When I was in high school, cellphones were banned from classrooms. Teachers would take phones away by the dozen, and without batting an eye. Cellphones were taboo. They were a privilege and gradually they have gone from being such, to being an essential part of our every day lives. Cellphones have slowly gone from being disposable to an ingenious way to be in constant contact and communication with one another. They have gone from being something we took bad photos on, frantically pressing the end button when you accidentally hit the internet browser button or calling mom or dad when you were about to miss curfew, only to lose cell service, to a tool that takes better pictures than a camera, has instant internet access, and endless service to be used to share information with the world. Now, why wouldn’t we, as educators want to harness a tool like that to teach students about our ever-changing society and world? What better way to teach them about this life than through a tool that is already at their fingertips, waiting to be explored?
Most teachers shy away from the use of cellphones and social media in the classroom because they hardly understand it themselves. This uncertainty causes many teachers to ban cellphones in classrooms or to be uncomfortable teaching students about it, because they themselves, don’t understand the material. Teachers are supposed to be the experts; so how do we teach students about something when they are clearly the expert? I grew up in the era of the “beginning of the cute flip phone” where Facebook was the newest trend in high school and EVERYONE had it. For me, social media has been a way of life since my teenage years and so I can relate to my students quite well in terms of the use of social media outlets like Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat, Twitter, Kik, etc., because quite frankly I use them daily. For me, teaching students with technology is a given. I have a Google Classroom, Class Dojo, and the Remind 101 app on my phone to send out reminders for homework, quizzes, and of course, so students can message me for homework help. I do this all without batting an eye, but what I do, could cause another teacher to spiral into a panic attack, especially because I give students access to me 24/7 through Remind. So with this in mind, teaching with social media should be no different, right??
Wrong! Using social media to teach students creates a whole other range of possibilities because students are exposed to the outside world. In my Google Classroom, my Class Dojo, and my Remind 101, students’ messages, ideas, and lives remain private between, me, them and their parents. Adding social media to the mix causes some teachers to disengage because there are many consequences and risks to using it. In my case as a high school teacher, students have access to these apps on their phones constantly. It causes a lot of problems, like cyber bullying, harassment, plagiarism, cheating, sexting, etc. but there is also a lot of educating that goes with it. We have a couple of presentations around bullying and cyber bullying every year, as well as a presentation on sexting and child pornography by the police department. A lot of these issues in social media can be solved by simply being open to them and talking about the issues with students.
Maturity is a big thing as well. I have engaged in a few social media projects in my experience and so far, they have gone well! In my ELA B30 class, students have the option of creating a character profile on Instagram, Twitter, or Facebook, and some have been pretty terrific. I have also done a Snapchat project with my Grade 9 Female Health class. The goal was to create more self esteem and positive body image so for a week, I asked them to take selfies by themselves and with their friends and post them to their stories for everyone to see. The girls loved it and some of them actually said it helped them become more confident in themselves. Although my experiences have been mostly positive, exposing students for the whole world to see their work can be amazing or horrifying depending on the reactions they get on their work from the public eye. I think the biggest thing for teachers is to be open about the technology with students. Because my students are older, I expect them to have a certain maturity level when they are engaging online or on social media. We also discuss expectations and consequences to not following directions. I think it is worth the risk to engage upon because students are exposed to this world whether we like it or not! As educators, we might as well embrace it, and take advantage of a great learning opportunity and teach our students how to be responsible digital citizens!