained with the hashtag:
“occasionally, we have students that post inappropriate things. My response is to send them a tweet and ask them to politely post things more appropriate. It was interesting in that some tweets were from students not in our school. This can be a good learning experience because our students see how other kids look when they post immature and inappropriate tweets.”
Rather than eliminating the sites entirely, dealing with isolated instances has allowed the rest of the students and staff to continue to use Twitter to communicate responsibly. Again, Wear:
“I think it is great to see our kids using the #solonstrong in a very positive way. Most days there are several tweets about fun things happening in the building. Our goal is to show kids that using social media in a responsible way can enhance the culture of the school. At Solon, we encourage kids to use social media to engage in conversations that benefit the school. Rather than blocking these sites, our staff and students can interact together through the social media platform.”
This mature approach helps students understand the significance of poor social media use while maintaining the integrity of the community.
For teachers like Haynes-Moore, learning appropriate behavior online is part of the lesson. “In terms of a collective group, they talk about what they might want to tweet about or share to represent the organization. There’s conversation going on about, ‘Would this be appropriate?’ ‘How do I say this?’ So I think that stopgap, that moment in which they’re reflecting upon, ‘Is this the right language to use for our audience?’ That’s where I’m seeing growth.”
Online professionalism is a lesson that for some may come after it’s too late, and could elicit consequences that far exceed failing a vocabulary quiz. Allowing the students to practice these procedures while simultaneously learning their core curriculum is, according to Haynes-Moore, “kind of revolutionary in some ways.”
“For you and I, of course, we shift the way we speak depending on what sort of medium were working on. But when you’re a 14 or 15 year-old, that’s a lesson to understand the practice. They’re not used to that at all.” After taking her classes, however, the students have adopted better etiquette online through, “thinking about, ‘how do we present ourselves?’ ‘How do people respond to us?’ ‘What are we trying to communicate?’”
Students at West High School in Iowa City took to social media to communicate by sending positivity through their Twitter handle, @westhighbros. The students’ feed promotes and celebrates the amazing things that happen in their school and highlights accomplishments of classmates. The @westhighbros were so successful in their efforts that they were featured on the ‘Today Show.’
With more than 5100 followers now, the @westhighbros have proven to the community that students can be responsible and positive with their social media use and give hope for the future of education via technology.
Using New Tech for New Things:
Communicating with each other informally is nothing new and the use of social media towards that end is why the technology can be sometimes viewed with derision from older people who already have effective professional social networks that don’t depend on the Internet.
However, the opportunities afforded to someone using web-based social networking are orders of magnitude greater than what can be done with traditional technology, and are being developed in new ways that have been previously undefined.
Students can begin to develop their resume, persona, and cv before ever leaving high school. Anyone can purchase their own domain name and begin detailing the awesome projects they’re working on, assuming their school allows time for awesome projects.
Students can begin to follow and interact with authors, researchers, thinkers, and exemplars from their soon-to-be areas of study where once a postal letter and a prayer were required.
Ephemeral moments, like the questioning of the physics of a movie, or a serendipitous moment on a family vacation can become a real-time conversation with a teacher or expert that could reasonably impact student learning and achievement.
Lessons and assignments like the ones Haynes-Moore plans for her students are transforming how educators and students can approach learning. It proves there is not one single medium, but rather many viable options, that students can learn from.
It proves that Instagram is not just for selfies, that Twitter is not just for #sillyhashtags, and blogs are not just online diaries. It shows how students can learn required standards and media skills at the same time by applying their new proficiencies through these mediums. “These activities are more for mastery, that they can apply the term and use it… that’s what I’m after there,” she explains of her students’ posts.
If not for mastery of concepts, what is education for?