A young girl looks worried as she looks online and uses social media in school.

Avoiding the pitfalls of social media in school

Using social media in school can be very engaging, but it also has its drawbacks—educators should proceed with care

The drawbacks of social media are well-documented—like anonymous trolls posting negative comments just to spark controversy—and social media in school is no different.

However, says Jamie Knowles, Senior Manager of Educator Professional Learning Programs at Common Sense Media, social media also has the ability to help users share their stories and shed a positive light on their activities.

In his presentation, “Educators and Social Media: Avoiding the Pitfalls,” Knowles discusses some challenges of using social media in school–but also discusses the positive ways schools are using it to educate and communicate with their families.

Strategies and considerations for social media in school

In addition to negative commentary, Knowles acknowledges other challenges to adopting social media in school and for education.

● Student misuse: Common Sense Media’s research shows students report social media can be a distraction. More important, students’ attention to social media means they’re multitasking when they should be focused on homework. The students show, though, little awareness of how the multitasking is impacting their performance. Finally, for some there is a social-emotional toll. While students tend to focus on the positive aspects of social media, it can exacerbate problems for students with preexisting issues.
● Teacher misuse: Personal social media can quickly become public; teachers need to be careful what they post in any capacity. They also need to be mindful of student privacy issues, whether posting student work online or a student’s face. Finally, teachers and students shouldn’t interact in any way, such as private chats, that aren’t viewable to the public eye.
● Resource misuse: First, schools should survey their constituents (parents, students, community) about what social media they use. They need to make sure the school adopts social media that will actually reach their families and neighbors. Second, schools need to streamline which platforms they use so they aren’t overburdening their staff.

Knowles suggests some strategies for making the most of the platforms:

● Map out a plan: Social media in school should not be a one-person, one-item initiative. Schools and districts should have a comprehensive social media plan that includes policies that discuss issues like privacy, but that also layout the goals of the initiative, team members, and timelines. Knowles recommended that at least one school board member be involved in the plan and that schools leverage students, teachers, and community members as digital ambassadors.
● Tell a story: This is a school’s chance to celebrate its successes. Many teachers are doing this already on their own, but with the social media plan, schools can get organized and make sure that they are covering all aspects of their school. Moreover, posts should go beyond announcements. For example, schools can post virtual open houses, introduce new staff with a Twitter chat, or multimedia summaries of events.
● Enhance student learning: Social media is ubiquitous. Using social media in school is an opportunity to teach kids about digital citizenship and to prepare them for their life outside the classroom.

Although schools need to communicate with their community about more than success stories, Knowles cautions that social media isn’t always the appropriate tool.

“Social media is a place for talking about the positives, for accentuating the positives and communicating the wins. It’s not a place for asking for feedback or for having a frank discussion about a challenge or a problem in the school,” says Knowles. “There are some elements to social media and online messaging and chatting that make it ripe for negativity and for unproductive kinds of feedback and criticism. So, I would definitely shy away from using it as a tool for improving your school or getting feedback about your school.”

About the presenter

As Senior Manager of Educator Professional Learning Programs at Common Sense Media, Jamie Knowles creates online professional development services for teachers. Prior to his work at Common Sense, Jamie taught middle school English in Oakland, California, for eight years. For the 2016–2017 school year, he received an Excellence in Teaching award and was one of three finalists for Teacher of the Year in Oakland Unified School District. While teaching, he also successfully implemented a $200,000 school-wide blended-learning program funded by the Rogers Family Foundation and led professional development on a wide range of teaching strategies. Jamie holds a bachelor’s degree in philosophy from Eugene Lang College and a master’s degree in philosophy and education from Teachers College at Columbia University.

Join the community

Digital Learning & Leadership is a free professional learning community on edWeb.net where you can share, learn, and discuss ideas and best practices to enhance teaching with technology.

This edWeb broadcast was hosted by Common Sense Education and sponsored by Symantec. The recording of the edWebinar can be viewed by anyone here.

Stacey Pusey is an education communications consultant and writer. She assists education organizations with content strategy and teaches writing at the college level. Stacey has worked in the preK-12 education world for 20 years, spending time on school management and working for education associations including the AAP PreK-12 Learning Group. Stacey is working with edWeb.net as a marketing communications advisor and writer.

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