Can Social Media be Used to Teach?

social media, teaching, learning

A student’s artistic reflection to the impact of social media after studying the way social media impacts the perceptions of some people.

On November 14, 2018, Dr. Tony Wagner, educational theorist and proponent of critical thinking posted on his Twitter account, “Parents and teachers: how are we instilling a deep respect for ‘otherness’ to combat hate crimes in the future? Begins with teaching responsible use of social media. Kids are bullying one another far too often on line,” linked to the tweet was an article in the Washington Post with the headline, “Hate crimes rose 17 percent last year, according to new FBI data.”

Just one day earlier, the same newspaper ran a story headed with, “Kids love to ‘roast’ each other. But when does good-natured teasing become bullying?” which included the provocative statement, “People have been trash talking for years, but current adult behavior and constant access to social media are enabling today’s kids to refine the practice, and take it to new levels.” The article advances that opportunities at adult-like interaction via social media is creating a generation that can think and say whatever they want with little or no guidance for either.

Perhaps its not too much of a stretch to think that a causative relationship may exist between uninhibited interactions on social media and a lack of tolerance or respect for otherness as adolescent teens become tax-paying adults.

It is essential that schools, but more specifically classroom teachers begin to find creative ways to include interaction-based and social-media like experiences in the classroom. Creating intentional interactions that expose growing minds to these new modes of communication will make it possible to push-back against bully-like behaviors.  Engaging students in learning necessary for twenty-first century success makes it possible to discuss social media and reinforce that social media doesn’t just happen to them.

Social media is very innovative and a powerful tool of connectivity.  Expecting that it not be used and to punish those who use it may be focusing on creating accountability for behavior not for learning.  Think back to when teachers sent office referrals for things like hats, gum, or not wearing identification badges.  The most essential question becomes is this a battle worth fighting?

Two things a student must have for nearly full immersion in social media are a phone number and an e-mail account.  By the time the student is in middle school many of them have both; in fact, parents often supply students with smartphones and schools often encourage students to have e-mail addresses.

Think about it, a student in sixth or seventh grade has the capability to sign up for social media accounts and they are surrounded by friends, teachers, and family members who all have social media too.  It would be wise to acknowledge that most adolescents and teens will be connected to social media regardless of if schools allow it or not. Most students spend only 1,260 hours (or 52.5 days) out of the year in school, much of what they will be doing on social media will happen outside of school hours.

If ignoring social media is not a plausible teaching strategy, the question then becomes, what is the best way for students to learn how to use social media?  Should they learn it by watching the people around them? Or should we encourage the students to explore, take chances, make mistakes, and improve?  A third, is to utilize newly relevant instructional approaches to plan learning experiences in which students are encouraged to talk about their reactions and feelings towards social media.

Social-emotional learning emphasizes the purposeful management of emotions, setting and achieving goals, and being attuned to relationships with others, especially using the power of empathy.  When it comes to social media, it’s okay to ask students how they felt about what they read, said, or what happened on their social media feeds.

One of the most valuable questions that I was encouraged to ask students who are trying to make sense of something on social media is “How did that make you feel?”  Providing guidance to answer that question with purpose and sincerity builds emotional literacy.

The second instructional consideration is the concept of the human economy.  Dov Siedman of the Harvard Business Review offers, “In the human economy, the most valuable workers will be hired hearts… But they will still bring to their work essential traits that can’t be and won’t be programmed into software, like creativity, passion, character, and collaborative spirit—their humanity, in other words.”

The skills and knowledge that employers will look for in the future workforce will be based on the things that computers or artificial intelligence cannot have – the ability to think, the ability to feel, and the ability to work with others.  It’s not just emotional literacy, it will be the ability to use intuition and reasoned decisions to react to what another person is thinking and how that person is feeling.

Here’s a list of things that educators can do right now to use social media as a tool to help students build respect for others and tolerance towards diverse perspectives:

  • Start a blog: Post school appropriate thoughts, links, or activities and allow students to comment about them.  In many blog websites the creator moderates the comments.
  • Create dual social media accounts: With school district approval, create a social media account that students and parents can follow, you might be surprised at what you learn about your students.
  • Have a positive presence: Whether you mean for it to happen or not, students and parents will probably come across some of your social media updates; so, be positive.  Be positive, humble, gracious, happy, and optimistic with your on-line presence.
  • Teach about it: Design learning experiences that allow for students to read, talk, write, or construct something for an outlet to express how they perceive social media to be impacting their life.
  • Imagine-based activities: Have students imagine that they play a role in a social media dialogue, whether real, fake, or historical fiction and ask them how they might be effected by it if they were actually that person.
  • Talk about it: Is there some big news going on or some personal news that you know or can sense is disrupting the flow of your everyday classroom, take a few minutes or the entire period to talk about it, I suggest starting with, “How did that make you feel?”