By Anne Collier
Facebook and Twitter are very different but social utilities just the same, so there are about as many ways teachers use them as there are teachers. And their creativity is truly inspiring. In his blog post “The Why and How of Using Facebook For Educators – No Need to be Friends At All!,” Texas middle school teacher Ronnie Burt has a little graphic showing that 61% of educators have Facebook accounts. So (whether or not they use Facebook for professional or personal purposes or both), Facebook’s a logical place to start this post.
Burt starts with showing teachers how, if they and their students’ parents are comfortable with school-related Facebook use, to friend students safely. Among the many examples of teachers’ uses in the comments at the bottom are:
* Jose Aguirre‘s use of a Facebook community page for his Earth Science High School Class (“I post school photos, lab videos, links to NASA. I even used ‘discussions’ to have them submit homework as an alternative to [using] Blogger”)
* Gabe the first-year German teacher who sets up a private group where he posts “study help, extra material, interesting links” and his students “post comments, ideas and any questions they have. I can also post ‘tick the box’ lists as well as primitive questionnaires. The event reminder and calendar is also a great function.”
* Teacher and coach Rick has “a Facebook group for each of my classes and the Golf team which I coach. Once the group is set up students can join it and then I okay them to join and my personal stuff is kept personal and yet I can message all the students and even parents who join and they can message me. I find this a great way to be in contact, and not have to write in email addresses, and yet not be friends.”
Fewer falling through the cracks?
Rick also reports that using FB helps keep students from falling through the cracks: “Above all, the increased communication in the last few years has meant better monitoring of kids’ progress in school. Thus Parents, Admin, Learning Assistance and Teachers can work together more efficiently to support struggling learners. In the last 3.5 years I have taught 619 kids (grades 9-12) and only had 4 failures. I did not have that kind of record before.”
For a book chapter she was writing (see “Related links”), Laurie reviewed “several studies that have looked at student perceptions of faculty and teachers on Facebook,” finding that “it was all fairly positive – one study included student perceptions of three different Facebook profiles (one with almost no information, one with limited information, and one with personal information including personal pictures). Students thought the instructor who included more information would be the better teacher.”
A school counselor’s view
Gary McDaniel, a clinical social worker of 20 years who works in the Morgan County School District in West Virginia, finds Facebook and other social-media tools indispensable. He gave me permission to publish this email to a group of risk-prevention specialists: “I and many of the school counselors I coordinate and many of the parents, school administrators and some teachers I work with find Facebook a helpful adjunct to working with students. We’ve prevented at least one likely suicide this year, had cyberbullying taken down regularly, apprehended several knives, talked kids out of 100 stupid things, and been made aware by parents and other students of kids in crisis. Other counselors, teachers and administrators want nothing to do with Facebook and that’s OK too. But with one of me and 2,700 students, Facebook, email, text messaging and cell phones help me get my job done.”
Twitter for teachers
As for Twitter, which doesn’t have a minimum age of 13, here’s the answer to all those who hear the word “Twitter” and reflexively picture a tweet about “what I ate for lunch”: Iowa State University education professor Scott McLeod’s blog post, starting with “If you were on Twitter yesterday, you might have found…” and listing meaty, useful links people tweeted that day, from “fabulous summer reads from The Atlantic” to “resources for how to rework your acceptable use policy” to “great ideas for doing Webquests in your classroom.” And guess how I found this post? Somebody tweeted it (I use Twitter as my professional learning network, or PLN, the same way Scott does and have to say I feel greatly enriched because of it, personally and professionally).
But that’s just the day-to-day professional development part outside the classroom. Then there are the ways teachers use Twitter in it: Here’s a blog post linking to “100 ways to teach with Twitter,” including University of Plymouth Prof. Steve Wheeler’s 10 ways. I think it would be great to turn social studies, media, and language arts students into news curators and wrote about that last February at the height of the demonstrations in Cairo’s Tahrir Square here.
Toward re-humanizing school
Sometimes we think technology removes the human factor, when the exact opposite is true – at least when we’re talking about social (interactive and collaborative) media. Two-and-a-half years ago, I read a thoughtful New York Times Magazine piece about Twitter and wrote “A (digital) return to village life” and, at the bottom under “Twitter in the classroom,” thought out loud about the benefits I was seeing. I said it then, and I’ll say it again now:
Powerful things can happen when people can come to understand each other on even slightly deeper levels afforded by the kind of frequent, candid, humanizing communication that happens in social media. Empathy emerges. Think about what can happen when people feel empathy toward one another: compassion, civility, encouragement, empowerment, engagement, etc. Disinhibition – that condition of online experience that allows for cyberbullying, harassment, hate, etc. by dehumanizing people – tends to be disempowered. And students go from being passive consumers to citizens and (class and school) community members – collaborators in each other’s and owners of their own learning experiences.
* A true 21st-century educator: Amazing 6th-grade teacher Heidi Siwak‘s recent discovery, “My Students Need Me After All” (and how they do need her)
* “‘Safe’ Social Networking Tailored for K-12 School” in Education Week
* “Facebook in the classroom. Seriously.”
* “100 ways you should be using Facebook in your classroom”
* Teacher Ronnie Burt’s very helpful, plain-English “Complete Guide to Maximizing Success with Facebook”
* Teaching Generation M: A Handbook for Librarians and Educators
* “Your Students Love Social Media … and So Can You”
* “Join the Movement to Transform Learning: A Guest Blog” by George Lucas, founder of Edutopia
*A principal’s reflection on “communicating and connecting with social media,” from Eric Sheninger, co-author of a new book on the subject (he blogged an excerpt on “using Twitter to build your school brand” (I loved a comment at the bottom from an educator in Indonesia, who says that his country is the third-largest in Twitter use, but “but in the school environment, twitter is not as popular as facebook”).
*Clearheaded advice to teachers from Todd Finley, East Carolina University education professor: “Siphoning the Fumes of Teen Culture: How to Co-opt Students’ Favorite Social Media Tools”
*“Facebook for Educators”
* ConnectSafely.org’s “A Parents’ Guide to Facebook”
* “Social media in the classroom: +1 or -1?”