The use of new communicative technologies remains a topic of wide debate with both arguments for and against.
Proponents point to the wealth of innovative and exciting opportunities that digital learning technologies offer students and teachers. On the other side of the argument, although digital learning empowers students to take greater responsibility over their own education, this potentially exposes them to non-moderated and, in some cases, inappropriate material, sexual harassment and bullying by peers.
Whether intentional or not, teachers who are not careful online may also fall foul of rules governing inappropriate relationships with pupils or may publish images, photos or opinions that they did not realise were publicly accessible.
For these reasons, opponents to the use of social media in education have called for regulation and in many cases complete removal of ‘social classrooms’.
Yet despite such concerns, others have argued that digital technologies, specifically social media, offer widespread advantages that can be harnessed safely. According to a study conducted by the University of Minnesota they identified clear links between students’ learning progression and the use of social media in the classroom.
‘By understanding how students may be positively using these networking technologies in their daily lives and where the as-yet unrecognised educational opportunities are, we can help make schools even more relevant, connected and meaningful to kids.’
The report found that, of the students observed, 94 per cent go online at home, and 77 per cent had a profile on a social networking site. When asked what they learn from using such sites, the majority listed technology skills as the primary learning outcome, followed by creativity, broadening their awareness to new and diverse views and communication skills.
‘What we found was that students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st-century skills we want them to develop to be successful today,’ says Christine Greenhow, a learning technologies researcher in the University's College of Education and Human Development, and principal investigator of the study.
So, with the advantages of greater student engagement, increased technological proficiency and improvements in communication skills, is it any wonder proponents of digital technologies contest regulators?
The question is, however, rather than restrict and prohibit their use, how can educators and teaching professionals use social networking sites safely?
We’ve considered and collated some of the best-practice techniques for using social media effectively in your school:
(This is by no means an exhaustive list so please share your views and experiences in the comment section)
In the UK there are over 44.5 million Facebook users (over 68 per cent of the UK population). Given the level of population penetration it’s no wonder thousands of schools and teaching centres are turning to it. Here are just a few examples of the ways they are doing so:
- Facebook can be used to broadcast information. As a one-way communication tool, teachers can quickly, easily and cheaply communicate information to parents and other stakeholders.
- As a broadcast channel, this can also enable teachers to supplement or replace certain written communications, saving on those ‘lost’ letters on the way home from school and also helping to reduce the cost of printing and postage.
- Students are one of the most active demographics using Facebook and, as an information portal, schools can share and collaborate safely by creating Facebook groups, enabling teachers to safely circulate information among their students. Facebook groups do not require members to be friends but members of the group can still exchange links, files, information, surveys, images and videos with ease. Group members also receive notifications when a contribution has been made, which means whether they’re accessing the site online, on their tablet or through their smartphone device, they’ll be informed of new group updates immediately.
- In the same way as Facebook, Twitter can be used as a broadcast medium. Using the RSS feed, schools can link their Twitter accounts to their website so that messages are distributed to an even wider audience base.
- As well as sharing via the official school Twitter page, accounts can and should be set up for each department. In doing so, students can follow to receive tweets specific to their subject or class, such as a new GCSE Maths resource or a reminder about their previously-set homework assignment.
Pinterest offers teaching professionals a great educational resource in many ways. Teachers can:
- Share and create content such as links, photos, videos and past papers.
- Collaborate with other teaching professionals.
- Engage students with online projects or research.
- Build personal learning networks.
- Share and find resources with other educationists and learning centres.
Social media offers an expansive range of functional and technological benefits for both teachers and students – and, while there are concerns over e-safety, we should not shy away from their use but rather learn how to maximise their safe, efficient and effective use.
Follow us on our social networks to see how we’re effectively engaging with teaching professionals and students:
GCSE revision resources from LearnersCloud – supporting you and your learners to improve their GCSE results using digital learning technologies.