After taking part in the online #pechat on Twitter this week about the use of social media within physical education, it got me thinking about the use of it generally in education. There are pockets of good practice springing up all over the place, creating fast and effective communication with students, but in my opinion it is largely being held back by a stigma that social media is all bad news.
Let’s explore the myth that social media is bad news and creates problems.
Is Social Media All Bad?
Yes, social media sites like Facebook, MySpace, Bebo and Twitter (less so) have earned bad reputations for the problems they can cause between young people who use these mediums to cyber bully others. But that is just a small minority of the interactions that take place each day. We must remember that any product, service or machine can be dangerous if not used correctly. We must focus on the management of these things and the way we teach people to use them and not just the potential negative aspects. If there is an issue with somebody using it, then this becomes a behaviour management issue, not a product issue. There were over 200 thousand road traffic accidents in 2011 with 1,901 people killed in the process – but how many of you have driven your car to work today? Why haven’t you thrown away the keys, scared by the knowledge that driving is dangerous and that it kills thousands of people every year???
My point is that we first need to educate teachers and adults that social media is perfectly safe and fine to use, if used professionally and sensibly. We need to understand that in a digital world, we must adapt our communication methods to fit with the young people that we are trying to reach. We are all told that in our classrooms we need to adapt our teaching styles to the students in front of us in order to create effective learning. Appreciating the fact that our young people are growing up in a digitally dynamic world that is communicating more frequently now that it has ever done before is essential.
Power of Social Media
Facebook has 845 million active users across the globe (23 million in the UK)
50% of these users log in every day
35 million users update their status every day
30 billion pieces of content are shared each month
The average user spends nearly 25 minutes per day on Facebook which equates to 12 hours per month
I know that some teachers will still be scared about its connotations around safeguarding though. Let’s be clear – if you use it to talk to students via private messages late at night, then yes, you should be concerned. But going back to what I said at the top of this post, you are 100% safe if you use it professionally. If you set up public groups that students have to request to join, this creates safe learning environments. All posts are then public for all the members of the group to view and comment on. How can this ever be classed as a safeguarding issue? All of your communication can be read by everyone – nothing is private. I would even go as far as saying that this is much safer practice than telephoning a student or speaking to them 1 on 1 in a classroom or office. There are no witnesses to verify what you were talking about with the student in that moment, but on a public forum within a social network it is there for all to see.
I use a closed group within Facebook for communication with my Woodham Warriors American Football team. The reason I set this up was due to the fact that I realised pretty quickly that my students don’t really use email that much at all, and hardly ever check their inbox. All of their communication and messaging between friends goes through Facebook. I had to find a way to tap into this because messages were sat in player’s inboxes for days or even weeks before they accessed them. I therefore set up a closed group in Facebook that each player had to request to join. I moderate and run the group and it does not require any of the players to have to be friends with me on Facebook. The beauty of the group being a closed group is that the information is only available to the members of the group, perfect for specific information about my team or information on upcoming opponents.
The success of this type of communication cannot be underestimated. If I send a message out to my team on an evening or a weekend, it normally generates a response or even just a ’like’ from the majority of the team within minutes, meaning I know that the message has been received and understood. It is also a great way to share links to websites with topical information for independent reading and student research.
With this in mind, it is clear that we need to understand the power of the social media phenomenon and start to utilise its vast potential. How can you use social networks like Facebook and Twitter to communicate news from your school or your department? How can you use it to generate discussion points on topics after normal school hours whilst helping to promote independent learning? Can you use it to deliver important reminders about homework, study, revision etc? Blogs, Forums and Twitter hash tags can all facilitate this type of distanced digital learning activity.
Ask yourself the question – how can a carefully managed social media network enhance the learning opportunities outside of your classroom?