When it came out last year, the Netflix documentary The Social Dilemma shocked audiences by exposing the darkest sides of social media usage. Its data and statistics about how it negatively affects teens and children worried parents and educators. Although social media apps can have a strong negative influence — as a vessel that disseminates misinformation and provides a space for online bullying — they can also be used to better engage pupils in classroom activities.
According to Lori Wade from the Center of Social Impact Communication, “96% of the students that have internet access are using at least one social network.” She continues, “What’s even more extraordinary is that, even though some of the students use the social networks for entertaining and other purposes, there are a lot of them that actually use it to promote a lot of positive and useful activities.” Some of the positive ways students are using social media include using it to find summer internships, “promoting a success story about how to win the student-loan battle or collaborat(ing) on international projects…” These findings can give teachers ideas of how to integrate social media into lesson plans and homework assignments.
Take the youth-led international climate movement Fridays for Future, for example. This movement has become a success story for how young climate activists can connect through social media to begin a worldwide call for action. Teachers who wants to stay relevant to students should find out what your students are passionate about and what content they engage with on social media. Then, it’s possible to create a project that transcends the regional specter by connecting with other schools nationally or internationally by using Twitter, Instagram and TikTok as globally accessible platforms.
Aside from project-based assignments, teachers can also use the apps to engage students with a more “hands-on” approach. However, as these platforms tend to mix personal and professional boundaries, be very clear about separating the two and not interfering in pupils’ private business. For that reason, it is recommended to create separate accounts for schoolwork — that can even be a fun task, especially if it’s on a picture-based app such as Instagram or Pinterest.
Edutopia also created a resource file with in-depth readings and tips for those interested in exploring the intersection of social media and schooling. For a quicker read, Stephen Mosley on Medium gives a few examples of interacting via Twitter, Snapchat and Instagram. Some of the highlights include:
- Use it to post homework. Ask students to write about the significance of a posted photo — perhaps a map, person or document.
- Create out-of-class study groups using specific hashtags. Give the group a question and ask each member to contribute to the hashtag.
- Create a twitter account or example text as a literary character. Give the students a topic and ask them to tweet as the character would.
- Take videos of real-life examples of the content as a study guide or ask students to identify the video based on the content.
As new social media channels are created and adopted by a new generation of students, our relationship with these platforms will evolve. TikTok, for example, has a massive young audience. Even though it has been around for a longer time, YouTube has become an important source of information of all sorts. It is important that teachers be very mindful of the content they are picking and how children and teenagers interact with each other on these platforms under their guidance.