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Thursday, May 31, 2012

Why Twitter and Facebook could be Good instructional tools

Social Media Outposts
Social Media Outposts (Photo credit: the tartanpodcast)

I think Paul Barnwell in his Education Week Teacher Article has some great points:
"If it’s simple—even mindless—to use or create with new technology, then we must question the pedagogical value of what we are doing. That said, I don’t regret using Poll Everywhere and experimenting with class blogs several years back. After all, as educators we must be willing to test out, and sometimes adapt to, evolving opportunities to teach and engage students. I’m still trying to figure out my curriculum, and will continue to test out new programs and technology applications to enhance the course. But until I'm convinced that cell phone and social media applications truly support deep thinking, my students will keep their devices in their pockets and backpacks."

However, his Title "Why Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools" is entirely misleading. I left a comment there and have pasted it below to further the conversation. If you want to comment, I think you should go back to Paul's original post.

His points that new, shiny, well loved devices don't always equate to excellent instruction are good ones. His challenge that we should do more and be more with our teaching than create distraction and lack of focus are great ones. However, my problem with the article is his complete dismissal of Twitter, Facebook, and Polly Everywhere as "unsuitable" or "bad" also miss the point. Here's my take:

I agree with Epbylon that your headline is misleading. It is not the tool itself but HOW you use the tool. For example, my ninth graders have a 20% time project where they spend 20% of their time on a project of special interest. I have one student in particular @Apps_for_Autism that has almost 300 followers now. She and I have spent a lot of time together talking about hashtags, how to engage in conversation, how to research her topic. She's found a wonderful psychologist to mentor her and shares her findings. 
When we do research projects, I teach students how to find hashtags around conversations and subscribe to those conversations in their RSS reader. I've found this assignment requires a lot of higher order thinking. 
When my students wanted to do a project using social media to bring awareness to human trafficking and the problems. They had a wordpress blog, a Twitter account (we set up twitter feed to send the posts there) and a Facebook page. We tracked engagement levels and things that created likes. What stimulated engagement. Now, this was part of my social media module for 3 weeks but it wasn't just your average "post on facebook." 
It bothers me when people insult tools as if they are supposed to be some sort of savior or demon. It is always WHAT you do with the tools and HOW you use them to teach.
I do totally agree that many have gimmicky uses of tools but there are also some powerful uses of many of the tools you've found not to be suitable for your purposes. 
As a teacher, it is our job to promote higher order thinking and have students use tools in ways that will get us there. I've been able to use Facebook and Twitter in those ways in some instruction but then, there are times of the year that students would get off track or we weren't using Facebook for educational purposes and I'd need to block it. 
To sweepingly state Twitter and Facebook are "bad" instructional tools is like saying that paper is bad and should be eliminated because so many teachers use it for mind numbing worksheets. Websites are modern day paper and can be used in many ways both helpful and mind-numbingly useless. Thanks for the thought provoking post.

I think that social media could be Dr. Jeckyll or Mr. Hyde depending upon the use. With the noted exception of a site like Chat Roulette, I believe that almost any site could be used in positive ways for teaching. We should never settle for the new tool as automatically being good or bad just because of the tool - I've seen silliness on Edmodo where we had to redirect the students back to the task at hand.
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