This is a discussion paper I submitted for a uni course on Networked Learning. The brief was to “Identify relevant policies related to an educational networking issue, engage in dialogue with peers/stakeholders and produce a report discussing implications of these policies in the light of your reading.” This is what I submitted:
We live in an online world. Like it or not, the reality is that we all, to some extent, rely on some aspect of the internet as part of our lives. This discussion will look at how Social Media tools can be used in Primary Classrooms. Many issues stand in the way of full adoption by teachers, such as age restrictions, teacher fluency and privacy concerns. These roadblocks, if you will, largely make up the content of school policies concerning social media use. I will specifically here be looking at the Social Media Policy of my own school, and with a growth mindset, look at how the concerns that fuel this policy can be married to the benefits that lie with the use of social media in learning.
If we take as given the notion of 21st Century Learning Skills giving students real world experiences, then the use of the Internet as an integral part of the learning process is also a given. I also want to make the assumption here early that we are referring to quality integration of communication technologies to facilitate social networking.
Social Media Policy at St Andrew’s School
The social media policy at my school has an introduction that is well balanced in outlining the intent of the policy; Social Media should be used in a proper way.
However, in terms of encouraging the use of Social Media in learning, this policy does a lot to discourage teachers who may not have the digital fluency to easily incorporate this technology into their learning.
In the school policy, referrals to students needing to ‘learn appropriate skills’, as well as staff ‘responsibilities’, ‘obligations’, and ‘needs to facilitate’ represent an overwhelming barrier to adoption by staff not fluent with the technology. And understandably so – how can one teach something one does not understand? On this point, Mardis, ElBasri, Norton & Newsum (2012) present that Digital fluency is an obstacle to teachers implementing digitally based learning opportunities for their students, which naturally includes the use of social media.
My proposal here is that this policy, while protecting students from potential risks, in fact does a great deal to discourage the use of social media within the school. My solution? Staff education in not only the educational benefits of social media in teaching and learning but also skills in use of these technologies themselves. This discussion will go part of the way to address this, by looking now at possible, practical and succinct ways in which social media can be used, in accordance with this policy, within our school.
Interaction with my networks
In readiness for the writing of this discussion, I consulted my own learning networks, using one Social Media site, Facebook. Following are screen grabs of my posts in various teacher groups on the site, of which I am a member, including the responses I received.
Examples of use
In reference to the feedback I have received from my learning network, as well as my own experiences, what follows is a list of possible uses of Social Media within a primary classroom, that respect the policies discussed above. It is intended that this list constitute an inspirational resource for teachers both within my school and beyond (as they happen upon this post!)
There is a dichotomy that presents itself here between categorising the following discussion by tools, which can change, versus following the learning behaviours engaged in through using these tools. It seems to me that the latter is the more ingenuous approach. The resources sought through engagement in social networks and their alignment with what is mobilised through these networks represents a deeper understanding of educational practice and networking in education. However, as this extension of the policy being discussed here is aimed at teachers with limited digital fluency, a paramount concern is mitigating the feeling of being overwhelmed by the process. As such, I am choosing to present examples through individual social media tools.
Along with blogging, Twitter is perhaps the most accessible tool available for teachers to model positive online behaviours as well as facilitate genuine connected learning through collaboration. Teachers can create and manage an account on behalf of the class and can quite quickly establish connections with other class accounts around the world. It is a natural consequence of such accounts existing, that they are on the whole very willing to enter into dialogue with new classes.
- My PYP students are able to connect, through this class account with other classes engaging in the same units of inquiry. The familiarity my class has with the content enables them to be active contributors to discussions as opposed to passive receivers of ideas and perspectives.
- Through the #askareporter program with BTN students are able to practically put to use their questioning skills based on news stories. Submitting questions through the #askareporter hashtag, they can meaningfully interact with the news program as well as interact live during weekly live streams.
As suggested by a member of my network, Instagram has several uses in a classroom. Basically a photo sharing network tool, like Twitter, a teacher created class account may be used for documenting learning experiences. Jessica Ottewell posts these examples of using Instagram:
- Documenting photos from excursions by using a hashtag that parents and other helpers can all contribute to.
- Again with hashtags, for sharing student work in a digital portfolio
- Using a video of yourself giving instructions for a task for both scaffolding and posterity.
Edmodo/Google Classroom/Learning Platform
These tools are lumped together into one as they represent the idea of a virtual classroom. These are places where students can gather together online in a secure environment. The way these are used are as varied as individual teachers but the basic tenets remain: teachers can share resources, students can access these resources, and a dialogue can take place through posts, replies and even ‘likes’. Sub groups can also be used to differentiate the distribution of resources and to provide secure ability based groupings of students.
This type of tool is an excellent entry point for teachers as it is entirely secure, satisfying privacy concerns and is a great platform for practicing digital citizenship practices. A straw poll of my current class revealed this tool as their favourite as it allows flexibility for them in their learning as they are able to access their learning whenever they like, as it is all cloud based.
This is primarily a classroom management tool that awards points to students based on achievements. What makes this a networking tool is that there is the capability of parents being part of the process and seeing what merits or deductions their children are experiencing. While this really just enhances already present parent teacher communication, there is a ‘live’ aspect to it that makes interactions more meaningful.
Blogging has enormous power in allowing students to have an authentic voice and an audience for their voice. A student blog can be an outlet for a digital portfolio they share with their families and can also be a vehicle for gaining a peer audience for their writing. For example, the 100 Word Challenge allows students to receive feedback on their writing from students around the world and to give feedback as well. This is a meaningful application of their commenting skills, a key aspect to digital citizenship.
You Tube as a tool in education is really one that facilitates sharing and communication. Students and teachers can create video based work/resources and distribute them to any audience using this tool. Vimeo and TeacherTube are other alternatives, depending on what features are sought after.
As discussed at the beginning of this section, viewing learning behaviours as options for integrating social media into learning is a deeper, more thorough approach and the following framework may be used alternatively. It would be vital using this approach, to ensure staff familiarisation with specific tools is provided prior to teachers engaging with the following. A summary of possible tools for each point is provided
- Communicating with peers / affirmation / discussion of ideas to establish understanding – twitter, edmodo, blogs, messenger
- Sharing work and inviting feedback blogs, twitter, edmodo, youtube, Instagram, seesaw
- Interacting with each other as a meaningful part of the learning experience – discussion on edmodo, twitter
- Collating resources through shared research pinterest, padlet, twitter, instagram
In summary, we know that networking supports learning and we know that there is often a divide between what is best from a networked learning perspective and what it is we are able to provide our students with (Evans & Mackey 2011). We also know that using technology for networking requires surrendering to the inherent risks associated with being online. As a result educational institutions require steadfast policy to mitigate potential risks. However, the restrictions often set out by such policy are a barrier to implementation by teachers who lack digital fluency (Mardis, et al, 2012). What educational policy surrounding social media needs is proactive, positive pathways for teachers to implement digital networking experiences for their students.
We say we shan’t leave any child behind, and the same goes for teachers. With an attitude towards the sharing of experience capital and a growth mindset, teachers within institutions truly can be greater than the sums of their parts.
Mackey, J. & Evans, T. (2011). Interconnecting networks of practice for professional learning. International review of research in open and distance learning, 12(3), 1-17.
Mardis, M. A., ElBasri, T., Norton, S. K., & Newsum, J. (2012). The digital lives of U.S. teachers: a research synthesis and trends to watch. School Libraries Worldwide, 18(1), 70-86.