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The Benefits of Social Media in the Classroom
By Jan Pierce
Feb 5, 2012 - 12:17:01 AM

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When you hear the phrase, "social media," what images come to mind? Teens posting a Facebook status about their latest break-up? Celebrities tweeting about their every move? Blogs containing everything from stupid pet photos to video game cheats to yet another person's round-the-world trip?

Many people see social media as a harbinger for the end of critical thinking. Schools are banning teachers and students from using it, as evidenced by the recent Missouri law.

Yet a few innovative teachers have actually found ways to turn this technological enemy into an educational tool to promote critical thinking. Here are just a few examples:

Wanda Reyes at Sam Houston State University gives students in her Public Relations course assignments on YouTube. Students watch news stories on YouTube with a list of questions to help them analyze the content, then participate in a group discussion the following class period. Over the course of the semester, students learn to think critically about the content they view online and even introduce content they find independently into class discussions.

Monika Rankin at the University of Texas at Dallas used Twitter for her U.S. History class, which took place in a large, auditorium-style classroom with 90 students. Students would have mini group-discussions on a certain topic and then tweet their most important points with established hash tags for the class. The tweets were projected on a screen and would formulate a class discussion, Twitter-style, for the whole class to see. Rankin notes that the process encouraged students to engage who would not have done otherwise. It also fostered a type of collaborative learning where students could share insights that benefitted the whole class.

Mr. Featherstone of Ontario, Canada, created a blog for his high school which included instructions for a Facebook Character project. Students had to create a Facebook page for a fictional character from a novel they were studying. They would essentially role-play the character through social media by posting pictures, status updates, and wall posts as that character. A project like this gets students to think much deeper about a character's place in a fictional story and analyze how their classmates may interpret the same character in different ways.

While obvious limitations exist for the use of social media in the classroom, such as the risk of students posting inappropriate content, a lack of technological resources at the school, or even something as simple as the 140-character limit on Twitter, social media has the potential to benefit the way students learn. With over 500 million Facebook users alone, social media is a phenomenon that cannot be ignored. Although some schools seem to think the answer is to ban it altogether, examples such as the ones above seem to suggest that embracing social media can lead to methods of teaching critical thinking to students.

As opinions continue to differ, it remains to be seen what the educational system as a whole will decide what to do about social media.

Jan Pierce

Jan Pierce is a 4th grade teacher who has over 20 years of experience in the classroom. Her interests include educational technology and online learning. She also owns the site Elementary Education Degree for students interested in earning a degree in elementary education.

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