Monday, July 21, 2014

Social Media: Bridging the Gap between School and Home

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Embracing Social Media

The extensive use of social media in every aspect of our live is undeniable. It's a part of our daily routine, some more immersed and intertwined in it than others. The fact is that it's there to stay, no matter how many people can't stand it, blaming it for their children's woes and failings in schools, and claiming the 'unplugged' life as the key to success. Be that as it may, social media is an important part of almost any successful profession, and it waits for those students who grow up and graduate from school. However, that's their future. The focus today is on our current students at school in the here and now.

I think the first underlying point we need to accept as educators is that kids enjoy using social media. It's one of the main ways they feel they can express themselves, keep in touch with their friends and thrive in a way of socialising that is quite different from the traditional, old school ways of 'hanging out.' Even students who don't fully embrace it use it, knowing it's a normal part of life, inside and outside of school. It incorporates both aspects of 'chat' - being able to talk, gossip and comment - as well as 'visual' - sharing photos of each other, whether to show their friends what they're doing on the weekend, or simply to take a picture of something they find interesting. As an extensive user myself, I find those aspects of social media brilliant.

As it stands, eradicating social media is an impossibility. Parents and teachers can try to curb and limit it's use, but inevitably it is there at the end of the day, waiting for eager kids and teenagers to resume their digital socialising ways with intensity. It think the more wiser choice would be to first understand the use of social media, the mentality behind its use; followed by embracing its positive potential and implementing ways of utilising it to help students achieve their goals at school - while also understanding your students better.

Constructive feedback through social media

Recording feedback onto an online system - which parents can then access -  via a smartphone is a great way to provide constructive feedback to your students while also keeping their parents up to date on the progress of their children, including their strengths and weaknesses. This parent-teacher-student interaction does not have to be limited to only parents' evening anymore, or end-of-year reports. It's now, immediate and interactive.

ClassDojo is another great program which enables teachers to record feedback for students which they can see immediately, both academic and behavioural - it's a great resource for enforcing better classroom management. Students can be rewarded for good behaviour, while also being reprimanded for poor antics. Best of all, it's all recorded and all parties can see students' habits and progress over time. Some teachers even choose to blog and tweet about the work their students are doing. Apps such as Evernote enable teachers to share students' portfolios with their parents. Edmondo lets parents see the written work of their kids, including teacher feedback and homework for any particular day.

I think all of these great tools really push students to work harder since they know their parents are watching their progress, as well as their teachers. As for the parents themselves, it gives them a medium to keep in touch with the school work of their children in a more efficient and manageable way - rather than the old method of letter sending.

Finding a balance amid the risks of social media and networking

Naturally, with each social media platform comes risks. Namely, the spread of false information, gossip and plain lies. Closer interactions with parents can unfortunately lead to a forum for complaints, inappropriate and uncomfotable situations, and cyberbullying. And it's not the students that are necessarily doing it.

Vigilance, careful planning and execution is paramount. We need to have a sound strategy of how to implement each social media platform, understanding its full capabilities, potential, and knowing exactly how we want to use them. This, of course, varies with each teacher. The ultimate goal is to get students to work harder and take responsibility for their schoolwork. Not being shy to use the tools out there and getting parents more directly involved will only aid in this quest for academic betterment.

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