By: Ray Mina
If you believe that social media is just another fad that will come and go, you should stop reading this post right now. I won’t be hurt. However, if you believe that networks like Facebook, Twitter and Instagram have become an integral part of our lives, but you’re struggling to safely incorporate them into the classroom or your schools, this is for you.
We’ve all heard plenty of anecdotes about the number of people who use social sites like Facebook or Twitter, but some of the most fascinating data I’ve read exposes exactly how much time we Americans spend using social media. In their 2012 earnings report, Facebook revealed that 48 percent of 18-34-year-olds check their account immediately upon waking up.
Possibly even more surprising, Experian claims that 27 percent of total U.S. Internet time is spent on social networking sites.
To say the least, social media is occupying more and more of our online time and in many ways is becoming a preferred method of communication. This begs the question: how do we educate today’s students on the best practices of using social networks?
I’m not a teacher, so I won’t pretend to understand the challenges of day to day life in the classroom and hallways, but I do know a thing or two about how social media can help or hurt your life, depending on how you use it.
1. Teach Students Blogging
Before there was a Facebook or Twitter, many of us were honing our creative writing skills by jumping into the blogosphere. Especially when combined with photography, blogs way to share my experiences and emotions with family and friends.
And blogs have something special built into them: just like social networks, blogs give us instant feedback. I can tell by the number of comments I receive what types of stories my “audience” enjoys, and inversely, which stories don’t resonate so well.
I love writing blogs about travel, for example. My father-in-law once gave me feedback that he thought a story I had written had too much of a negative voice. At that moment, I didn’t really agree, but upon further reflection his critique reinforced my goal of keeping the blog as a place of inspiration instead of complaints.
The point is, by blogging on a regular basis, I found a team (my audience) who would provide constructive criticism that not only helped improve my creative writing skills, but also gave me the opportunity to practice self-critique and reflection.
Some schools are turning to sites like Kidblog to bring safe blogging into the classroom. Kidblog makes it easy to emulate an adult’s “real” world blogging experience in the safety of the school by allowing you to set up an account for your class in a matter of minutes.
Your classroom activity is not publicly viewable on the web and students don’t need email addresses to create accounts. The best part of bringing blogging into the classroom, is that besides getting a team of classmates to provide feedback, they get you, their teacher, as a coach.
2. Create a Social Media Class
While it may be challenging to bring a social network like Twitter into your classroom or school (or flat out disallowed by your school district), another option is to create a social media class. With a structured environment that the teacher controls, there is a tremendous opportunity to teach students about using these platforms as creative writing and communication tools.
This is exactly what Clifford Elementary School in Redwood City, California did. Teacher Jessica Schifrin taught a full time technology class at Clifford, covering topics like social networking and desktop publishing.
When I met Jessica this fall, she told me that she could measure the progress in her students over the course of the year, mentioning that things they found appropriate to post early in the school year were later viewed as questionable or unacceptable. Self-critique in action.
Why do I feel that it’s so important to educate students on the ramifications of their activities on social sites like Facebook? Take one major technology company for example (I won’t call out any names). In this company’s current interview process, they require candidates to provide Facebook login credentials to get a closer look at their personal lives.
If they don’t like what they see, they can choose to use it as criteria to dismiss the candidate from the interview process. Perhaps someday legislation will be passed to prohibit this policy, but even then, it’s clear that our actions on social sites like Facebook and Instagram have a certain permanence.
I’ve heard many teachers say that it’s a parent’s responsibility to watch over their child’s behavior on social media, and that’s true. But many parents I know are not nearly as nimble as their children when it comes to navigating social sites or keeping up with the latest hot network.
I know parents that are supervising their kid’s behavior on Facebook. Meanwhile, their daughter is ten times as active on Twitter or Instagram. Supervising is only half the battle. Providing education and tools that go from one network to the next is the other.
3. Create a Virtual Hallway
One area of school life that has a built in tradition of capturing photos, memories and stories from the year (the original Facebook) is the school yearbook.
A few companies, likeTreeRing (Full disclosure: I head up marketing and business development at TreeRing) are focused on helping students capture their very best memories and experiences from each school year through the vehicle of the school yearbook. This is done through an online portal or mobile app that allows students to share photos and memories with the rest of their school. Students then get to have their photos physically printed in their personal copy of the yearbook at the end of the school year.
Tools like TreeRing are private only to the school, providing a safe environment for each community. Additionally, (and here’s where the virtual hallway comes into play) they are always supervised by a parent, teacher or administrator who oversees the yearbook production and approval process at the school.
I think there is something sacred about the yearbook – where students recognize that it’s not the place for inappropriate comments, photos or remarks – that goes beyond supervision.
It moves closer to respect and the comprehension of what it means to take pride in something. Perhaps it has something to do with the vivid understanding that a printed book is here to stay. That teachers, parents and even grandparents will get to see its contents. This is a bridge between social media and a tried and true practice at your school.
While it’s difficult to comprehend the permanence of things we do on the web, it’s easy to pick up an analog object like a yearbook and see that it will be around for a while. Students can see that it’s something they engaged with and helped build.
By marrying social media experiences with vehicles like the yearbook that already exist in your school, there exists an opportunity to pass along best practices and common sense to students, helping them avoid some of the pitfalls and traps of today’s web-based world.
Ray Mina approaches marketing and business development at TreeRing, the world’s first social school yearbook, with an analytical mind and a creative heart. Prior to TreeRing, Ray spent 15 years developing markets for digital and mobile printing software, and worked for digital print industry leaders like EFI. When he’s not at TreeRing, Ray is spending time with his wife and daughter, riding bikes, or searching the alleys of San Francisco for the city’s best coffee.