By Teachers, For Teachers
This summer, my school made a decision not simply to open social media sites like Facebook and Twitter, but to essentially hijack them as learning spaces. We also created blended learning environments to accommodate the complex scheduling needs of our students and to ensure the development of communication, collaboration, and digital citizenship skills.
Here's an overview of the process we used and how it has played out in our school so far.
School Social Media Set Up & Training
We set boundaries to limit Facebook use to upper school students in order to be ethically compliant with age requirements. We are also looking to use Google+, especially for hangouts in our blended learning classes (called flex classes), but when school opened, the age requirement was 18. Now that it is 13, we will look to use this as students settle into a groove and integration with Google Apps becomes available.
Creating Facebook Groups
We created Facebook pages for many of our high school classes using the Groups feature. This feature allows for collaboration between people who are not Facebook "friends," something which was key for us because by policy, our teachers are not "friends" with our students.
Finding the Right Social Tools
Instead of Facebook or Google+, we are using Edmodo for middle school and lower school. Because I teach one middle and one upper school class, I use both as a teacher, and each has its advantages/disadvantages which I will cover in a future post. To complete the tool kit, we set up Collaborize Classrooms and Edublogs to accompany the interaction on Facebook and Edmodo. Some classes are also using Glogster.
Launching Social Media-Enriched Classes
School Social Media Boot Camp
When we implemented Google Apps last year, we set aside one day as academic boot camp to train the students on the use of these tools.
This year, in addition to more training on these tools, the students attended workshops on how to use of social media responsibly and collaborated in drafting responsible use agreements. They set up their Edmodo accounts, Collaborize Classroom accounts, and joined the appropriate Facebook groups.
Flex Class KickOff
Our first flex classes met last week. These classes are blended face-to-face and online classes for seniors. Students are expected to attend in person on seminar and workshop days but can work at their own pace and attend online chats from home on other days, coming into school a little later on those days to attend their traditional classes.
On average, the classes are meeting once or twice face-to-face or through video chat (in my case, since I live in New York and my students are in Florida). Facebook has proven incredibly helpful in these classes because the teachers can post the assignments for the day or links. I create a video for my students on flex days and then also post the necessary explanations below it. One other teacher and I are using this model and both jump online to help students through video chat, IM, and FB chat if they run into issues. Students can choose to come into campus and work in a lab space for additional support.
Adapting My School Social Media Plan
Making Directions Clear
The first week taught me that students are not used to reading directions. This is something I knew, but I assumed that they would read the directions if they could not ask questions face-to-face. This was a false assumption, and instead, many students just asked each other and remained collectively confused. Or, they scrambled online to ask for clarification through chat or video conference before reading the assignment.
Next year, I will spend some time in the beginning of the year practicing taking written information, processing it, and turning it into pointed questions for further guidance.
Enhancing 21st Century Skills
On a positive note, this platform is really forcing students to learn the 21st century skill sets of communication, collaboration, and critical thinking. There is a lot of learning through action. I've also realized that I need to give shorter assignments and only one at a time. At first, I was giving a list of tasks, and this proved confusing and overwhelming for my students.
Gauging Expectations & Results
I am so excited for this year! I have to say that one thing I have noticed right away is a rise in connectivity to my classes and throughout the school. The downside is setting boundaries so that students don't always expect an immediate response, but the upside is that we can see students sharing and communicating about important topics way beyond the classroom walls.
It is also great to see so many kids who are normally on the fringe of participation or disengaged feel more comfortable or excited about participating online.
How have you used social media sites as learning spaces? Share with us in the comments section!