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.
I agree with Erik Qualman’s assertion that we don't have a choice about whether we do social media. The question is how well we do it.
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.
The question of whether all educators should have a social media presence must, by necessity, be tempered by the question of whether they are ready for this responsibility. Would they benefit from disseminating their professional successes, teaching and learning online, giving objective feedback, and building professional relationships with their peers? Absolutely! Would they benefit from all that learning literally at their fingertips? Of course! Would their students also benefit from this continuously enriching experience? Yes!
But are we ready to put all of them on the front line? Not today. Not yet. Not if we haven’t figured out how to support all of them in their different stages of digital transition.
Sure, many superstar teachers are out there now, building bridges in this new digital world, mapping the territory for their peers and mentoring them, creating, sharing, teaching, demonstrating and showcasing their own phenomenal work. But not all teachers have wrapped their minds around social media yet. Just as it is for our students, some teachers don’t yet distinguish private from professional social media, which creates the blurred lines that can cause so much trouble. And unfortunately, this misunderstanding may result in professional faux pas that can alter their career paths forever. What’s more, teachers who don’t understand how to use social media effectively might also model inappropriate use to their students.
The first question we should answer, then, is: How can we help all educators understand how to build and use a professional social media presence? We focus on creating awareness in our students about digital citizenship, cyberbullying and e-safety, but are we helping our teachers find their own paths through the digital maze after delivering a rote responsible-use-of-technology training at the beginning of the year? Do administrators and support staff understand all the implications of this 24/7 pool of interaction, and are they able to guide and support their teachers? Is there a teacher onboarding process and training for professional social media presence, like we have for so many other aspects of our professional activity? Are we giving educators accessible legal information to create awareness and guide their online activity?
These are great questions, and we are asking them not a minute too soon! Teaching all teachers to achieve professional growth via social media is the first step. And the benefits would be profound.
A professional social media presence would enable them to connect with peers, extend students’ and their own learning outside school time, and even allow them to help parents grasp their students' academic world. It would help them become better communicators, discerning critics of online professional learning opportunities and more informed teachers. It would give them access to experts who could help them inside their classrooms while also breaking down their classroom walls. It would demolish the silos and expand their horizons.
It would also help them be good role models as they tap their own experience and knowledge to offer support to their students. It would allow them to educate global students with full awareness of their digital citizenship responsibilities. It would help them think outside the book. It would take away their fear of the digital unknown and give them a whole new toolbox to meet their students where they are and personalize their learning.
Now let's all pitch in and build this bridge to help all of them experience, understand and use social media to its full potential.
Diana Bidulescu, M.Ed., is part of the Houston Independent School District’s Ed Tech Team. An international educator, she established new programs in the U.S. and Europe aligned to local and international educational standards and created one of the first mobile technology immersion programs in Texas. She is a frequent presenter at education conferences and serves on several ISTE Professional Learning Networks.
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