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Leadership Insights Updated November 13, 2017

Social Media In Education: Benefits, Drawbacks and Things to Avoid

By Monica Fuglei October 1, 2014
Using Social Media in the Classroom

More and more educators are turning to social media to connect with colleagues near and far. In fact, approximately 82 percent of K-12 teachers, principals and school librarians engage in some sort of social networking, according to a 2012 survey by EdWeb and MMS Education.

Along with a rise in personal use, teachers are also using social media to enable learning and collaboration among students in the classroom.

Lesson plans involving social media require safeguarding both student privacy and productivity. In addition, educators must accept that using poor judgment on a public social network — even on a personal account — can have professional consequences.

Read on and discover more points to consider as you fine-tune your approach to social media — in your classroom and from your living room.

Does social media help or hurt students?

Education specialists are quick to acknowledge the benefits and drawbacks of social networking for students.

Jeff Borden, former vice president of instruction and academic strategy at Pearson, notes that social media extends learning far beyond the classroom, allowing students to interact with specialists in various fields. And when used correctly, different social platforms can get students to practice “lower-level thinking” at home and prep them for “higher-level thinking” in the classroom, according to a National Education Association article.

There are also concerns to increasing student access to social media sites, particularly if its use disrupts learning. Research shows that such interruptions can significantly impair a student’s ability to integrate content into their long-term memory.

Teachers can enhance classroom activities with social media

Teachers can use social networking to help their students connect and collaborate on a deeper level. These networks can enhance student relationships as well, giving socially anxious or introverted students a comfortable way to interact with their classmates.

Many teachers use private networks like Edmodo, where postings are not visible to the general public. Other teachers use Facebook or Twitter to connect their students to peers and experts outside the classroom. Applications like Twijector can project Twitter streams (organized by hashtag) onto classroom walls. Students can create a live, interactive stream by Tweeting questions, clarifications, or responses about a topic.

Hashtag searches on Facebook or Twitter can link classroom discussions to broader social conversations, helping students see how their learning relates to real-world applications.

Professional development for teachers

When used outside the classroom, social media can function like professional development for educators. Teachers report that a great deal of their non-personal usage is geared toward finding and sharing resources on Facebook, Twitter or Pinterest.

Sites such as Discovery Education Network or Scholastic Discussion Forums provide smaller, more targeted spaces for educators to connect with colleagues. These communities give teachers more privacy than Facebook when discussing classroom experiences or education policy.

Hashtag-driven chats on Twitter, while less private, also introduce participants to broad community discussions that include industry researchers, teachers, corporations, and advisory groups.

For example, the National Council of Teachers of English’s #NCTE produces fast-paced interaction full of new techniques, specific lesson plans, data and research on teaching and learning. Despite being on a social network, this is high-quality professional development that expands teacher knowledge.

Beware: Misuse of social media can harm educators

Negative aspects of social media in the classroom can be prevented or overcome with thoughtful interaction. However, the pitfalls of social networking continue to make educators nervous. Controversies include:

  • Unprofessional or offensive public postings from teachers’ personal accounts, such as the Bay Area teacher whose district reprimanded her for Twitter posts containing foul language and the phrase, “I already wanna stab some kids.”
  • The to-friend-or-not-to-friend dilemma between teachers and students on social networks
  • Negative online professional reviews resulting in lost wages or tenure

It is essential for teachers to remember that their actions on a public social network may be visible to students, parents, school districts and the media. It is in their best interest to use social media and privacy settings responsibly.

Tips for educators using social media

Do’s

  • Do use separate personal and professional social media accounts. Putting a boundary between school and personal life is good for your career and less stress on you.
  • Do make sure you have strict privacy settings and review those settings frequently. Especially if you use one social media account per site.

Don’ts

  • Don’t say anything on your social media profile that you wouldn’t say in class.
  • Don’t get too chatty with students on your professional profile. This may confuse students into thinking you’re available 24/7 for this, that and the other. Be available, but keep it professional.
  • Don’t share too much. Personal pictures from your weekend soiree have no business being on your professional profile.

Develop a school-wide social media policy

Court cases seeking to resolve the balance between educators’ free speech and their employer’s decisions in the wake of social media controversies have sided with the employer over the educator. This potential ugliness can be avoided by developing clear delineations between personal and private accounts.

Additionally, protecting students’ privacy is an important legal factor when teachers engage them on social media. To prevent these issues from arising, school boards, teachers, and administrators should develop a code of behavior that extends to visible social networking sites.

Remember: It’s your social media identity

The decision on how to use social media should come down to a teacher’s comfort with maintaining a public social media identity. This can result in reflective conversations with students as well, encouraging them to maintain a standard of decorum in their own public profiles.

Using social media in the classroom requires school-wide safety and procedural agreement. In order for social media practices to be effective on campus, teachers and students must explicitly agree on how to conduct themselves on such networks.

Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.

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