Social Media–Beast or Tool?

Social media receives a lot of attention for its role in bullying, but can it have a positive role in student learning? Some early research with high school and college-aged students suggests that students can participate in powerful learning conversations on social media (see this article for a summary). The correct guidance, however, to structure the conversations is likely important, especially with younger students. The research has long indicated that students need specific instruction in how to collaborate with their peers in order to do so effectively. Collaboration is different on social media than it is in person, as it’s asynchronous and the recipients’ reactions are often delayed or entirely invisible. In addition to teaching and practicing in-person collaboration skills with students, teachers need to provide instruction specific to online collaboration. The teacher can provide both guiding questions for students and examples of an effective academic interchange that students can use to structure their own interactions. For example, give students scenarios and have them type responses in class. Use this experience to practice interacting online with each other while in the classroom (and under the teacher’s supervision), with students providing verbal feedback to each other related to how what each person typed impacted the person who received it. This just-in-time feedback in the classroom will help remind students that there is a human being on the other end of their social media posts, and hopefully consider how what they type will impact that person even when that person is not directly in front of them.

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