Teacher Tips: Using Social Media in the Classroom -By Ashley Kennedy | Wednesday, January 28, 2015

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tips on using social media in the classroom

A growing number of teachers are incorporating social media into their lesson plans—and I’m one of them.

It’s been great to see students really embrace some innovative ways of expression through apps like Instagram, Twitter, Tumblr, and WordPress—creating and curating images and ideas while interacting with their world outside of the classroom. It helps us teachers break down classroom walls and class-time barriers as students learn and reflect by using tools on their mobile devices.

Here are some great ways to use social media in the classroom:

Organizing class projects using hashtags

Hashtags—those labels you attach to cloud-based media and text—make the collection and curation of images really convenient. You just need to assign a unique hashtag for your class (i.e., #KennedySP15) and you can easily bring each student’s disparate materials together in an organized way.

For example, in several of my classes, I’ve used Instagram—along with the collage creation app Snapwidget—to easily assemble everyone’s photos into a gallery, slideshow, or collection of scrolling images. When you do this, you can discuss how personal elements play a part within a collective setting.

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The above gallery is from a collection of images I curated with my students last year using the class hashtag #fyskennedy. We were studying a unit on image and identity, and I asked students to take three photos that portrayed self identity—without showing their face.

It was the first assignment of the year, and it provided a great way for the students to get to know one another. And because Instagram hosts videos in addition to photos, you can do this sort of project with static or moving images.

“Photos and videos are great springboards for discussion,” saysKelly Page, PhD, a consultant who researches learning and digital culture.  “But it’s not just about the collection of photos… it’s about the meaning that comes from it, and the reflection that comes afterwards. For young people, it’s a way they can hear their voice and their story about why these images and videos resonate with them.”

You can set up all sorts of different projects for students to create and collect hashtagged images using social media apps. In writing classes, for example, you can prompt your students to show how images might act as metaphor for story, scene, or character development. In art or photography classes, you can ask students to demonstrate or comment on concepts like composition, style, or color. And through all of this, students can reflect on their own images, or they can look at the collection of images from fellow classmates to discover larger themes.

Hashtags play a central part in other social media platforms, too, so you can do this with any number of apps. If you’re teaching a class in current events, politics, or history, you can ask students to useTwitter to research and comment during specific events.

My former colleague at Columbia College, Lott Hill, began embracing social media interaction in his class as early as the 2008 presidential election. Together as a class, they identified the top issues relevant to college students. Then the class divided evenly per candidate (McCain v. Obama) and students were required to tweet three times a week for six weeks about their assigned issue/candidate. They also live tweeted during each debate.

“It drove students to go out and look for information, and be conscious of what was in the media about the candidates,” Hill says. “And after six weeks of this, there was an extremely high percentage of students who voted—which was the intent. They were engaged and they were informed, and Twitter helped make that happen.”

Documenting processes and creating portfolios

Social media apps are also a great tool for documenting processes. This is especially true in science-related fields, as students can write reports and take pictures and video to document an experiment in stages, or while doing research. Then they can create a real-time lab report using an app like WordPress, Tumblr, or Blogger.

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