Social media is controversial. It generally has a bad reputation and can stir up many passionate opinions, mostly negative. The idea of introducing sites such as YouTube and Twitter into the primary classroom is, for some, unthinkable. Indeed, there are dangers associated with social media and we must be cautious and aware. However, I have always thought of social media as a positive thing. On a daily basis, I share with other educators on Twitter and I’m constantly inspired by my colleagues around the world. I am thankful for teaching at a time when such meaningful connections can be so easily made and maintained. And, of course, I’m thankful for the opportunity to share my musings on this blog. It has given me a voice and a platform. A while ago, I saw this “rant” by Mr. P that reflects my views:
“We need to be embracing it (social media). We need to be educating children about how to use it, showing that if you are positive and safe, it can create opportunities, jobs and careers.”
Lee Parkinson (2017)
Consider this: even if we disagree on other things, we can all agree on two points:
- Social media is potentially very harmful
- Social media will inevitably be a part of students’ lives
If something is potentially harmful AND inevitable, don’t we have a moral obligation to prepare our students? They require guidance on how to use it appropriately and positively. They benefit from having teachers who model this. This exposure needs to come at an early age before they are old enough to use it themselves.If something is potentially harmful AND inevitable, don't we have a moral obligation to prepare our students? Click To Tweet
However, I encourage you to move beyond obligation and towards celebration. I wholeheartedly agree with Mr. P that social media provides new opportunities that should be excitedly embraced. This blog post was inspired by Social LEADia. In the book, Jennifer Casa-Todd gives a name to these opportunities: digital leadership. Digital leadership is defined by George Couros as “using the vast reach of technology – especially social media – to improve the lives, well-being and circumstances of others”. The book provides real, inspiring examples of students who have certainly achieved this. It is so refreshing to read about social media in a positive light that focusses on opportunities for doing good. Yes, it should be handled carefully, but I want my students to be digital leaders.
“We need to stop telling students they are leaders of tomorrow when they can obviously change the world today.”
George Couros (2017)
Another reason that I have been thinking about social media recently is our current Year Four unit. We’re studying How We Express Ourselves through this central idea: People communicate and impact others through a variety of art forms and media. This is a new central idea for us. My students have been expressing important messages through different art forms. I wanted to explore options for sharing their work with an authentic audience. The minimum age for most social media sites is thirteen (for good reasons), but there’s a lot of value in having class accounts that can be moderated and maintained by teachers. Through discussion with our technology department and senior leadership, we decided to open the following options (in line with our social media policy):
Blogging: We have used edublogs to provide each student with their own public blog. Posts and comments are all moderated by me before they are made public.
YouTube: Students who create video content can upload their work to the school YouTube channel.
Twitter: We have created a class Twitter account for sharing students’ work. This will also be used to connect with other classes, post questions and contact experts. Follow us @vsahkg_Y4.
We shared our intentions with the parents and, importantly, explained the purpose and safety measures. The parents were absolutely fine with it. I even received messages that expressed their support and appreciation. I was reminded of a blog post by Taryn BondClegg. She stated that we too often predict how parents will respond (negatively) and use these presumed responses as reasons not to innovate. As the book states, parents just want to know that their children’s safety and best interests have been considered.
“So often we lean on “but the parents want…” as a crutch to cling to antiquated educational models and practices. But, is that what they really want? Have we asked them recently?”
Taryn BondClegg (2017)
My students are moving beyond consumers of the internet and becoming content creators. This has been very exciting for all of us. It has been wonderful for them to receive feedback from educators around the world. They are motivated by their authentic, global audience. This is commonly known as “the audience effect”. When we (not just students) know that our work will be seen and judged by others, we naturally want to make it as good as possible. The international comments from other teachers have been used to praise my students, offer feedback and stretch their thinking further. One of my students even received feedback and questions from Year Two students in Germany. Powerful stuff! Making international connections is wonderfully easy thanks to social media and extremely important for young people who are developing their international-mindedness.
“Using technology to expose students to a variety of experiences, ideas, and people is what twenty-first century education should look like.”
Jennifer Casa-Todd (2017)
Or, as my student so eloquently tweeted:
“I think people could be more open-minded by learning the cultures and religions of other people and we should connect with people all around the world. We all have to respect the fact that people are from different places and not every place is like HK.”
My students do not use Twitter unsupervised but we have been tweeting together. In addition, I created a Google Form for students to type their tweets. I check them and post on their behalf. A similar method, using Google Sheets, was suggested by Alice Keeler but I wanted an option for uploading files so that students can tweet images, docs, etc. Google Forms offers ‘File Upload’ as a question type.
It is often argued that social media should be left alone until students are old enough to use it themselves, in which case primary teachers would have no business with it. However, I think it makes sense that we should be preparing students. Imagine how many teenage issues could be pre-empted if students have years of guidance and modelling before they use it independently. I accept that there are safer ways to develop digital citizenship, through secure platforms such as Seesaw and Google Classroom for example, but let’s move beyond digital citizenship and aim to develop digital leadership in our students, however young. With a global audience, they have a fantastic opportunity to make a real difference.
So, what next? Beyond this unit, we’d like to continue our use of social media to share our learning. We look forward to mutually-beneficial connections with other classes worldwide. I also hope to use social media (Twitter in particular) to connect with authors and experts in ways that can transform learning. Finally, I aim to inspire action through their use of social media. Our next unit is about migration and partly about refugees. Imagine the opportunities to connect, raise awareness and promote important causes. Watch this space!
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Great post, Adam. I really appreciate the definition of digital leadership by George Couros. It’s an ideal worth pursuing.
I totally agree! I can see how social media makes meaningful digital leadership possible. We just have to provide these opportunities to students. Social media can be a wonderful tool for taking action and making the world a better place. You should read the book. I think you’d love it!
I know I would too, Adam! Thanks for the recommendation. I wonder if it’s available as an audio book. I need to make more time for reading and listening.
Mr Hill, thank you so much for this. I wholeheartedly agree. I’m trying to get my head to agree to a school YouTube channel. Could you let me know how you approached this with your parents and what controls you have in place please. Thank you!
This is the message that we shared with parents: https://docs.google.com/document/d/1sV2KxUBMlEJdegQyglVOlKef1x1Kr3YVbDe5c2C-HCE/edit?usp=sharing
I hope it makes sense. Some of these controls might seem strict but we feel they’re appropriate for our context right now. I really recommend the book. It offers more suggestions on how to approach social media with different stakeholders.
Thanks for your comment!
Adam, wonderful post. The use of social media strikes a huge nerve with people at my school. Sometimes the teachers are afraid to introduce it because they are not using it themselves. You have a great comfort level and it shows. You teach kids and really provide the safe place for them. Asking someone to teach this that is not comfortable with it themselves would require a lot of PD, but really it is them wanting dive into social media themselves outside of the classroom and figuring out how to use it appropriately themselves. How can someone teach kids appropriate use of the social media when they do not understand what that means? We also have had teachers use it inappropriately and be disciplined for it. I really agree with this post, but I am not sure how you would implement it as a whole school, requied by all teachers. Love your musings!
Thanks for your kind comment. You have hit some really good points. The book points out that we should also be using social media. We should be positive role models online and set an example. It also helps that I know my way around these platforms. Edublogs is relatively complicated (compared to other educational technology anyway) but it’s a branch of WordPress and set up in the same way, so I’m fine with it. I think it’s key that educators themselves have positive experiences of social media.
I’m also unsure how whole school implementation would work. I suspect that it wouldn’t (in most cases). I’m pleased to work somewhere that lets individuals take risks in their areas of interest rather than expecting consistency all the time. Hopefully others will follow my lead if it goes well.