Should we use social media in our classrooms or with parents?
We hear so many negative and alarmist stories about how social media is not suitable to use in a school environment. With strict guidelines and boundaries, I believe social media (SM) can be a useful and engaging tool to use.
What is Social Media exactly?
It is websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking.
Some (but not all) social media platforms are:
- Dedicated social networking sites such as Facebook and LinkedIn
- Video and photo sharing sites such as Youtube and Flickr
- Microblogs such as Twitter
- Forums and discussion boards
Each education department in every state of Australia will have a SM policy. The school where you are employed at should also have a policy. These need to be read, understood and adhered to. In general, where there is a clear educational context, SM is acceptable to use in schools.
In primary school, there is a real and justifiable reason to use all types of SM, apart from dedicated networking sites such as Facebook. Many of these are not legally available to under thirteens anyway.
Email is a communication tool for distributing information. Communication is different from collaboration, which is the primary purpose of SM. Email, in general, is not SM. I use email all the time with my students but they must have a Google account that the school techies set up and I am careful to only use my professional email address (one only students have).
How to use Social Media – safety first!
No social media should be undertaken in schools without a rigorous and ongoing cyber safety program. In my experience, this needs to be taught over and over again, no matter what year level. There are plenty of programs and resources online to access.
Classes (and schools) also need a clear consequence chart with sanctions for transgressions. Consequences are useless unless they are followed through on.
- List what is not acceptable cyber behaviour.
- Not photographing or videoing anyone without their permission
- No posting pictures of others online without permission
- No identifying information such as school uniforms, full names, addresses, school names
- Stay on task (if you are working on the class wiki, students aren’t to be accessing anything else)
- No griefing or bullying
- Make clear what the consequences are. Follow through! Some effective consequences we’ve developed at our school are an official warning (recorded on a central database), followed by a two week IT ban. This ramps up to another official warning, followed by a month long ban and a meeting with parents. Finally, a third official warning, followed by a total year long ban. At this stage it’s quite clear that the student has a flagrant disregard for school rules. Hopefully they never get that far!
- With BYOD programs, students and parents must be informed that you will be doing spot checks for banned programs/apps and for inappropriate use of SM. (Believe me, other parents are going to dob their children’s friends in anyway!)
How to use Social Media in Effective Learning
Below is a general overview of some ways to use SM effectively with primary school aged students:
- Dedicated Social Networking sites – not advised
- Video and photo sharing sites such as Youtube and Flickr:
- Teachers using videos as a teaching tool
- Students creating videos using imovie. Teacher uploads
- Blogs (strengthens connections between school, home and community):
- Class created blog with students appointed with specific roles
- Sharing blog with school community or wider community
- Microblogs such as Twitter – not advised
- Forums and discussion boards:
- Builds class community by promoting discussion on specific topics
- Allows students to view and respond to the learning of others
- Allows time for in depth reflection on topics
- A great way to grow a knowledge base around a particular content area
- Uploading lessons for absent students
- Students creating recordings for other students/wider community to access
To implement any social media platforms in your classroom and school requires serious research and debate as to the pros and cons. Ironically, social media is a good place to start for feedback from other schools and teachers about great blogs, wikis and platforms. Utilise experience!