Some teachers are incorporating social media into the classroom

  • TECH
  • Wednesday, 11 May 2016

A group of teens look at one of their friend's smartphones as they sit outside the Natural History Museum in Washington on April 8, 2015. A Pew Research Center survey released found that 92 percent of US teens go online daily. The survey of teens between the ages of 13 and 17 found that 73 percent had a smartphone and 30 percent had at least a basic cellphone. AFP PHOTO/ NICHOLAS KAMM

These days, it's hard to look at your phone without getting disapproving looks from teachers and parents. But what if tweeting was an assignment? 

The push for more technological classrooms is obvious from things like smartboards to online textbooks. But is teaching on social media too far? 

There's something personal about the presentation of our lives online; some say it should be disconnected from school. But if getting assignments over Snapchat works well, is it such a bad thing? 

Some students find the interaction between students and teachers over social media to be forced or lame, but others see the benefits. Barrington junior Nicole Kim said she earns participation points for tweeting articles. 

"My teacher for AP US History uses social media as a way for kids to help others by posting interesting articles," Kim said. "Some relate to what we're learning, (and) others are just random, interesting ones about the world. Since I need participation points, I do post some articles that relate to our topic or just post some random ones to earn my points." 

Frequently tweeted articles mesh class content with current events, such as a recent tweet about the similarity between Bernie Sanders and Eugene V. Debs, an American political leader from the 1800s. 

Of course, tweeting about history outside of school isn't something everyone enjoys, but it does connect the past with the present – an important part of history as a whole. 

Barrington history teacher Robert Seidel, who uses Twitter to interact with his class, said technology is a valuable tool in his classroom. 

"Today's students come into my classroom dependent on technology in their personal lives, so it is important to embrace it in what I do to connect with them," Seidel said. "Using technology is not automatically engaging – that is, students are no longer engaged simply because a teacher is using technology. What matters most is how the teacher is using technology, and I have found that technology can help me increase the number of students who actively participate and engage in my course." 

Glenbrook South humanities and media teacher Scott Glass said he believes that social media, especially Twitter, can effectively connect students to the professional world and give them an opportunity to get their names out there as soon as they can. Glass encourages this practice within his classroom because he believes it will give his students an advantage in the long run. 

"I think students are sometimes surprised by how easy it is to connect with professionals," Glass said. "A simple Google search for any profession will turn up an array of individuals and organisations – nurses, engineers, educators, designers, etc – who are active on platforms like Twitter. This ends up being an easy way to get a sense of the discussions taking place in a given field and even join in a conversation, perhaps in a way that colleges, business and organisations will take note of when they search for who applicants are online." 

Glenbrook South senior Grace Moran is currently in Glass' media collage class, and she said she enjoys it because it connects students in a way that would not be possible without the incorporation of social media. Moran explained that the course explores many different concepts and ideas through projects that are later posted in Glass' Instagram for everyone to see. 

"I really like his incorporation of social media because I think it's easier to relate to our generation, and it's easier to encourage us to discuss different ideas that we otherwise wouldn't consider," Moran said. 

"The class is formatted to where we talk about different ideas and how different artists or creators have explored that idea. What we do is create 'Mind Books' where we create pages in it where we explain our thought process, so he will take some examples and post them on his Instagram which is a really cool way to connect with other people in the class." 

However, there are drawbacks to translating class work to social platforms. Many teachers, including Seidel, believe that social media and technology in general can easily distract students but hope they can find a way to use it appropriately. 

"For teachers and students, technology has become both a powerful tool for learning and a potential distraction in the classroom," Seidel said. 

"Not only can it improve workflow, collaboration, communication and creation in infinite ways, it can also serve as an infinite distraction. Appropriately using technology in the classroom requires a measure of additional management from the teacher as well as a great deal of self-discipline from the students." 

Glass believes it's extremely important for schools to teach students how to navigate social media because it's becoming such an integral part of our daily lives. Because students are so used to learning from a mentor, he believes they will also need to be guided through the world of social media and the Internet because it could otherwise serve as a distraction. 

"Social media is transforming our lives in general, including education," Glass said. "Whether it is Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat, YouTube, Facebook or something else, kids and adults are all in the process of figuring out the most beneficial ways to use these tools. As a teacher, I think part of my job is to help students understand how best to leverage these platforms as thoughtful learners and creators." — Chicago Tribune/Tribune News Service

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