Social media has undeniable popularity. With the majority of U.S. adults on at least one platform, social media is becoming deeply ingrained into our culture and means of communication. How does it affect K–12 schools and teachers? Where can social media offer benefits to the classroom? Where can it fall short?
Since 2008, the U.S. population with a social media profile has increased from 24% to 81%. These online communities have brought the world closer together, but have also given a platform to anyone who cares to use it.
When a school decides to use social media, there needs to be a clearly defined plan for how it will be integrated and what purpose it will serve.
Schools have been slow to open their doors to social media for good reasons. However, a few savvy educators have found ways to bring social media into the classroom in a way that benefit and inspires students.
Some teachers have used social media to help students connect with their favorite authors. Reaching out to these writers through Twitter, or other platforms, has made it possible to set up video conference calls between the classes and authors, inspiring greater enthusiasm for reading. A teacher in Maine discovered her students opened up more to the authors about their writing insecurities than they did with her, which helped students identify and work through areas of self-doubt.
Social media can also be used to boost communication with parents. While social media will not replace the traditional means of communication, it is an additional channel that reaches parents fast and keeps them up-to-date on activities happening at the school. However, because it is a casual way to pass along information, it should never be used to communicate about matters of concern.
A recent study also demonstrated that social media helped to improve student learning about scientific argumentation. The group found that students in the group were better able to convince others to see their point of view. Also, students with social skill deficiencies were better able to express themselves on social media than in a classroom. Overall, students scored higher on the test and demonstrated better subject knowledge. They reported feeling more confident in their knowledge, analysis skills and in making scientific claims.
Unfortunately, social media also has downsides — especially for young people. It can be a petri dish for bullying and false information. It can negatively affect mental health. Studies have shown that social media can worsen anxiety and expose teens to cruel behavior. There are also examples of students having college acceptances withdrawn based on their social media activity.
Despite the risks, there is another reason schools should not be quick to dismiss social media.
Students flock to it in droves. Many lack the necessary means of coping with what they could encounter. Helping students learn how to navigate social media, critically assess the information they encounter and understand how to appropriately conduct themselves is increasingly becoming a necessary part of education.
60% of adults believe that K–12 schools are responsible for making sure students have right skills and education to be successful in life. Social media is not only a big part of students’ lives, but it has become a big part of navigating adult life as well.