Asking this question is akin to asking whether technology should be banned in the classroom. Many teachers have tried a tech ban in the hope that it would decrease distractions and cheating. The problem with this approach is that it removes all opportunities for the educator to model effective and appropriate use of technology.
Fear of social media also removes one of the best avenues to professional growth. The Distributed Cognition and Connectivism theories posit that no one individual can hold all of the knowledge in a community and that, instead, knowledge is distributed across people, networks and tools. With new standards, new technologies, changing contexts and an increasingly diverse population of students, knowledge is constantly changing in the field of education. Highly effective teachers know that they do know everything they need to help their students, so they are constantly learning.
Fortunately, social media provides instant access to learning opportunities 24/7. As educators use social media, they engage in a continual process of learning to teach and teaching to learn. Social media also gives educators an avenue to expand beyond their local face-to-face networks to discover more diverse ideas, perspectives and ways of thinking about teaching and learning.
Social media is an incredibly powerful tool that can transform learning in many ways. Students use it on a daily basis to share resources and engage in conversations with their peers. What they often don't realize is that everything they do on their social media pages can be used against them in a court of law. They also don't realize how their network can shape their knowledge — for instance, how they are limiting their exposure to new ideas and perspectives if they have only a small network of like-minded friends on Facebook.
This is where their teachers can make a difference. Educators should act as role models, guides and leaders. If we don’t teach our students about the benefits and consequences of using social media, who will?
That’s why I believe that all educators need a professional social media presence. If you’re afraid of what social media might do to your digital reputation and your students’, learn how to manage it effectively and then pass that knowledge on. Instead of shying away from and banning technology because it might have negative consequences, find out how tools like social media influence learning. And then use this knowledge to model its effective use so you can help your students become enlightened and empowered learners.
Torrey Trust, Ph.D., is an assistant professor of learning technology at the University of Massachusetts Amherst. Her research focuses on teacher learning, social media and professional learning networks.