Social and Collaborative Media: Tools and Strategies for the School Educator (Analysis Thread)

Upon listening to the Social Media and Education Podcast, I was left thinking that the world of education is indeed at a moment of change and possibility. Sarah Robbins-Bell points out that there is a conflict between new technology and the educational structure that many classrooms have relied on for ages. She states that, “Everyone should be a lifelong learner. Everyone should have access to high quality information that they can engage with.” However, in order to successfully do so, educators must realize that certain aspects about the classroom environment will have to change. Her lecture made me realize that we must adapt our ways of thinking. We have to become co-creators and form partnerships with our students if we want them to feel empowered about accessing and truly understanding the plethora of information in front of them.

With that being said, I read several articles that dealt with how educators must embrace technology for the benefit of their students, as well as those that spoke to the many technologies available to the general public. I must admit that for some (Facebook, Twitter), I never saw a place for them in the classroom. As I learned more about them, my viewpoints have changed as I now see that they offer great possibility.

The article The Future of Learning Institutions in a Digital Age argues that the power of the Internet is vast and schools must recognize this. The authors state that the Internet “shifted both the perception and the reality of who makes knowledge, how it is authorized and legitimated.” Since our students have access to all of this information, we must help them to decipher it. Our world is more collaborative than ever, and our students are participating in this sharing of knowledge outside of our classrooms. They have become the creators. I feel that we must harness this energy and redirect it into our own classrooms. The authors note that many children are tired of the more traditional ways of learning because they are not engaging in the information (as many of them now do outside of school through social media). If schools use technology to truly captivate our students, we will see products that demonstrate interaction with the content as well as the birth of new ideas. I think that the hands on learning that technology offers will only serve to strengthen our students and their desire to learn more. While I love this idea, I cannot help but remember the shadow of standardized tests that constantly looms over our classrooms. There is great pressure to teach only skills that are on the test, which can result in drilling our students with lessons they perceive are dry and “test based”. Sadly, I think that many of these fun and creative technology-driven activities would take a back burner to testing.

In the article 14 Ways K-12 Librarians Can Teach Social Media, the author again speaks to the fact that teachers must be willing to work collaboratively with students. She states that we must act as a moderator or coach to ensure we “effectively interact with information…. to create and share and make a difference in the community….” We have to be comfortable with the social media in which our students are already immersed. Teachers have to act as someone who can guide students on how to use these resources in a way which will help them to intake information, process it, and create their own product in which they demonstrate their understanding. Most students already know the technology, but they do not know how it can better serve them as a critical, independent thinker. At my school many teachers are afraid to use new technology. We have monthly workshops which range in professional development topics, and I would love to present some of these technologies at these sessions. In follow up sessions teachers could create accounts and practice using the technology before feeling comfortable enough to implement it in the classroom. With this confidence in place, I think that more teachers can create engaging activities.

Now that I see where the future of education is headed, three tools that captured my interest in particular are Skype, Twitter, and Facebook. Skype is a tool that I have come to love. It allows you to make video calls to other users, anywhere in the world. Furthermore you can skype with several users at once, creating a conference call without the video feature. The article Why Skype Is The Most Valuable Tool I Use, speaks to the benefits of Skype. Through Skype, students now have the ability “to seek answers to their questions at all hours” which I feel would better strengthen their comprehension of class content. As I often give group assignments, Skype is a wonderful program for students to utilize in order to collaborate on their project. Instead of a phone chain in order to figure out group member responsibilities, they can use the audio as well as the text/chat feature of Skype to make group decisions. The Skype an Author program is a wonderful resource available in which students can have virtual classroom visits from authors they may be studying. When I do become a School Librarian, I would love to explore the possibility of using this. I think it is a great way to introduce students to the text they will be reading. They would be even more engaged if they came up with questions to ask the author because they have then created their own learning experience. I have not tried to access Skype at school to see if it is blocked (as many social networking sites are), but even if students can access it at home to communicate after school hours with others or myself, it is still a worthwhile resource.

As was just mentioned, the school system in which I work does block a majority of social networking sites from both students and staff. Included among these sites are Twitter and Facebook. I have always had a negative viewpoint of Twitter, as those around me who used it only did so for updates about their daily activities. In an attempt to see the good in Twitter, as many others have, I read several articles on the purpose, uses, and educational benefits of Twitter. While I still do not see myself using it in my personal life, I can see professional uses for it. My favorite Twitter article was Can we use Twitter for educational activities? The author provides a list of activities in which Twitter is the key player. As an English teacher, I often give my students quotes or articles followed by a round table discussion in which everyone must participate. I loved the idea of using Twitter to facilitate reader response and create a virtual classroom. I can post a topic and the students can tweet their responses. Even better, students can use the retweet or reply feature in order to generate their own conversations regarding the material presented. The cap of 140 characters would force their responses to be succinct—I would make it a requirement that they could not use slang or improper grammar. I think that all students would love this activity, and feel that this may even prompt the quieter ones to finally have their opinions heard. Another idea that I liked was using Twitter as a platform for class announcements or reminders for quizzes, paper due dates, etc. I would use this in conjunction with Skype—if students view an announcement and have further questions, they can contact me during designated after school Skype sessions. Teachers could use Twitter to connect with other teachers and trade ideas/ find resources that may further help their instruction.

I have been a loyal Facebook fan for seven years and truly enjoy using it. In the article Schools and Facebook: Moving Too Fast or Not Fast Enough?, Matt Levinson raises some interesting questions about schools utilizing Facebook to teach the curriculum. He highlights that many schools block Facebook, when instead they should be using it as a means of instruction. He notes safety concerns by parents and school systems, but insists that the “groups need to come together and communicate about fair use.” Like Twitter, teachers could post announcements similar to on the Facebook Wall of a Class Page. Students could exchange ideas/respond to teacher postings by adding their own comments to the class wall as well. Facebook also has many applications such as photos, videos, and podcasts that could be used for educational purposes. Lastly, I enjoyed making my own Facebook page for a character from a novel. This could be easily applied to the English classroom as students create Facebook profiles for characters in the novels read. They could then assume the persona of that person and post wall writings, photos, videos, etc. that relate to the character. This would be an excellent activity for teaching characterization as well as the importance of voice in literature. Again though, if I were to use Facebook, it would have to be outside of school only.

Although I see the benefits of Twitter and Facebook, as well as have ideas for how to use them in my classroom, I cannot rely on the fact that use outside of school is sufficient. Many students do not have access to computers or the internet in their own homes, so they would not be able to partake in these assignments. Aside from this, some parents do not want their children to be involved in certain social media sites, thus these children also would not have the opportunity to participate. I do hope that one day schools, parents, and educators reach a point of agreement which will allow teachers to use such technologies in an educational way.

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