A morning news report caught my attention today. It was about a local school district that had relaxed its policy on social media and decided to allow (gasp) Facebook and Twitter into the classroom. The anchor people made some ad lib about "well, we'll have to keep an eye on that story." — as if it were some evil that must be kept away from our children at all cost.
Yes, we know that social media can be a distraction (but so can open windows). We also know teachers and parents alike are worried about the idea of incorporating too many online activities into the classroom, especially when it comes to younger children. After all, we hear lots of stories about predators, cyber-bullying, and other disturbing trends.
But let's face it: Social media is how our kids communicate. Whether it be through texting, Facebook, Twitter, or any number of other means, social media has invaded our lives at home and at work...so why ban it from our schools? There is no doubt that the concerns are valid. But before we dismiss social media from our educational process as some kind of gimmick or game, lets take a look at some reasons why we might want to invite it into the classroom.
Engaged Kids Perform Better. Try to get the attention of some 30 kids in the classroom — at the same time. It's like trying to herd cats some days. They all have their own thoughts, personalities and pressures (both peer and family) to deal with. Today's kids have a lot of "stuff" competing for their undivided attention. But one thing we know is that kids are tech savvy. Keeping them engaged through a media they already know and love might just be the key to keeping their attention. These tools can also have a far reaching impact on school attendance and performance. Think of it this way. Lets say you have a room full of Japanese business people. You know that they only speak Japanese. And you deliver your important presentation, speaking only in Spanish. Your audience is going to take away very little from that speech. Similarly, we need to communicate with kids in their own language — and today that language is social media.
Kids are sneaky. Guess what, despite the rules, they're still checking their Facebook while they're at school, probably on their smartphone or other device. So why not embrace the fact that they love the Internet and use it for productive learning? Make that time educational instead of just goofing around time. What's educational about Facebook? Well, there's probably enough material there for another blog. But in short, there are lessons to be learned related to advertising, writing, marketing, politics, history, science, and of course communication. The material is there. It just might take some creativity to work it into the standard curriculum.
Safety First. Additionally, there are a number of safe social media options that teachers can take advantage of to improve student safety. Many of these have been created by educators. YouTube has an area specifically dedicated to education called YouTube for Schools. Apple offers iTunes University. And here's a great site called kidblog.org. It was developed by a teacher and intended for use by other teachers.
Keeping Up With Change. We know this medium could actually give our kids an edge (socially and intellectually) as they move into adulthood. But, it will require a change in the way we educate and interact with our students. Of course, change is nothing new to the world of academia. Most of the time our schools are on the cutting edge of change. Even Facebook was developed as a side project while Zuckerberg was at Harvard. So embracing change in the classroom is nothing new, as it remains an integral part of improving the future for our children. As former British Prime Minister, Harold Wilson states, "He who rejects change is the architect of decay. The only human institution which rejects progress is the cemetery." Will the phrase, "Please open your Facebook..." become as common as "Please open your textbook..."? Time will tell.
Let me know what you think about social media in the classroom. Good idea? Bad idea? Are you already embracing it? If so, how are you incorporating it into your curriculum?
Photo credit: David Castillo Dominici