Many educators are advocating for the inclusion of social media in education. They argue that since teen usage rates between 80-90% and growing, students must develop effective electronic communications skills in social media and schools should help them do that. Using social media in schools can also leverage connections that enrich the educational experience and develop important learning skills.
Before schools run headlong into Facebook, Twitter, etc.in the classroom we should pause and consider the dangers. There are significant and compelling arguments against using social media in classrooms. Nothing is ever all good, and efforts to include social media in the classroom experience must consider some of the drawbacks. Only by guarding against the dangers can we responsibly help students use social media in their learning.
What are the arguments against social media in the classroom.
- Sleep With Dogs, Wake Up With Fleas– Social media and teenagers have a far from spotless record. Popular media is peppered with stories about social media and cyberbullying, child predators and simple distractibility. Currently, social media is a ‘wild west’ where the landscape changes daily and the rules are poorly defined, misunderstood or non-existent. This isn’t the kind of environment parents want their children using. In addition schools boards aren’t willing to accept the liability resulting from social media use. Social media must be more stable and the risks to students minimized before it becomes a fixture in classrooms.
Self-Definition– The teen years are time of self-definition for students. danah boyd points out that what students want is to congregate and engage in the trial and error process of self-definition outside their family. This process used to happen in malls, parks, etc. but increasingly teens aren’t welcome in public spaces spaces. Teens are using social media as a proxy space for this process of self-definition. The intrusion of adults and schools into teen social media prevents this from happening. To facilitate proper social development of students schools need to steer clear of teen dominated social media spaces.
Technical Infrastructure– Effective use of social media in schools requires devices and bandwidth. Schools are developing this capacity but technical infrastructure is still lacking in most locations. This deficit has made trends such as FlipClass and BYOD very popular, as educators shift the provision of devices and bandwidth onto students and families. Schools can’t effectively use social media until we have devices for all students and adequate reliable bandwidth to connect them.
Differentiation– Social media, like any other form of communication, has advantages and disadvantages. Communicating through social media works well for some and less well for others. In our rush to help students develop good digital citizenship we must remember that that social media might isn’t every student’s “cup of tea”. Teachers using social media in the classroom are often early adopters and advocates. Some students aren’t comfortable with online communication. We need to respect that and ensure that students have other options available and are free to choose what works for them.
Distractions– Knowing when and how to disconnect from social media is a difficult skill to develop and use consistently. Having a device that connects you to all human knowledge and everyone you know and then asking you to ignore it is exceptionally hard. Sometimes student use of social media is inappropriate and prevents certain kinds of learning. If students are engaging online rather than face to face they’re missing the chance to develop important social skills and other ways of learning. The presence of social media in school may be too distracting and prevent learning for some students. We need to support those students and help them develop useful coping strategies.
None of these issues are insoluble, but they are real issues. Until they’re addressed social media won’t be a complete and integrated part of our education system, and our students won’t be getting the benefits that using social media as part of their learning can bring.