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Connecting a Classroom: Reflections on Using Social Media With My Students

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Last fall, I took a leap by connecting my classroom.

Through Twitter, Instagram, Skype, Flickr, and blogging, my students published their projects and writing to an audience beyond their peers and me. Along the way, we reflected on what social media added to our classroom as well as what it required of us. I want to share some reflections as I enter a second year facilitating a connected high school classroom.

Why Connect?

Connected classrooms can reach beyond physical barriers to create conversations with people from other classrooms, cultures, and communities. Social media provides venues for students to share their stories both within and beyond the classroom. It also grants opportunities for them to hear stories from beyond their school. Finally, being connected helps students recognize the power of personal voice.

When I asked my students mid-year what they thought social media added to our classroom, they offered the following responses:

  • “Social media can expand our thoughts and ideas and connect us to what is going on in the rest of the world. It would be cool getting ideas that are actually present outside our community.” Michael A.
  • “We could use social media as a class to compare and contrast ideas on different projects…[it] could be used to begin discussions.” Mandy S.
  • “It is cool how we have posted pictures on Instagram of what we are doing in class...We should also look at other classes from other schools and see if they give us any good ideas about stuff we can do in class.” Daniel S.

Overwhelmingly, students agreed they liked expanding learning through social media platforms. They also understood the value of seeking out different perspectives, ideas, and feedback from a greater community.

I recently asked a parent her opinion of our connected classroom. She affirmed that she loved it: “My daughter tends to be quiet. Even when I would ask her about her day and what she learned, she often gave me short, concise answers. By following your classroom’s social media, I was able to get a window into her day--what she was learning and what she was working on.”

What is your purpose for connecting your classroom? Before you can think about how to connect, you need to understand why. Do you want to engage parents? Maybe connect with other classrooms? Teach your students important digital literacy skills? Perhaps all three. Once you establish the priorities and purpose of connecting your classroom, you are ready to tackle the “how.”

Choose a Platform

First, choose a platform that make sense. Here are some questions to guide you:

  • What platform(s) are you most comfortable with in your own personal or professional life? Starting from a place of some experience is always helpful when doing something new in your classroom.
  • What platform(s) will help you access your target audience? If your primary target is to connect with parents, find out what social media platform they are on. Choosing a platform parents are using will more likely encourage them to interact with your classroom feed.
  • What platform(s) will work best on the devices you have in class as well as your district’s policies? For example, posting to Instagram is limited to the mobile device app found on smartphones and tablets, but posting from Twitter is possible from both mobile devices and laptops. Some districts may block certain sites. Understand your technology parameters before choosing the tools.

Freshman student Meghan wrote in her mid-year reflection: “I like connecting to other classrooms, but I feel we should channel our energy into one or two platforms.” After trying to develop our Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Flickr, and blogging platforms simultaneously, I agree that starting with one or two platforms makes sense. However, if you know how to connect platforms, cross-posting can be as simple as one-click.

Communication Is Key

Once a platform(s) is chosen, contact your building administration for advice on following district policies and messaging your use of social media to the community. Find a way to communicate to parents your purpose and platform for connecting your classroom. For students under the age of 18, permission from parents is often needed to publish pictures, videos, and work of students. Be sure to consider family’s privacy and rights before sharing.

I found that for most parents, an email or letter was all that was needed to establish permission and trust. For the few parents who were hesitant, I reached out through a phone call to discuss their fears. Although this felt intimidating, I found these calls helpful in educating parents about the importance of modeling social media for learning in our classrooms. Many parents were thankful that another adult could help their son/daughter develop these skills, and all signed that their child could be involved if he/she chose.

The Importance of Co-Ownership

When introducing the platform in your classroom, ask students to help develop ways to use that platform to connect within and beyond your classroom. Co-create virtual community with students rather than for them. This obviously looks different for elementary classrooms than for secondary, but all students should feel a sense of ownership over the classroom accounts.

Last year, driven by a suggestion from a student, we created “social media teams” based on student preference. This year, I will again offer that option, but integrate class time for those teams to work. I also will not make it optional--each person has to commit to sharing through one of our classroom platforms.

In elementary classrooms, teachers may create “Tweet slips” for all students to practice sharing ideas in 140 characters. The class might vote on which tweet should be posted from the class account. Some elementary teachers reward students with the role of being the “Twitter reporter” for the period or day. That student asks peers for Tweetable quotes, takes pictures of class activities to summarize and tweet out, and engages other classrooms by tweeting out questions related to a current class discussion.

Build Connection Into Your Classroom Culture

Be intentional about communicating with your students about how social media or blogging enhances the learning already taking place in the classroom. Instead of an exit slip, ask students to tweet or post a summary from the day. To share out from small group work, ask students to post an image to the class Instagram with a caption explaining their work. Invite experts to chime in on class discussions by having a student post thoughtful questions through social media or blogs.

For additional resources, see these two presentations: Using Social Writing and Media in the Classroom and A Connected Classroom. These will provide more examples and ideas to help connect your classroom and expand the learning beyond your four walls. Connect with us and share your journey!

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