The Harbinger Online

Social Media Like Twitter is Increasingly Used in Education

140 characters a tweet. 18 tweets a day. 36 weeks a school year. In the past week, @smeoffice has made 120-something tweets and retweets wishing cheerleading luck at nationals, reminding students to register for AP exams and quoting Dr. Seuss.

The account is joined by more than 50 accounts for East organizations from Club Hammock to Wrestling. But when Principal John McKinney first opened the school’s official Twitter account in 2013 to celebrate student events and achievements, few other East organizations had a social media account.

In the years that followed, more accounts began to appear for various East athletic groups and organizations. Recently, teachers have begun to use social media platforms, especially Twitter and Instagram, in the classroom setting to make announcements, supplement the curriculum, show student work and even make school projects more enjoyable.

According to an EdWeek Market Brief survey, about two out of three teachers nationwide use social media as part of their job today. In the Shawnee Mission School District, East staff’s professional development meetings have included presentations to encourage teachers to develop a positive social media presence.

“I think the theory is that the more students see you engaging with them outside of the classroom, the more engaged students will be inside the classroom,” said English teacher and cheerleading coach Mallory Gaunce, who had created accounts for both her class and team. “I don’t necessarily know how much that’s true, but I don’t think it’s a bad thing.”

Among the East staff, social studies teacher David Muhammad has one of the most known social media presences. In the past three or four years, he has begun to use media platforms to share his students’ activities. His Instagram feed includes everything from birthday shoutouts for students to videos of students participating in discussions for Race Project KC.

Muhammad also uses social media as an educational device: in International Relations, he suggests that students follow accounts like BBC and Reuters on Twitter to keep up with a stream of brief, frequent news, which sometimes spark discussions back in class.

Outside of school, Muhammad spends time promoting his music and following information through the Instagram, Twitter and Facebook accounts that he runs.sidebar

“It lets the kids see that you’re a human being and relatable,” Muhammad said.

Over the past years, Muhammad has become more aware of the problem of discerning between private and school-related presence. This complication has driven some teachers he knows away from using social media, and some towards creating separate personal and school-related accounts.

“Before, you have your private life, and you have your school life. I think that those lines are blurring rapidly because they want us teachers to be accessible at all times,” Muhammad said. “For me, my teacher life and my personal life are the same . . . what you see is what you get.”

Gaunce, whose social media use outside of school is limited to private communication with distant friends or following news on Twitter, faces a different challenge. She finds planning and running her Twitter accounts for school and cheerleading somewhat time-consuming.

“It sounds silly to say that for social media you need to have a plan, but I do think for a teacher to use it effectively, you have to have a purpose, and I haven’t had enough time to really sit down and really hone in on what I wanted to put out there,” Gaunce said.

For Gaunce, gaps in consistency cause problems with assignment submissions. Because of the time commitment, she has all but stopped running her English class Twitter this year, especially with the introduction of Google Classroom as another easy way to send out information after school.

However, she would like to return to Twitter in the future. Gaunce also sees potential in Google Threads for student discussion boards or Instagram as a gallery for student work.

“I think a lot of kids use Twitter but maybe aren’t checking it all the time, so maybe for updates, it’s not as beneficial. But I do think [social media is] a great way to show the community what’s going on in the classroom,” Gaunce said.

Some teachers have taken this trend to another level by actually incorporating media platforms into their curriculum. While designing a lesson plan for epic poem “Beowulf,” English teacher Amy Andersen borrowed a South teacher’s idea to have students write tweets from the characters’ perspectives.

“The first thing that comes to mind is simply that it looked fun. It’s different,” Anderson said. “If I did Twitter reviews for all of my units, we’d probably get tired of it, but it’s something I don’t use for any other units. I thought it would be a fun way to spice things up.”

Students enjoyed Andersen’s effort to help them review the epic using something she hoped would be relatable to them. She had been worried that the idea was overdone and would bore them, and was surprised to find that using social media in these ways was not something students have often experienced before.

“If [the SME Office accounts] did anything, they showed that [media platforms] could be safe. I think there was a lot of apprehension,” McKinney said. “What I try to do with my own staff is show them how to control it. You can put privacy settings on there that allow you to have greater control over who visits your site, who comments on your site.”

Several years after integration of MacBooks into SMSD schools, some teachers are still resisting the trend towards a dependency on technology, and now social media, in the classroom.

Social studies teacher Robert Bickers, known for a hard-line ‘no phones out’ policy, is one example of staff who still don’t feel comfortable using social media for classes due to personal privacy concerns and limited time. However, Bickers still doesn’t deny the social media trend’s potential benefits.

“It’s not a good thing and it’s not a bad thing. It’s just a thing. If used appropriately, I think it’s completely useful,” Bickers said. “I know having a homework assignment pop up for a student in a Twitter feed might just be the way they remember.”

At the very least, Bickers is comfortable with bringing tweets, posts and even memes from what he calls ‘the modern-day primary source’ into the classroom as something to discuss and analyze.

“It’s inevitable. Social media is so ingrained in our personal lives,” said senior Meredith Finley, one of Andersen’s students who enjoyed their English project. “We don’t have to associate it with all negative things. You can put more education into social media if you put more social media into education.”

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Yashi Wang

Junior, Co-Art & Design Editor Yashi is fairly normal outside of an odd obsession with fonts (her computer died from an overdose, so she had to downsize... to 423). She has a very theoretical love for furry animals, and a genuine love for creative writing, drawing, music, design and sleep, among other artsy things. Outside of Harbinger, she’s a staff member of the Freelancer, a violinist in SME’s orchestra, the Junior Co-Treasurer on Student Council, and the ... Read Full »

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