A recent survey from the College of Education at University of Phoenix reveals that K12 teachers struggle to integrate social media into their classroom lessons, and also to connect with students and parents outside their classrooms.
Nearly half of K12 teachers, including 58 percent of high school teachers, believe social media can enhance students’ educational experiences. But only 18 percent of all K12 teachers, and 19 percent of high school teachers, have integrated social media into their classrooms.
Admittedly, social media can be a gray area in education. But with training, open dialogue and strategic planning, social media can provide dynamic learning opportunities and prepare students to be better digital citizens. Ignoring social media, or attempting to control it to the point that it loses its benefits, can leave important learning opportunities on the table.
Educators are leveraging social media to give students a more global view. Students can share their work with larger audiences and receive authentic responses. Skype brings experts from all over the world into the classroom.
Twitter and hashtags allow teachers to create dynamic class dialogue and keep parents informed. Classes can engage in projects with students in other states or countries. LinkedIn and Twitter provide teachers with professional development and idea-sharing opportunities.
While social media offers unique opportunities to connect with students and parents, it presents challenges for teachers and administrators. According to the College of Education survey, 80 percent of teachers worry about issues that can arise when connecting with students and parents in social media.
Most teachers have personal social media accounts, but they are unsure how to proceed professionally. In fact, less than one-third of survey respondents said they have received “significant” or “adequate” training on interacting with students and parents on social networks.
Here are four ways to set beneficial social media policies that help teachers leverage these pervasive and influential education tools:
- Create a task force and use social media to connect with teachers in your district. Consider a task force that includes teacher leaders from different schools and grade levels to help develop policies, set priorities and determine how to communicate in different channels. The individual schools and teachers will all have unique roles to play in how social media is approached in the district, so engaging them as you set policies will help you gain teacher buy-in and ensure participation.
- Use the tools strategically. Think about what you want to accomplish, and then choose the tools. A school Facebook page may be beneficial, since many parents and students use Facebook. Teachers may prefer Twitter to communicate with students and parents but use LinkedIn to connect with peers. Teachers can also look beyond common social media tools to those that specifically support classroom environments. Tools such as Edmodo allow teachers to build class groups, post announcements, and create projects and assignments in closed environments.
- Encourage dialogue about digital citizenship. Integrating social media into the classroom helps students think critically about how they are participating in social media, and whether they are doing so with purpose. Some districts believe they play a role in educating students about their own digital citizenship and how it can benefit or hinder their future opportunities. The New York City Department of Education recently created social media guidelines to help guide students’ social media activity.
- Provide training. Ongoing training shows teachers you are committed to using social media effectively and that you support them in bringing more dynamic learning opportunities into their classrooms. Have teachers from your task force lead or be part of this training. It is important to establish clear and consistent guidelines for everyone. Publish and distribute your school’s and district’s guidelines. Continually gather feedback from teachers, parents and students to re-evaluate your policies. As social media changes and evolves, we must evolve with it or risk falling behind those who look to us to lead the way.
Kathy Cook is the director of educational technology and a faculty member for the College of Education at University of Phoenix.