Practical uses of Social Media in Secondary School: some important things to be aware of

Professional Pathways Blog

This blog represents the views of the author and does not represent any official position by FLANZ

Screen showing social media apps

Given how acclimated most students are to some form of social media, it is worth exploring how such tools may benefit their learning journey. Each social media platform offers different opportunities, from simply making classroom announcements to having live synchronous sessions. Social media represents immediacy, or presence, that can make the student feel more in touch, more supported than the traditional discussion board.

Teachers thinking about making use of social media should always know both their institutions’ guidelines and national legislation. School policies may restrict the use of mobile devices in the classroom and national legislation around data protection and privacy needs to be considered.

My last blog outlined some of the broad opportunities and challenges represented by the use of social media in education. In this blog, I Want to focus on the potential benefits of social media for learners and teachers in formal compulsory schooling, particularly secondary.

The reason for the focus on secondary is that most responsible social media companies restrict access to their platforms by those aged 13 or more. It is also worth noting that not all students will have access to suitable devices, that parents may want to limit screen time or particular apps, and that students themselves may adopt or veto particular platforms.

The following graph illustrates the percentages of school children responding to the CensusatSchool NZ questionnaire(1) on three occasions since 2017.

chart showing use of different social media

Although the data presented here as illustrative, there are different numbers of responses each year (approximately 32000 in 2017 and 2019, and 16600 to date in 2021), and no breakdown of age or gender is represented here, they suggest clearly that there is no obvious choice of social media. None of the social media tools included here has ever had as many as two-thirds of students making use of them.

Facebook

Facebook is NOT the ubiquitous platform we imagined it to be as little as five years ago. Less than 50% of students make use of Facebook. If it is possible to persuade everyone in a cohort to sign up, Facebook represents an accessible platform for sharing announcements and accepting comments with no configuration needed. Facebook Groups can be limited to those that are given access making them essentially private but this requires all members to have a Facebook account. Although Pages do not require users to log on, teachers need to consider whether it is better to make their own profile their class space(s) so they can control some access parameters, rather than creating Pages, which are public. Teachers may set up an account using their School email address rather than their personal one.
Facebook Groups can be created for each class and support the streaming of Facebook Live sessions, post discussion questions, assign homework and make announcements. Groups allow for direct invites to be emailed to students and their parents without teachers having to ‘friend’ individual students. If you do not have access to a fully functioning Virtual Learning Environment (VLE), this could be an option. Were we to face future lockdowns, knowing how to use this functionality could save some anxiety.

Twitter

If your school has a VLE but doesn’t provide an SMS notification system, Twitter could be an alternative. Assuming all students or their parents have mobile devices that can support the Twitter app, it can prove a useful announcement system.

Teachers can create more than one ‘handle’ so they do not need to share their personal profile. Using unique hashtags also allows students to be guided to specific content. If brevity in communication is a learning aim, the standard 280 character limit can encourage students to think critically and communicate concisely. Everything posted on Twitter can be read by everyone so it is important to ensure students understand what it is appropriate to share publicly.

Instagram

A slightly more private option might be Instagram. It lends itself to visually rich subjects, but the ability to share media and then invite comments could be used for any discipline. The ability to post short videos also could prove invaluable for setting immediate tasks that a teacher wants students to respond to in text.

Posts are publicly available but if postings do not use hashtags, that define the nature of the posting, it is less likely to be stumbled upon by people searching.
Teachers can create class accounts and reuse them year by year or delete them and create new ones. Currently, it isn’t possible to create two accounts using the same email address, although you can create a second account using the app by registering it with your phone number.

Blogs

There is a wealth of different blogging platforms, some with more functional apps than others. WordPress, SquareSpace, Wix, Blogger, Tumblr or Medium, are amongst the options. Most have free options and are fairly easy to use. Generating weekly themes and inviting comments can generate great interaction. These will be public though unless teachers create a ‘Members only’ area, which takes some technical skill. In the absence of a fully functioning school VLE, setting up a blog orientated website may be worth the effort.

If writing for a specified audience is a skill that teachers want their students to gain, asking students to generate their own blog postings could be a good strategy. This applies to any discipline, not just English. Students could be given ‘contributor’ status on the class blog, use their own, or send the raw text for the teacher to upload. Having students work together in authoring a blog also teaches collaborative and negotiation skills.

Pinterest

Pinterest, the visual notice board app, allows users to ‘pin’ images curated from the web (or uploaded) to a public notice board. Teachers can use this functionality to share visual resources to a named board that students can subscribe to. Likewise, students could be encouraged to curate resources, towards an end of term project for example, with their own Pinterest pinboard.

Any digital tool may have a place

Any digital tool can usually find some use in the classroom and Social Media tools are certainly worth investigating. In every case, however, it is vital that teachers assure themselves that everyone has equity of access and that parents’ expectations around screen use are met. There is no point in creating vibrant digital communication channels if students don’t have access to computers or smartphones out of school.

It is also really important to ensure students fully understand the responsibilities involved in sharing anything in any digital form on any platform. For guidance on ensuring safe web use for children, explore the resources at https://www.netsafe.org.nz/ .

The third blog in this series next week will outline the practicalities of social media use in tertiary education. The fourth and final blog will explore some of the darker facets, difficulties and challenges of social media use.

Dr Simon Paul Atkinson (Profile)

(1) https://new.censusatschool.org.nz/explore-the-whole-data/: accessed 13/06/21Photo by Sara Kurfeß on Unsplash

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