No teacher is ignorant of the dangers and risks associated with social media. In recent years it’s got a lot of bad press. However, this doesn’t mean that in the right environment and under the right supervision it can’t be a useful teaching tool.
The fact is that today’s teenagers are probably more comfortable expressing themselves via digital media than they are face-to-face. The most effective and savvy teachers, therefore, should and can look at ways of using their students’ love of technology to help accelerate their learning.
The skills that can be gained from using different social media channels and platforms are extremely transferable, and not just limited to those subjects with a media element.
How we learn is changing
At university level I have seen the way in which students learn change dramatically in the last few years. The internet has made everything so much more accessible, and whereas before doing research could take hours, if not days, now students are rarely inclined to go beyond the first Wikipedia page.
You now see students looking at the learning outcomes of their assessments and the criteria they are marked on, and reverse-engineering their research to fit these factors, mitigating the need to attend any lectures!
This may seem like laziness, but I prefer to look at it as intelligent, efficient and savvy – a product of the digital generation. It also changes the value proposition of what we as lecturers or teachers are there to do. The role has changed from gatekeeper of knowledge to one who facilitates, motivates and encourages.
As such, instead of setting work for students to go off and complete independently, a different approach, such as encouraging them to carry out constructive research and share the results socially, may be more beneficial.
Findings can then be fed into a Google Hangout group, which can be set up and monitored by the subject teacher, head of year, or whoever is most appropriate. The teacher can also be part of the group, and can create groups that fall outside of set friendships, to encourage a further feeling of community engagement outside of the classroom. This is also a great way to prepare students for further study or their future careers, as it makes use of collaborative skills such as team-work.
It can be somewhat daunting the first time you actively bring social media into a classroom environment, especially with regards to keeping students on task during what will initially seem an exciting and out-of-the-ordinary event. When I first started using social media in lectures, people thought I was mad because I decided to set up a Twitter wall in class whereby students could tweet questions using a dedicated hashtag.
While you do worry about what you are going to get, all questions are traceable back to specific students, so anyone posting inappropriately can be swiftly identified. On top of this, there is a key benefit to using this unorthodox method of Q&A.
Allowing students to question digitally rather than vocally allows those who are less confident, or who perhaps don’t have English as a first language, to ask questions in a manner which may feel more comfortable than the traditional hand-raising.
I came up with this idea initially with a specific student in mind, who didn’t speak English very well. I never told him that I was doing it with him in mind, but when it came to the first lesson he was the first student who tweeted. I have used it ever since in larger group scenarios.
We also need to realise that young people’s role-models are no longer young pop stars, but instead the community of up-and-coming vloggers who are currently everywhere.
Young girls want to be the next Zoella, and young boys think that Alfie Deyes is the epitome of cool. Social media is a brilliant tool to foster confidence and ambition in these young people.
While it is important to communicate to your students that it takes a lot of hard work and dedication to become the next star vlogger, that’s not necessarily a bad message to put across, and in finding a specific voice and audience on social media young people can also boost their self-esteem and confidence in the same way.
I have explained how social media might be used as a research tool, a community engagement tool, and even a confidence-building tool, but probably the most interesting and enjoyable way it can be used in a classroom environment is through subject-specific tasks.
Arts and humanities subjects such as English, geography, history, art, drama and media studies lend themselves incredibly well to social media platforms, such as YouTube and Vine, on which you can create your own community or communities – as do the sciences, whereby recording an experiment can be used as a tool for analysis.
And while students can learn the technical side of how to shoot film and tell stories, video-sharing platforms can also be used to understand reach, audiences and influence. The influence of digital in this sense can help students not only learn about the technical and creative, but also the business sense of content-creation.
Social media can bring a range of benefits and new areas to explore into the classroom. It is important to err on the side of caution, and monitor its usage accordingly, however from an engagement perspective, using a tool which students already identify and are comfortable with can often help their learning potential.
Neil Peplow is chief operating officer at Met Film School.