The Pros and Cons of Social Media at School

 

Article by Jane Stringham | 676 words

Some popular social media applications, like Pinterest and Instagram, become useful for more than DIY necklace instructions and “shop my closet” sales when elementary school teachers introduce them to their classrooms. Particularly, teachers can harness the applications’ abilities to categorize different ideas under one “board” or “hashtag.” For instance, they can ask students to post examples of parallel and perpendicular lines or to snap photos of the world as Jane Eyre might see it. The sites allow students to post content easily, and they can share their findings with their peers. Of course, teachers should take care to avoid privacy concerns and keep content PG, as well.

Social media in the classroom

Credit: Emuprssa.com

 

Some educators, however, worry that social media platforms encourage myopic and self-absorbed worldviews—not to mention potential dangers in the form of inter-classroom bullying or even online predators. These concerns have recently led teachers to evaluate the benefits of using social media in the classroom versus its potential problems.

Gail Leicht, an eighth grade Language Arts and Literature teacher writing for PBS.org, believes the negatives overshadow any of the possible advantages. She feels strongly that social media should be “kept social” precisely because it further cultivates the juvenile “all about me” attitude already present in many of her junior high students. Plus, it distracts students from being truly present in the classroom.  The crux of Leicht’s point on distraction lies in the name of the beast itself: “social media.” Instagram, Pinterest and Facebook are tools for socializing, and in Leicht’s mind, they should remain as such. These apps allow students to create and inhabit a sort of cave where they never need to step outside their chosen social community or its worldview. This is the exact opposite goal of education, which should replace a closed mind with an open one. Can two communities—both digital and real—exist and thrive in one classroom? For teachers to transition back and forth seamlessly and productively between the two could prove difficult.

Other educators, however, remain optimistic. Don Goble, a Missouri-based high school teacher who took part in the 2011 Apple Distinguished Educator Class, travels nationally to speak about the merits of digital and social media in the classroom. In his article on PBS.org, he describes the joy and pride his students feel when they utilize digital media to connect and collaborate with others throughout the world. “I have found the quietest students in my class speak the loudest on social media.” Goble refers specifically to a soft-spoken student’s blogging experience on Weebly and how it enabled her to build a connection with a videographer in Australia. To ignore social media and the need for students to become media-literate in an increasingly technology-driven world would be forgoing a wealth of “some of the greatest learning opportunities that young learners have ever had,” according to Goble.

While some student blogs are hosted on public website builders, multiple social media forums exist strictly for educational use. These sites offer safe and well-monitored environments exclusive to teachers and students. Some examples include “Edublogs” and “Schooltube.”

On its homepage, Edublogs distinguishes itself from standard blog builders by emphasizing its lack of advertising and inappropriate content. Schooltube is similar in concept. The site is a free K-12 moderated video community founded by another Missouri-based educator, Carl Arizpe. It offers a “safe and fun” platform for students and teachers to share videos, and it is endorsed by leading educational organizations such as the National Honor Society and the National Association of Student Councils (NASC). Such sites aim to allay social media-wary educators’ concerns about cyberbullying and accidental exposure to PG-13 or R-rated material.

And yet, if Goble’s class had been using the sheltered Edublogs tool rather than the public Weebly site, his introverted student would not have made her exciting international connection with the videographer from Australia. She would not have approached her teacher and proclaimed, “You’re right! What we produce does extend beyond the walls of our classroom,” a comment that speaks to both Goble and Leicht’s educational goals: that students expand their worldviews and cultivate community.

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