I’ll start off this blog post like I have the last several: by saying that I have been a long-term denizen of the blogosphere and that its influences have shaped me in many ways, arguably in both good and bad ones. Many of my elementary school friendships existed with people in other countries whom I’d met online through social media (specifically Gaia Online and Nexopia), so social media and I go way back.
Firstly, I’d like to address the matter of controversy around social media: In my opinion, the bringing together of people with common interests can very rarely be a bad thing. There are, of course, sometimes when you really don’t want people spreading their ideas, like when it comes to racial bigotry or young teens running off to join ISIS, etc. That being said, when you start getting people together, whether it’s online or in person, then amazing things can start to happen. In those cases when people are so far away from each other that they can’t meet in person, then the virtual way becomes the only way. When people are able to talk together en mass, then it’s usually a catalyst for something good (again, with some exceptions). There might be some cases that we as teachers will encounter that are some of those exceptions, like when some students are cyber-bullying others. It is in these moments that we can address with our students the concepts of ethics and digital citizenship to get them ready for further online interactions later in life.
I really like some of the things that Maureen Henderson brings up in her blog post, but I also feel like she’s reaching a very far-gone conclusion in that you should “quit” social media. Like I said, I think there are upsides and downsides both to the concept. One of the upsides for me is that it helped me to develop confidence and social skills when I was younger and bullied at school. That being said, I think her point about harming self-esteem can be quite accurate. I’ve had people say things to me before along the lines of “your life looks so interesting!” after viewing my Facebook profile for a while. I can safely say to you now that I am a very boring person and that I only share the interesting bits so that others don’t think I’m as boring as I am. But this has a very interesting effect, because people get glimpses into the lives of others through social media, but only what those people want them to see (unless they’re on a reality TV show).
It’s in this way when people are only getting to see the “choice cuts” of others lives that they can really start to feel inadequate when it comes to their own personal lives. I could also make the same argument though that I feel equally inadequate for not having friends like Joey (Friends) or Ahbed (Community) in my life as well. I’m pretty sure that’s why we have reality TV shows, right? So that we can watch those and then regain confidence that our own lives aren’t so bad after all.
Now moving aside from the effects of social media on society at large, let’s focus it back down to the classroom. Can social media be used as an effective tool in the classroom? I say yes, it absolutely can be. But first off, I’ll come back to the requirement we have as teachers that says that it is our responsibility to determine when a technology is effective and when it is a hindrance to our students, and in my opinion, most social media falls under the latter of those two categories. I like the idea of a class Twitter, Flickr, or Vine account, for example, where students will be able to share information, pictures, and video of things they’ve worked on or want to share with the educational community. I also like the idea of encouraging the use of Pinterest, Reddit, or Tumblr accounts within and outside of the classroom. All three of these websites can offer up new ideas that others have shared which the students can make use of. For example, a student with an interest in science could follow the r/science subreddit and share those ideas excitedly with their friends. Another could follow r/writingprompts and become a much better writer for it. These are also excellent places to talk about ethics and community: we could look at poor comments others have made and discuss how that might affect someone online. The matter of uncontrollable content raises its head with these sites too, though: with so many users online at a given time, there’s no way for a teacher to filter out undesirable content from the classroom, such as pornography or foul language. The argument that students could get too distracted to make effective use of these tools is also a valid one: on a website like Reddit, there is SO much to see that it could be difficult for students to stay on-task. But then there are websites like Facebook where in the grade-school curriculum, I honestly can’t see a good use for. The thing is that so many people use their Facebook accounts for personal use, any time they would log on with the intent of educational use, there would again be too many personal distractions to be able to accomplish anything. How could you get any work done when all your friends are IMing you at once? Blogging is the last thing I wanted to touch on: I think this is probably one of the best choices out there for teachers. By having students keep online journals, you can try and keep track of them for informal evaluation that way, although I think that any assessment through the content provided would have to remain minimal by default. And by that I mean that you don’t really know that it was the student (and not a friend, sibling, parent, etc.) that wrote it.
Now once again, if anyone has arguments to the contrary, I would love to hear them, but I feel like social media has quite limited use within the classroom. If I were to make use of any for my students, I would probably restrict it to Reddit, Twitter, and possibly have students keep blogs as well.