Why Schools Shouldn't be Afraid of Social Media

The use of social media and internet has become unavoidable and schools have to manage and channel these powerful tools. 66% of European children aged 11-16 visited a social networking site on a daily basis in 2014. This is an increase of 19% in comparison to 2010, according to EUKidsonline. And Eurostat reported that 40% of young people aged 16-24 used internet at a place of education in 2013.

This ubiquitous use of social media raises two fears. The first fear is that children could access harmful content and have their private data abused. The second is that social media distract pupils from formal education.

This blog argues that these fears can be effectively managed and social media leveraged in the classroom to improve pupils’ achievements.

Children are protected by EU legislation

Educators and parents are anxious about children accessing unsupervised and potentially harmful content, as well as having their personal data abused on social media. This concern is legitimate: According to EUKidsonline, in 2014 13-17% of European children aged 9-16 reported that they were more likely to be upset by something seen online, compared to 2010.

The EU responded to these concerns by regulating digital access. The EU’s General Data Protection regulation stipulates that children under the age of 16 need their parents’ permission to access digital content. Individual Member States can choose to pass legislation to bring this age down to 13.

Social media access can be safely monitored in a classroom

Teaching pupils digital skills and ethics also plays a role in protecting them from abuse and helping them to become responsible internet users. In the process, educators can make sure that social media is not a distraction but a powerful tool to teach relevant educational material.

For example, teachers could use safe social media tools set up exclusively for use in the classroom. This includes Kidblog, a teacher-regulated site which allows pupils to create blogs and exchange them with other classrooms from around the world.

In addition, teachers could take simple steps such as incentivising children to rely on computers rather than tablets - computers are easier to monitor and psychologically more linked to studying than entertainment.

Using social media improves educational outcomes

After all, social media is a tool rather than an endpoint. In fact, social media represents a prime illustration of the social constructivist theory according to which students learn best when they interact with other learners.

A wealth of largely US-based evidence supports this theory, and shows that using social media in the classroom improves educational outcome.

Facilitating access to social media in the classroom is linked with an increase in test scores and student engagement. For example, the National Survey of Student Engagement, which originates from Indiana, found that pupils who used Twitter showed more than twice the improvement in engagement than the control group of non-Twitter users. The students who used Twitter also achieved on average a .5 point increase in their overall test score Grade Point Average (GPA) for the semester.

Additional benefits include a reduction in dropout rates, absenteeism, inequities, and more communication with parents.

Conclusion

In conclusion, social media can be safely harnessed in a classroom to increase educational outcomes. Especially if it is channeled through appropriate learning tools to teach pupils the digital skills and ethics they need as citizens of our internet-based society.

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