Saturday, August 20, 2011

The Social Network

I have a love/hate relationship with social media. It can be a great way to keep current with certain events and individuals, but it can also become yet another demand on one’s time. There has been a flurry of news articles lately on how many social media users feel obligated to stay online; indeed, many feel compelled to constantly tweet or update their Facebook statuses, even while on vacation or during the night. Adolescents and teens are the heaviest users of social media – a 2009 Pew report found that 73% of kids aged 12-17 used social media regularly. It’s no wonder, then, that some teachers have decided to shake up traditional lesson plans a bit by incorporating social media in their classrooms.

Many parents, educators, and administrators have reservations about using social media in school. In many schools, access to sites like Facebook, Skype, and YouTube are blocked. Granting students access to social media sites in the classroom may seem like playing with fire – we all know how good intentions can be easily abused by some kids, which can quickly sour the experience for everyone. In granting classroom access to social media sites, students need to clearly understand the class rules surrounding its use in class, and the ramifications if the privilege is abused. Monitoring by the teacher, especially in the beginning of such activities, is likely necessary. But the use of social media in lessons can be an effective way for students to collaborate, quickly share information, prompt discussions, create content, and lend insights into class work that might not otherwise occur.

The use of social media can level the playing field for many students. Students who are shy and reluctant to speak in class are often more likely to participate in discussions and offer critiques online. When used creatively, it can be a powerful learning tool for many classrooms. Foreign language students, for example, can use tools such as Skype to connect with native speakers and practice their conversational skills and proper pronunciation. Teachers of ELL students can use the Add Video feature on Facebook to record words or phrases that his/her students mispronounced during that day’s class. In addition to using Twitter and Facebook to communicate with parents, some enterprising teachers also use such social media to recap lessons for their students – a technique that appears to be very successful with younger students in particular.  One teacher had his students tweet chapter summaries of Gary Paulsen’s novel Hatchet -- an effective exercise in concise writing and summarization in 140 characters or less.

The inclusion of social media in the classroom can be a vastly rewarding experience, but it’s clearly not suited to every teacher. Nor should it be. Everyone has their own pedagogical strengths and weaknesses, and the academic world will hardly come to a standstill if you decide that social media isn’t appropriate for you and your classes. In the right hands, however, social media can be an engaging, inspirational, and motivating tool for students. This week I’ve featured three resources that all make use of social media in creative ways. Please be sure to also check Peggy’s companion column, which features many more ideas on how to incorporate social media into the curriculum. As always, we’ll be featuring several new lessons and resources on this topic each day throughout the week on our Facebook and Twitter pages, so be sure to take a look.

SKYPE PALS Project Share NC
Grade: 4-12
This lesson uses Skype and digital storytelling technology to communicate and exchange cultural and language information with students in another country. While this lesson was written for students in North Carolina, it can easily be adapted to students in other regions. This lesson is a product of Digital Wish, a non-profit organization whose mission is to modernize K-12 classrooms and prepare students for tomorrow's workforce. Teachers create wish lists of technology products for their classroom, and donors then connect with their favorite schools and grant classroom wishes through online cash or product donations.

Less is More: Using Social Media to Inspire Concise Writing
Subjects: English, Technology
Grade: 6-12
How can online media like Twitter posts, Facebook status updates and text messages be harnessed to inspire and guide concise writing? In this lesson, students read, respond to and write brief fiction and nonfiction stories, and reflect on the benefits and drawbacks of “writing short.” This lesson was produced by The New York Times Learning Network, which offers free lesson plans and other educational materials. Also offered at the site are videos, podcasts, photographs and graphics, daily interactive news quizzes, and other resources for use in the classroom or for homeschoolers. Lessons are aligned to national content standards.

Social Media: An Introduction
Subjects: English, Sociology
Grade: 8-12
In this lesson, students discuss various social media sites, and their potential impact on future job searches and employment. The lesson includes topics such as students’ digital reputations, online privacy, and the importance of using social media privacy controls. This lesson was published on Scribd, a social publishing site where people can share original writings and documents.

~Joann's Picks - 8/18/2011~

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