Social media is an ingrained part of today’s society. Students are constantly on Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, and likely many sites teachers are not hip enough to know about, and by reading this article, you’re interacting with social media at this very moment. If you want to bring the “real world” into the classroom, consider integrating social media into your lessons.

No Longer a Distraction

Image via Flickr by Sean MacEntee

When used carefully, social media can be a useful tool rather than a distraction. A recent Edutopia blog post argues that using social media not only brings current technology to the classroom, but it also helps bridge the digital divide among lower-income students. These students may not have the constant access to social media that their counterparts do. Why should they be left behind as technology continues to march forward?

Education-based sites such as Passnownow, provide alternative social media sites for posting status updates and announcements. But even the commercialized sites can be useful for demonstrating social media to students.

Create a Class Facebook Group

Facebook is known as a place to post status updates, announcements, photos, and video — all things that we likely use in our classes anyway. Create a Facebook group for each class, on which you can post assignments, make announcements, and remind students about important deadlines. Parents can also access the site to monitor what is going on in your class.

A Facebook group also creates a space for students to ask and answer questions. When students get home and begin working on their homework, they can post a question to the group’s wall that either you or a classmate can answer. Since students often learn from others, having students share their questions, insights, or experiences with a topic can expand learning for other students. In short, it extends the classroom discussion beyond the classroom.

A Facebook group is also ideal for teachers using the flipped classroom. Post videos, photos, documents, and other resources on the group’s wall so that students can access them before class or while working on their assignments.

Of course, content management systems can offer the same opportunities for announcements and resources. However, because many older students and parents already have Facebook on their phones and tablets, they have constant access to course information without having to log in to a completely different system.

Start a Topical Twitter Feed

Like Facebook, Twitter offers a quick way to post class announcements and reminders as well as real-time information on class field trips (perfect for parents who can’t tag along). Twitter also helps classes track information on a topic.

For instance, for a class discussing a current event or topic such as career ideas, Twitter can provide up-to-date information, eliminating the need for extensive research. By following the Twitter feeds of experts in the field or even hashtags focused on a current world issue, students can learn more about what is happening in the world around them. You can use this information in a variety of class discussions, research, and writing projects.

Twitter is made not only for reading, but also for responding. Encourage students to interact with others via Twitter by posting their favorite quotes or facts from a particular lesson. Have them interact with experts by tweeting questions or comments. Many organizations offer Twitter chat sessions with which students can interact.

Require Students to Blog

Student writing improves the more they do it. Instead of traditional writing projects, blogs create great opportunities for students to write and display their writing on a larger scale. The topic ideas are endless. Have students reflect on lessons or field trips, document research for a larger project; or review movies, books, or audio recordings. Ask students to illustrate their thoughts with photos or videos.

By having students read each other’s blog posts, they will create a stronger community with one another, discovering shared experiences and reactions. Because their work becomes part of the greater World Wide Web, students have increased motivation to carefully consider their language, spelling, and grammar usage as well as how they draw in outside information. In this vein, blogging can be an excellent segue into a discussion on plagiarism, voice, and writing style.

Post Student Videos to YouTube

Like Facebook, YouTube is an excellent option for flipped classrooms in that students can watch lectures and resources before entering the classroom. We have all probably shown a YouTube clip or two to illustrate a point in the classroom. Instead of watching material created by others, why not have students create their own material?

Similar to blogging, the opportunities for student-created video are plenty. Students will enjoy watching each other explain a concept, review a book or movie, stage their own interpretation of a scene from a play, create public service announcements, or report on news stories. Again, like blogging, since the material will be seen by a wider audience, students will be more apt to do their very best in creating a video, and they will enjoy being able to express their creativity as they connect more deeply with course material.

Showcase Student Work on Instagram

If a picture is worth a thousand words, imagine what a carefully crafted class Instagram feed can say. Instagram can showcase student work by offering a place to feature student artwork or even interesting details about a student (i.e., a “meet a student” photo journal). Start a scavenger hunt in which students post pictures of items focused on a certain letter or theme. Have students post photos of items related to their favorite book or historical figure.

A Final World on Social Media

Privacy concerns are always an issue whether using social media for personal or educational use. Please read all social media platforms’ privacy pages, and ensure that your class feeds are set to private to protect students’ work. Review your school’s social media policy and if necessary, have parents sign consent forms for posting their child’s work online. Furthermore, make sure that students are well versed in etiquette and other proper use of technology.

In Short

Since students are already using social media away from the classroom, integrating it into the classroom helps students learn best practices for social media and offers an interesting new twist on lessons.