Social Media and Educators – A Brief Guide

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Social Media and schools have something of a chequered past. Though the whole world it seems is now busy tweeting its thoughts, updating its Facebook or what have you many educators enforce a complete block on the usage of these tools. On the surface there are plenty of pragmatic and reasonable reasons for this attitude. Children, like grown-ups, are only too happy to spend all of double-geography liking their friends posts and doing self-enlightening questionnaires like “What Game of Thrones Character Are You?” rather than paying attention to the teachers exhaustingly prepared lesson on urban demographics in China.

But there is a darker side to social media as well. Cyberbullying – harassment of children by other children done over the internet has become a major problem for educators. Most commonly it makes its way into the news when a vulnerable young person is driven to suicide by cruel and relentless bullying. Given the relative ease with which a malicious individual can conceal their identity through anonymity online it can be a serious problem.

Nevertheless social media is a powerful tool that has radically redefined the way the world communications. A video taken on a mobile phone can be uploaded to Youtube and shared with millions around the globe in a matter of hours. More pragmatically, it is a part of the way the world is now. As other technical innovations have become classroom staples such as the TV and computer, social media is something that can be harnessed for good by educators if they are prepared to make the effort. Given that even younger children frequently have smart-phones or at least access to the Internet at home, social media is an excellent way for enterprising teachers and institutions to interact with their pupils.

Policies and Procedures

The first thing any institution needs to do where social media is concerned is to establish ground rules for its use. This needs to cover not just how pupils can use social media but also staff and teachers as well. Everyone needs to know just how social media may be used as it pertains to the school and this needs to be in writing in case anything bad happens.

This may specify for example that staff are not permitted to friend students on their personal Facebook pages, or which members of staff may tweet on behalf of the school. Your policy will also state consequences for breaching the policy. For example, pupils using Facebook to bully or harass other pupils might expect to be formally reprimanded – even if they are doing so on non-school time. Likewise students (and teachers!) who bring your institution into disrepute may be subject to sanction.

Other things that you will consider is how best to use the different social media platforms to the advantage of your school, college or university.  There are a range of different platforms, but by far the most popular are Twitter and Facebook. Most students (and their parents) are likely to have a Facebook account while anyone can use Twitter to get pertinent information if needed.

Tips for Facebook

  • You can use Facebook for bringing attention to events that put your institution in a good light, sharing pictures, videos and more online of your staff and students in action. Indeed, in this day and age, any institution that does not have a Facebook page looks practically like a dinosaur.
  • Facebook is an ideal place to broadcast messages that you need to share quickly with your school. For example, if sudden snowfall is forcing you to close the school for the day this is a great way to communicate with all your pupils and staff to say so.
  • Require that your staff have separate Facebook accounts for their professional conduct as associated with the institution. This respects the personal life of your staff members allowing them to keep their personal Facebook pages for their own use.
  • Facebook Groups are a great way to get classes and students to collaborate on a project. Members of the group do not need to be friends outside of it and can share links, thoughts, ideas and anything else that can be done on Facebook through it.

Twitter Tips

  • Like Facebook, Twitter makes for an excellent broadcast account for quickly informing people of something about your institution. From application deadlines to school closures.
  • With only 140 characters, try using shorter links. TinyURL is a service that can drastically reduce the size of links you put in your message.
  • Twitter accounts can be created for smaller things like class projects allowing students to subscribe to a particular relevant feed.

Pinterest Tips

  • Pinterest is an excellent way to share articles, ideas and information about various things about your institution. Consider using one as a general information page.

Embracing the Future

It’s true that introducing social media into the day to day life of your pupils can be disruptive and worrisome. Nevertheless, with proper planning and a little know how most of the objections can be overcome. Part of why twitter and Facebook have become so prominent is that both are very easy to get productive use out of.

The other thing to bear in mind is that social media is very much a part of how students of today interact with their world. If you want to talk to them, e-mail just isn’t the way. Approaching them on their chosen medium is the best way to interact and reach them and increasingly, their parents.

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