Guest Post by Roslyn Tam
Almost three quarters of students with access to the internet made use of a social networking site in 2010, and those numbers have only been on the rise. These same students are some of the many million users of Twitter and YouTube. With hours and hours spent on these sites, educators are missing the boat on a worthwhile tool for connecting with students. True, social networks can be major time wasters. They can also be helpful, though, when used in the right ways, especially if those charged with the creation of education policy are ready to think outside of the box. Rather than fight the social media trend, some educators are using social networks to improve learning, and to facilitate better communication outside of the classroom.
More than half of teachers, librarians, and other educators use social media for career enrichment through training or blogging, but many are hesitant to bring these tools directly into their lessons. Their reasons are usually sound: many worry that endorsing or encouraging social networking during school hours may prove distracting or, worse, an opportunity for cyber bullying. However, some schools are getting over the fear, and are cautiously making strides to leverage the maximum benefit from networking sites.
New Jersey’s New Milford High School, for instance, issues updates to its students through its Twitter feed and Facebook pages, and encourages the dissemination of everything from homework assignments to sports game highlights online. The connection between parents to what’s going on in their kids’ lives is a valuable tool in this equation, and helps to keep everyone updated on academic and student life.
Eric Sheninger, New Milford’s principal, is one of the program’s biggest advocates. “I stress the fact that this phenomenon is not going away and is a major component in the lives of today’s society,” he said of his school’s embrace of social networking technology. In addition to robustly using networking sites at New Milford, Sheninger has also developed a program to help other schools do the same. Scheninger encourages schools to use development, opportunity, and collaboration to create situations that will lead to a give and take of thoughts and ideas between those being served. This can help to ensure that as many people as possible are having their needs met.
Even some colleges are jumping on the proverbial wagon. At Indiana State University, professors are using Twitter to help students find more successful internships. The network creates a web of support for students to easily access tips from both professors and potential mentors. Many other schools have dedicated Facebook pages for classes, sports teams, and study groups, where professors as well as students interact and ask questions. Schools frequently also offer pages and information streams to connect parents, alumni, and others interested in keeping up with campus happenings.
Social media is an effective tool for teachers because it provides yet another way of effectively reaching students. When needed, it can also be a tremendous way of involving parents in the learning process, too. The communication fostered by easy, asynchronous check-ins gives working parents the opportunity to be involved in their children’s academic lives. Furthermore, by cashing in on a platform students are already using, social media is more likely to be successfully adopted–and students are generally quite excited to participate.
Roslyn Tam is a recent graduate of the University of Washington’s political science department, who, from the first day she stepped foot on campus, has taken a sincere and passionate interest in United States education policy. Ms. Tam, an individual preparing for graduate study in educational leadership, believes education to be one of if not the most important determinants of a nation’s future economic success and seeks to contribute to its continued success through a career in educational leadership and policy.