We live in an era where digital citizenship is an important responsibility—and where children must learn to behave responsibly online and think critically about the content they encounter.
Since the dawn of Facebook, teachers have been considering how to use social media to do everything from sharing lesson plan ideas with other educators to writing relevant class projects.
So, what exactly does the social media landscape look like today in the classroom? According to data from our 4th Annual Educator Confidence Report, a survey of more than 1,200 teachers and administrators, a majority of educators use social media, apps, and other types of online communities for various reasons. For starters, educators said they were especially optimistic about the following, which all relate to social media:
According to the report, 80 percent of teachers said they use social media to explore teaching and instructional content; 74 percent use it to communicate and interact with students’ families; and 72 percent use it to interact with other educators. Social media (as highlighted in the survey) may include generic tools such as email to more mainstream apps such as Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, and Pinterest, as well as sites and apps with coursework designed for teachers specifically, including Remind, ClassDojo, and Khan Academy.
The Educator Confidence Report also explored educators’ use of digital resources according to their schools’ poverty status. High-poverty schools are more likely than low-poverty schools, for example, to use social media and online community tools for student learning and engagement, perhaps due to having less access to digital learning and communication tools.
In addition, it makes sense to utilize social media in the classroom given its prevalence among K-12 students. A 2018 survey conducted by the Pew Research Center found that roughly half of teens use Facebook—and even more use YouTube, Instagram, and Snapchat.
How can you use social media not just to help teachers teach but also to help students learn? Here are some ideas that—assuming you have some level of available technology—can help you use social media in the classroom.
Idea 1: Start a Class Blog
Blog entries not only get students reading and writing; they also help them learn to be digital citizens. You can set up your own closed blog using WordPress or Blogger. Then, you and your students can write posts and comments offering critical suggestions and observations about topics being discussed in class. Consider having students write fictional blog entries from the point of view of a historical figure or a character in a story. Then they can comment on a few of their classmates’ posts. And remind students to always engage with each other on social media with empathy. This part of the lesson can enrich younger and older students alike—and adults, too, for that matter.
Idea 2: Analyze a Social Media Post in Class
An interesting consequence of the social media-rich world we live in now is the volume of visible numerical data. Social media posts have quantitative metrics prominently displayed: likes, followers, retweets, and so on. Young children can answer questions as simple as, “Which post reached more people?” or “How many more people liked the video than disliked the video?” More mature learners can tackle more open-ended questions like, “Which post has the most influence?” or “How popular is this post relative to the rest of this influencer’s posts?” Non-math teachers can have students analyze a post, too, by examining its grammar or newsworthiness, for example.
Idea 3: Take Students on a Virtual Field Trip
There is a “low-tech” way of doing this: Follow a museum or historical site’s Instagram (or Facebook, Twitter, etc.) and walk students through past posts. Follow-up assignments can range from further researching a post’s content to analyzing how effective the post is for the account’s overall marketing. Microsoft facilitates a more high-tech version: Skype in the Classroom. Have an expert from anywhere in the world literally walk students through a museum or historical site, answering their questions in real time. It can be daunting to use social media to connect students with strangers, but organizing it as a supervised field trip can do just that in a safe way.
Bringing social media into a classroom introduces some thorny problems, especially with younger students. Privacy is at stake, and we shouldn’t demand that children join communities that are linked to negative outcomes like poor self-esteem, lower grades, and addiction. But we can’t bury our heads in the sand, either. Most students are already using social media to meet new people, hear new ideas, and express themselves. Why not use it to help them learn?
Want to learn more about teachers' areas of optimism and concern and views on educational technology in the classroom? Download the report here.
Education Research Director, Core Literacy & Early Learning
Dr. Vytas Laitusis
Education Research Director, Supplemental & Intervention Math
Associate Partner, ICLE