By Teachers, For Teachers
The old days of strictly learning and communicating face-to-face in a classroom are gone. The traditional methods of connecting with colleagues and developing professionally are giving way to modern trends. How savvy are you with the new mediums of electronic communication? How capable are you of leveraging these new mediums of electronic communication for sharing information with your students and peers?
There’s lots to learn about social media, and it’s incredible how quickly these trends develop. If you’re like a lot of other teachers, you may feel like there are too many changes coming too quickly, and it’s impossible to keep up with it all. That very well may be the case; however, more than ever before, there exists a multitude of ways to instruct students and connect with peers via social media. Examine each of these arenas and see what your students are using, what your colleagues are using, and what you could use to embrace these new mediums of electronic communication to connect with your world. You do not have to limit yourself to just your classroom – now you can “be everywhere.”
Facebook. Nearly everyone has a Facebook account, so it makes sense to begin here. Do you have a profile and actively use Facebook? If not, then you should definitely consider getting one. If you’re like most adults, you’ve acquired a Facebook account mainly to stay connected with current friends and family, and to reconnect with former acquaintances. Facebook is a fantastic way to share updates of your personal or professional life.
When done professionally, you can maintain contact and relevancy with your students, supplying them updates regarding what you are learning, planning, pursuing, or even just sharing reminders of what’s going on in class. Additionally, you can create groups or events that are exclusive for the invited students whom you approve, providing a constant online presence where students might check-in with you or with one another more easily.
Twitter. Twitter is the up-and-coming younger sibling to Facebook. This is an entirely different manner of communication, however. One of the unique and challenging facets of Twitter is that every message that is posted must contain only 140 characters or less. That does not leave much room for more than a quick message, reminder, thought or response.
The nature of “tweets” means that they are meant for quick consumption, not for thorough discussion or ideas. Students may scroll through hundreds of tweets in an hour, providing them with exposure to many, many more ideas than they could have accessed before. While many of these tweets are admittedly useless, many more of them might actually contain edifying information or links. Why not let your voice be one among the throng? Join Twitter to share your thoughts on teaching or class content, post reminders or discussion topics, or just provide helpful links to websites beneficial for students.
YouTube. We don’t often think of YouTube as the world’s second-largest search engine, but it is! After Google, people search YouTube for the topics and entertainment they’re interested in. One fantastic way to provide students with extra information, additional lessons, bonus materials, or helpful advice is by hosting your own YouTube channel and creating your own videos. When you do this, students can access your class content at any time. Plus, if you post a video, that video will stay there for years and years. A little work in producing a video upfront could lead to saving time and energy for you and your students for years down the road.
Instagram. Instagram – which is owned by Facebook – is a social media platform strictly designed for sharing photos and short videos. Like many other platforms, people can “favorite” and comment on your photos, and you can follow one another. While not a lucrative social medium for exchanging ideas, it is the currently preferred way of sharing visuals with one another. As a teacher, if you have a professional account that allows students to see your visuals, you might consider posting infographics, educational visuals, short videos, or other non-personal content that exposes students to yourself and your class content a little more.
Snapchat. There’s an extremely good chance that you have not used Snapchat, and another extremely good chance that your students have. This definitely falls under the category of
“what teens use that adults shouldn’t” and should probably stay that way. Just so you know, Snapchat allows students to take photos and send them to designated friends; once the friend accepts the photo, it appears only for a few seconds before being deleted. In a humble teacher’s opinion, if something is designed to be deleted, it’s probably not worth being communicated in the first place.
Vine. This ranks right up there with Snapchat as being rarely used by adults but prolifically used by teens. Like Instagram, it allows for the sharing of videos. However, videos are restricted to being no more than a meager eight seconds long, and loop continuously until a viewer decides to shut it off. Although it may be difficult to provide thoughtful information to your students via this medium, it’s helpful to know that they often seek quick bursts of entertainment here. You can also utilize Vine as a fun, adaptive way to modify your lessons: Have students create and share their own “Vines” with the class regarding the content you’re covering.
Tumblr. This oddly spelled social medium is the prime location for individuals to begin their own free blog account, and it offers dozens of ways for you and your students to engage intellectually with one another via the web. In addition to creating your own blog here (or on a range of other free-blog networks, like blogspot.com), you can create a “class blog,” or even have students each create their own for class use. Doing this enables the opportunity for you and your students to interact electronically, and it also opens the door for everyone to build more connections to other Tumblr uses throughout the world.
It’s interesting the different ways that students and adults use many of these forms of social media in the classroom. For adults, their primary objective is to authentically connect with peers and students, to share information and links, and to edify one another’s knowledge. In addition to these, adults desire to present strong, positive personas of themselves, appearing as ideal professionals and receiving validation from colleagues.
Students, on the other hand, are committed to primarily using these mediums for retaining their sense of “connection” to the world around them. They feel stressed when a mobile device is not readily within their grasp. They, like adults, attempt to present more idealized versions of themselves and seek validation; however, they try to leverage social media to appear more hip, happy, and connected than adults. Teens are more likely to have strong emotions related to how many followers or favorites they receive. Adults’ intrusion into these social media platforms can seem like an absolute buzzkill.
Although we might use social media in the classroom differently, as educators we have the responsibility for making sure we understand how to turn them into powerful learning tools. When we are able to “be everywhere” and become a part of students’ constant connectedness, then we have created opportunity for demonstrating the potential and impact edifying connections truly can be. So expand your impact and consider how you can leverage these electronic mediums as a component of your professional identity.
Which forms of social media do you use? Are you connecting with friends, family, colleagues, or students through them? Share below and let us know how you use social media in the classroom!
Jordan Catapano is an English teacher at Conant High School in a Chicago suburb. In addition to being National Board Certificated, he also sits as the District Leader for the Illinois Association of Teachers of English and serves as a school board member for a private school. You can follow him on Twitter at @BuffEnglish, or visit his website ACTWritingTips.com.