Leveraging social media to teach digital citizenship, media literacy and digital portfolios will fundamentally change education. I use social media (Twitter, LinkedIn, newsletters, and podcasts) to become a better teacher. In that space, I've built a network of experts and professional organizations (media literacy), I've connected and collaborated with colleagues (digital citizenship), and--through this process--I've built a robust digital portfolio of my work. This should happen for all of our students in all of our classes. It's what meaningful technology integration looks like. It meets students where they are, it helps them develop and explore interests, and it teaches them skills and best practices to succeed beyond school.
In the last decade, schools have embraced educational technology from outfitting our physical classrooms with devices, to restructuring personnel with more IT and EdTech coaches, to increasing budgets for software and consultants. We've spent a fortune on EdTech in our schools. Audrey Watters reported that in the last five years, investors have sunk over $13 billion into EdTech startups. An entire network of EdTech "thought-leaders" have gained out-sized influence on our professional learning from Twitter to conferences to consulting. And yet, outside of class, our students aren't using the EdTech software we buy, they're not employing the EdTech skills we teach, and they're not listening to the consultants we hire. They're connecting and consuming on social media.
Schools are partially responsible for our student's time online, which is over double digits (see Neilson or eMarketer). We are putting devices in their hands, giving them fast WiFi, asking them to complete homework online, and then ignoring everything else that happens in that space. Do we really think that our students are leaving our classrooms and using the cool EdTech app we taught them in English that day?
To address the rising use of social media and the problems created by social media, it seems logical that social media should get the EdTech treatment--more space, more personnel, and more money. As someone who has been participating in discussions online and speaking about teenagers and social media at schools and conferences for years, I'm always flummoxed by EdTech's omission of social media. At ISTE, one of the largest EdTech conferences in the world, "social media" appeared 5 times in the program, and some of that was to sell schools on security/privacy and mindfulness, not to use social media as a powerful tool for teaching and learning.
Currently, schools have a see no evil, hear no evil, speak no evil stance towards social media. Schools react to social media controversies with discipline rather than teaching social media proactively. Some schools attempt to block it entirely (no, it doesn't work). Imagine demanding your students enter classrooms to learn, engage civically, and collaborate professionally, but then giving up on all of that once they open up their screens. That's not good teaching.
Even schools that acknowledge social media's role in our world stop short of meaningfully integrating it into the classroom. Schools talk about digital citizenship; good schools may even discuss controversies that happened online, but we never go to the source and teach social media. That's like teaching poker without cards. The same is true of teaching around media literacy and digital portfolios. Schools show students what a good source is; good schools may even teach them how to fact-check something, but we ignore student's social media diets entirely, which could be littered with terrible sources and bad role models. That's like playing a poker hand without looking at your cards. Finally, schools ask students to complete amazing projects; good schools may even aggregate great work and put it into a school-issued template or event, but we never help them construct and manage a public digital portfolio that could open doors for them in college and beyond. That's like having a royal flush and folding it.
To teach digital citizenship, a classroom teacher might ask a student, "should you share ____?" That student is savvy enough and a strong enough critical thinker to deliver a smart, nuanced answer. The same is true of media literacy and digital portfolios--"is ____ a good source?" and "what would a potential employer think about ____?" I've seen my students get these questions right time and again. And yet, those same students, get these questions wrong all the time outside of this classroom exercise (frankly, so do adults). That's because digital citizenship, media literacy, and digital portfolios have to be lived. And only when we bring social media into our schools, can we truly help our students live these skills everyday.
"Anyone who thinks they're doing a digital citizenship curriculum--if you're not using social media, if you're not talking about social media, you're not getting through to your kids." -ISTE19For every time that ignoring social media has provided a school plausible deniability for an online controversy, there are a dozen more times when that same school could have identified a problem early and created a teachable moment. That alone should convince schools to embrace social media. More importantly, social media spaces have become the de facto authentic audience for our students. That's the new student center where discussions occur, that's where students share talents, and that's where students work collaboratively. Schools will benefit from acknowledging this fact, discussing the impact of it, and teaching students to use the space intelligently and thoughtfully. Finally, and most importantly, we're forgoing the opportunity to prepare our students for the world they will inherit beyond school--one that depends on professional learning and collaboration, networking, and career advancement, all of which should be happening on social media.
Whether social media gets the EdTech treatment or not, we must acknowledge its impact and bring it into our classrooms as soon as possible. Graduating lifelong learners and good citizens requires us to teach digital citizenship, media literacy, and digital portfolios. We can only do that successfully if we integrate social media into our curriculum and our communities. At the least, teachers can show students how they learn online, where they get information for class, and how they collaborate with other professionals. Teachers can include an auxiliary reading list of social media accounts for interested students. Teachers can create opportunities for students to collaborate with professionals online. And, teachers can ask students to contribute quality work to a digital portfolio. I'm not holding my breath for schools, investors, and consultants to embrace this pivotal part of our student's lives and our society and neither should you.