Social Media as a Teaching Tool

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Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, FourSquare, Pinterest – it seems that every day a new form of “social media” appears on the web. Just what is social media and can you really use it in the classroom?

Social media is how people throughout the world communicate and share information (i.e., text, pictures, videos, animation, etc.) with others using a variety of tools. Content is generated by anyone and everyone. And to participate in the social media environment, one needs some type of electronic device (computer, iPad, tablet, smart phone, etc.) and a connection to the Internet. In their article “Users of the World Unite! Kaplan and Haenlein (2010) organize social media into four broad categories: 1. Space timers, such as Facebook Places and FourSquare, 2. Space locators (Qype and Yelp), 3. Quick timers (Facebook and Twitter), and 4. Slow timers (YouTube and entries in Wikipedia). Almost all forms of social media tools are free.

We know that many students use social media as their primary way of communicating with each other. Students text each other throughout the day, share photos and videos on Facebook and comment on same, and create their own boards on Pinterest amongst other types of social media activities. Many parents text their children to stay in touch instead of calling or leaving a phone message. Social media is now pervasive throughout society and shows no signs of disappearing soon. So, what is an educator to do? How can you capitalize on the social media tools that are used outside the classroom?

Examples of how to use social media effectively in instruction are numerous on the web. Here are some simple ways to get started:

YouTube: Record your lessons on video and post them on YouTube. You can even create a PowerPoint presentation, record a voice over, and upload it. Have students search for documentaries, interviews, news, etc. and have them compare and contrast the information they find. Reputable organizations and companies, such as the DiscoveryChannel and National Geographic, have excellent videos to use in instruction. Student(s) (individually or in a group) can also create a short video (no more than 5 – 10 minutes) on a topic, as well as send you very short (2-3 minute) videos explaining what they have learned about a topic and share questions that they might have.

Twitter: Use Twitter to update students and parents about upcoming events, send reminders, as well as news and other information that connects to what you are teaching. You will need to set up a Twitter account and create a hashtag (for example, #businessethics201) for your course.

Facebook: Create a Facebook page for each of your classes to share videos, photos, links to articles, provide updates, etc. Student can also post comments and you can get a conversation going on a topic.

Blog: Create a blog (using WordPress, for example) for a subject/topic/course. Have students write blog posts, comment, and add information.

Pinterest: Students can create their own board of 5 – 10 items with a brief description, then share their board with others via the blog, Twitter, Facebook, etc.

If your goal is to have students learn about various social media tools, you can easily integrate activities into the course by asking students to select a topic, then post information on the blog, Tweet about it on Twitter, pin a few items about the topic on Pinterest, and create a short video on YouTube. These assignments can be done both individually as well as in groups.

And, you will not be doing all this work in vain. According to Baker (2013), students benefit from using social media in four ways:

  1.  By communicating they build connections.
  2. By sharing information (photos, videos, comments, etc.) they strengthen relationships.
  3. By sharing and receiving information they learn about the world and develop critical thinking skills.
  4. For students about to graduate, they create their personal brand to market who they are and what they want to accomplish.

Implementing social media into instruction is relatively easy. You may experience some bumps in the road with getting it up-and-running and learning about your district’s social media use policies. However, the gains of using social media in your teaching far outweigh any disadvantages. In the end, you get to learn new things, the students will greatly appreciate your efforts, and learning reusable skills – both technical and critical – will go a long way in succeeding in life.