Can social media be used effectively in the classroom?

Social Media Use in the Classroom

Technology in the Classroom: Social Media

With so many distractions facing students today, few educators have considered implementing social media into their lesson plans. However, if the implementation of new technology in classrooms -- including everything from iPads to blended learning models -- has taught educators anything, it's that sometimes trying something new works. In fact, despite reaction from skeptics, social media is proving to be quite a useful learning tool.

The New York Times recently observed the use of a Twitter-like program in one 11th grade English classroom in Sioux Rapids, Iowa. The online communication board allowed students to share information freely -- information they may otherwise feel uncomfortable voicing out loud. Said one student, "when we have class discussions, I don't really feel the need to speak up or anything, [but] when you type something down, it's a lot easier to say what I feel."

One of the benefits of social media is that it promotes discussion, which can be a vital part of any classroom activity. While it presents its own unique set of challenges, many teachers can use social media in a number of classroom settings.

Where can we use social media?

Social media platforms can be used effectively in the classroom for a number of activities. With the average young person (aged 13-24) spending just over 16 hours per week online, it makes sense for educators to try to give them access to learning and class activities on these platforms.

In the Arts: Sharing and Viewing Artwork, Essays, Videos, and Photos Mashable recommends using image-based social media sites, like Pinterest and Flickr, to share artwork and other projects. While this can be especially useful for online classes (as it was for the Penn State University art course featured in the Mashable piece), it can also be useful for traditional brick-and-mortar classroom settings. Students can post their finished artwork online for others to comment on, or teachers can create Pinterest boards for entire projects (in which all students' work is posted). YouTube, a popular video sharing network, can be used for student videos.

Social Sciences: Group Discussions and Fishbowl Activities

Some high school classes and college classes have used organized hashtags on Twitter to coordinate a class discussion about certain topics. This can prove especially useful for classes where some information relevant to the classroom discussion may take place after school hours. For instance, a Presidential debate or speech can be viewed by students for a civics class, and students can use the designated hashtag (e.g., #EvergreenHighSchoolCivics) to talk about the debate with other students. Students can also use Twitter or Facebook to respond to fishbowl-type discussion questions. These questions can prompt students to pose questions about a novel they're reading in class, or post their thoughts about a question (posed by the instructor) in regards to a current event.

One study out of Lock Haven University found that in a sample group of 125 students in a pre-health professional program, the 70 students who incorporated Twitter into their seminar course showed "more than twice the improvement in engagement" compared with students who did not use Twitter, and "achieved an average of a .5 point increase in their overall GPA for the semester." Clearly, it can be engaging for students when platforms they are familiar with, like Twitter, are incorporated into classroom activities.

Language: Encourage Students to Keep a Blog

As a requirement for any course, teachers can require students to keep an active blog. While there are a number of platforms for this, some recommend sites specifically geared towards educators, like Edublogs. Not only does keeping a blog encourage regular reflection and writing, but in a world that is ever-dependent on technology, many students can find success later in life by developing blogging skills. In fact, according to The Chicago Tribune, showcasing a regularly updated blog can actually be useful during the hiring process. Says author Joshue Waldman, "a blog is a wonderful platform to show the world that you have something to say. It shows that you can write. It shows you are tech savvy. It shows that you are not afraid to take a stand."

Career Planning

The importance of having a LinkedIn profile cannot be understated for recent college graduates, and according to Forbes, there are a number of reasons high school students should have a profile on the popular professional network as well. While most students can benefit from the site when beginning a job search, they can also work on building their network and reaching out to professionals to get information about careers they may be interested in.


Social media is a relatively new form of technology, which means that implementing it in any classroom presents a number of obstacles for instructors. Teachers must often create new rubrics and grading methods, since in many classrooms there is yet to be an established way of grading participation or performance on social media sites.

One complaint many teachers make about integrating technology like social media into the classroom is that they lose control of classroom management. While it is true that teachers must plan in advance how to deal with disruptions, it is not true that you cannot have discipline and order in an interactive classroom.

To start with, teachers should model the behavior they expect from their students and give them clear instructions on what will and will not be tolerated. Next, they should allow them to perform mini-tasks using the skills they want to develop. Finally, teachers should monitor students' behavior constantly as they move around the room or participate in activities so that the instructor knows at all times what is happening. Teachers should also monitor the social media activities that take place outside of school. Being visible and keeping an eye on students may do far more for classroom management than trying to force students to conform to standards that do not interest them.

Implementation and Benefits

A feature in Hispanic Outlook spotlights how educators can teach with social media. The piece highlighted a number of universities that have successfully implemented social media into their classes. A big part of successful implementation comes with "social media literacy." Howard Rheingold, Virtual Communities and Social Media teacher at Stanford and UC-Berkley, suggested teachers and students familiarize themselves with the five "literacies" of social media: attention (preventing students from becoming too distracted, and knowing when and where they should place their attention at all times), participation (students should know when a comment can be helpful, not just place them for the sake of participating), collaboration (teachers should promote discussion), network awareness, and critical consumption (teaching students the ability to distinguish between "good" and "bad" information on the web).

Ultimately, social media can be an incredibly useful tool in today's classrooms. While perhaps not suited for all classrooms or subjects, it nonetheless has the power to engage students, encourage communication, and act as a creative outlet for different learning types. It would be a mistake for teachers today to ignore the impact social media has on the lives of students -- and to refuse to help them learn to use it properly and effectively.


About the Author:

Education enthusiast Chad Fisher knows how hard it can be for experienced job seekers and new grads alike to find a great career in today's economy. He believes that keeping a strong workforce in the education sector is important.