Social Media in Education for Students from 6 to 56 Years of Age

Essay written by Melissa Smith, Lifelong Learners curriculum developer and owner.

Social media and education is a popular topic at the moment. To be clear, this article is focusing on the use of social media mediums as an education tool and not on cyber bullying or its prevalence in classrooms which is another topic entirely.

I will be blunt – I am an advocate of social media use in any classroom. Particularly when that classroom has adult students in it.

Some might say it is because of the generation I have grown up in which has resulted in being a borderline digital native (Prensky, 2001), some might say it is because I am a “young” teacher and some (more education based) people might even say it is because my teaching pedagogy has always clearly embraced change and innovation. Why do I embrace these tools so readily when many others shun them?

I strongly feel the need to acknowledge the generation of students I am teaching to. Every single student in my year 12 classes this year has a smart phone with internet access. No exceptions. This included the mature-age students who ranged from 21 to 56 years of age. Every single student between the ages of 6 and 16 who attends my tutoring classes has access to the internet at home (obviously, this is often with Mum or Dad supervising if they are younger) and many of them have also have their own phones or tablets. They often show me handy shortcuts on the iPad! Let me tell you it is a very humbling experience to be shown how to do something on your own iPad by a 6 year old. Most of them use mathletics, reading eggs or similar online programs to further boost their education levels. This is a generation of young people who are completely comfortable with technology being involved in every facet of their lives. Why would education be any different?

I am very comfortable with technology. In high school I was the first student to have a mobile phone (which these days would double as a house brick). I was one of the first groups of students at WA universities to use online enrolment systems and to study externally using online support. This is now the norm. I administer this website, the @LifelongLs twitter account and the facebook page as well as my own personal blogs, mostly from my mobile phone *gasp* and I frequently use my iPad to interact with students and provide engaging lessons through the use of apps, blogs and webpages.

The universities I lecture at use the blackboard online system or Moodle, and a large part of my role is to administer discussion boards and liaise with students across this medium. Email is also very important as part of this role and a speedy, confident response is essential to help students stay calm. The high school I teach at uses online hubs for each subject so students can access materials and worksheets posted by teachers which is a facility I utilise to the full extent.

In my travels to find decent teaching resources online I discovered @PLEAWA on twitter (Politics and Law Education Association WA) and that they post links to current news articles including the part of the year 12 course it is relevant to. This is amazing! I also discovered many political commentators like the medium of twitter, not to mention actual politicians. I actively encourage my students to engage with this medium and have no issues with them tweeting me, or tweeting the local politicians. At the end of last year our students were tweeting photos of themselves with the local MP, much to his delight.

I have personally witnessed many different social media uses in classrooms including facebook pages being submitted for final assessment tasks, primary school students tweeting local MPs to ask questions about the community, teachers creating blogs to encourage students to comment in response to weekly homework tasks, teachers using youtube videos to take students on virtual excursions and more. I have used a number of apps in my teaching as well as creating blogs and using online hubs to share material.

The Department of Education WA supports the use of social media in classrooms in a responsible and ethical manner. They have a handout to help teachers make sure they are using it appropriately and an email/phone contact to clarify any issues. However, this document is now 4 years old and contains some information that may need updating. An example of this is the explicit statement that social media interaction is not appropriate however creating applications such as web pages and blogs as part of the teaching program is acceptable (with parental consent and educational validity etc (Department of Education Western Australia, 2010). As technology changes so fast, I strongly feel this policy needs review and guidelines should be put in place for staff who do wish to use social media, such as twitter, as a teaching tool.

To those educators who still avoid the use of social media in the classroom, I understand your wariness. With all the bad media attention around cyber bullying, youtube and so on who wouldn’t be a little worried? I would suggest that you seriously consider your cohort and the influences they face every day though. To keep education relevant we need to stay in touch with those we are educating, we need to be engaging and relevant to their real world experiences.

As a bonus, when we use social media alongside students, we can be sure to model correct usage and “manners” and hopefully provide a positive example of how to manage these technologies professionally.

References

Department of Education Western Australia (2010) Social Media In Schools: Guidelines for school staff using social media and other technologies. Retrieved from: file:///Users/Mel/Downloads/de30212%20sid%20a5%20brochure%20-%20let’s%20face%20it%20web.pdf

Prensky, M. (2001) Digital natives, Digital Immigrants. Retrieved from: http://www.marcprensky.com/writing/Prensky%20-%20Digital%20Natives,%20Digital%20Immigrants%20-%20Part1.pdf

This entry was posted on Friday, March 8th, 2013 at 6:14 pm and is filed under Uncategorized. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can leave a response, or trackback from your own site.

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