If there’s one thing the education system has a lot of, it’s kids. And kids between the age of 13 and 17 use social media prolifically. Approximately 3 out of every 4 teenagers is on some type of social media platform today.
This is causing the education system to catch up and use the wide appeal of social media to help teach and provide value in the classroom. Except, no one seems to really know what the value is yet.
Each year, more and more school boards and teachers are trying to find ways that social media can reach out to children in a way that works within the education system but doesn’t cause a disruption. This is proving to be difficult, as to how people use social media can be unpredictable and hard to control.
There’s also the task of looking at the role social media plays in the lives of teens and trying to figure out if the education system should tackle treating it like driver’s education or sex education. Social media can be just as harmful as both.
Here’s how social media is changing the education system, and how educators are approaching the platform.
Social Media Education
Suicide in the US is the number 3 killer of teens. (Car accidents and homicide are 1 and 2 respectively.) It’s hard to tell exactly how many of these deaths are directly related to social media, but almost half of all teens on social media report being bullied via social media.
No matter how you want to look at this, the availability and access to social media are hard to separate from life itself for these teens. In the way that we talk about appropriate behavior, it’s important to talk about behavior on social media.
Many schools are grappling with the idea of social media education. Some prefer not to get involved beyond basic bullying and etiquette. Other schools have full-blown social media classes to talk about the dangers and consequences – just like you would with sex ed.
At this point, schools continue to struggle with whether or not social media education becomes part of a separate program, or is lumped in with all anti-bullying messages. The difficulty with social media is that it can also hurt the person using it, by posting too much personal info. A 15-year-old may not understand the consequences.
Much like sex education, some view this as a parental issue, and not a school one.
Assisting with Learning
Beyond educating students about the platform, is educating students with the platform. We already know it’s a powerful tool in their lives, and some teachers believe it would have the same effect as video in captivating an audience and driving home a lesson.
A recent Harvard study has shown that at the college level, students benefit from interacting with each other in study groups and online social platforms. Those that participated in these groups, would often be more engaged and do better than those that didn’t. It’s a pretty strong indication that social media has a place in the classroom.
How this will translate to grade school and high school students is unclear. A lot of useful study tips that work for older students, just fall flat on those without the skills to self-police their time.
It’s also a lot harder to control public social media platforms. Although those are the ones that students interact with the most, getting them to use closed-loop school system platforms may be a lot harder.
Social Media for Research
Historically there were only really two ways to research a topic: you could either find a book with the right information or hit the street and research it for yourself.
Social media has allowed us to discover, research, post findings, and check statements so much faster than before. Real-time events can unfold in front of you without waiting for the news to give you a snippet and tell you what’s going on.
When teaching current events, problems, or issues in the classroom, social media can be used as a tool to help research the latest findings and information. However, any respectable scholarly research doesn’t yet accept them, so there is no way to officially cite them.
As a teacher, having so much information and real-time communication at the student’s fingertips can be a blessing, or more likely, a curse. The downsides to this are many.
Accuracy is first and foremost a major problem. Anyone can post anything, true or not, to social media.
When the original “War of the Worlds” radio drama was broadcast, it caused a bit of a panic. People believed the radio show was an actual newscast about being invaded by aliens. This, of course, has led to laws about broadcasting fake news around the world that can incite panic.
It also leads to a conversation about broadcasting integrity. You want to have your facts straight. Many journalists have retired or been fired because of false facts.
Social media isn’t such a confined medium with a gatekeeper. Everyone is a publisher. One fake tweet can cause a stock market to crash. We don’t all have editors to keep us in line.
This creates a real vacuum in the classroom when using it as a reliable source of information.
Lastly, using social media in the education system creates some real issues for privacy. Especially when dealing with minors.
There are many strict regulations about the information that must be protected when a platform is designed for a minor. If schools are deploying this infrastructure, or directing kids to use public infrastructure, it creates some real concerns legally and morally.
Schools are well built to protect the privacy of students, but their I.T. systems may not be when it comes to social media. This can place significant costs on school boards as they try to comply.
There’s no doubt that social media is greatly affecting the way the education systems look at learning tools and education of the platform itself, but we’re in the infancy of discovery.
Facebook has only been open to the public for a decade. However, it’s usage has nearly doubled in the last 3 years alone.
It’s hard to say what impact this will have on the future of education, but it will absolutely be part of the conversation.