For most of us, social media is a part of our every day lives- at work, home or both. But a lot of people are still figuring out when to use it and how. This is especially true in high school, where many teachers are unsure of how it fits in the classroom.
Dan Krutka was a high school teacher for five years, and is now an assistant professor of teacher education at Texas Woman’s University. He’s an an advocate for using social media in the classroom, and is an avid user of Twitter himself. Krutka says its a great way to communicate with his students during non-class hours.
“You can continue to learn together outside the classroom,” says Krutka. “So when students are posting on Twitter- say they post something inaccurately or they make a really good point- I can go ahead and respond to them before class.”
Teaching professional social media use
Krutka says tweeting with his students isn’t just about convenience, it’s a lesson. He says students need to learn how to use social media professionally, in part because what they put online now will be there for years to come.
“People use social media irresponsibly and school should be a place where we’re talking about that and how to use it responsibly,” he says. “Your online presence is such an important part of who you are today.”
But Krutka says he may be one of the few educators who feels this way. He co-authored a study on the subject that will be published this summer. It found only 23 percent of teachers who use Twitter use it to communicate with their students. He says this has a lot to do with the level of administration support.
Schools, including those in Western Massachusetts, are still struggling with whether or not Twitter or Facebook should be used as teaching tools. In Amherst, teachers are not allowed to friend students or even view their profiles. But in Springfield, there are no policies guiding social media.
Traditional social media vs. educational social media
Sean Kavanagh is a ninth grade world history teacher at Springfield Central High School. He tried using twitter, but was distracted by all of the non-class related “noise.”
“The way Twitter is structured, I would see what their friends even were saying,” Kavanagh says. “Some of them would be other students at the school and it wasn’t inappropriate things, but things that you don’t want to be flooding your eyes necessarily.”
Kavanagh decided instead to use the classroom app “canvas.” He’s been piloting the app in his class along with fellow history teacher Gary Boisseau. Boisseau says he likes that he’s able to communicate with his students and send them notifications on their phones, without having to interfere with their personal lives.
“Rather than getting involved with all of the other things that would pop up on the regular social media- the Facebooks, etc.- we’re able to focus and concentrate exactly on what is happening in our own class,” Boisseau says.
‘I’d rather not have my teacher on my notifications or my timeline.’
And it seems like his students agree. Ray Lynn is in Boisseau’s history class.
“I’d rather keep my school and my personal social media life a little more separate,” she says. “I mean it’s not personal because it’s social media but I’d rather not have my teacher on my notifications or my timeline.”
But Ray Lynn does like receiving the notifications from the classroom app and being able to connect with her teachers and other students when she’s not at school.
“It doesn’t make me feel like it’s following me, it’s a helpful reminder that I’m getting it done,” she says.
“It’s convenient because you always have your phone,” says another student, Niko. “So it’s just- oh, canvas- click on it and do your work.”
And as I look around the classroom, every single student has a phone in front of them. Kavanagh says this is the reality teachers need to deal with. They don’t have a choice as to whether they want to bring social media into the classroom because it’s already there.
“As a teacher you try to be on top of that and it’s a school policy that they’re not supposed to have them ever,” he says. “But it’d be like whack a mole because they can’t help themselves to be honest. And for better or worse they’re not going away so by integrating apps and things that utilize them we’re tapping into that connection.”
Kavanagh says the way kids use social media and technology is constantly changing. He says a friend of his teaches twelfth grade and uses Facebook, but he couldn’t do that. He teaches ninth graders and to them, Facebook is for old people.