Social media can be a friend or a foe of the teacher. One of its most important uses is in helping them to create a personal bond and allow frequent communication with their students. This extended contact can be in the form of chat rooms, wikis, shared resources, group discussions, blogs and more.
The most common tools, such as Facebook, Twitter, Reddit, and Wikipedia, are publicly available. However, there are also many social media tools developed for specific purposes, such as blogs and wikis that connect closed groups. Together, they help expand the classroom’s capabilities.
The access to these social media tools in the classroom has greatly expanded due to the fact that, today, students can access the Internet from many different portable devices, including iPads, tablets, desktops, laptops, and smartphones.
The following are six benefits of using social media tools in the classroom and its application in an educational environment.
# 1 Classroom extension
Two years ago, I created an online PHP course, which was later used by a private teaching organisation. The institute teaches in small towns, using homes as teaching centres, and aims at providing skills to youngsters who couldn’t finish high school. The institute trains teacher aides, who help and assist teachers in the classroom, offering additional support in learning and development from Mondays to Fridays. In addition, a tutor interacts with the students via social media fortnightly, where they can also post questions and answers.
This education in distant places is possible due to the widespread adoption of social media, and the possibility of using local human resources as teaching aides. This approach can be particularly important for teachers in less developed countries, which have a sizable population of social media users.
Now people all over the world can be trained online to become a teacher’s aide in the classroom (or virtual classroom). Institutes such as Harvard in the US and Open Colleges in Australia help train thousands of people each year to help support the education of the next generation.
#2 Anytime, anywhere
A lot in teaching involves engaging with your students. As a teacher, they often confide in you with their problems, secrets, and dreams. This knowledge greatly helps motivate them, and sometimes creates a channel to solve classroom problems.
Two years ago, while working till late, I received a Facebook message with a file attached to it. It was Gabriel, a university student of mine, who was sending me his assignment from his hospital bed at 11 pm. He didn’t want to miss his deadline even though he had leukemia, and was going through chemotherapy treatment. His great commitment and the use of social media helped him to continue his studies. Lecturers could share with him extra study notes, answer his questions, and arrange alternative exam dates.
Social media tools, such as Facebook, which are available anytime, anywhere, can provide teachers with alternative ways to engage with students, particularly when there are some special circumstances.
# 3 Ease of use
One of the main reasons for the adoption of social media tools in the classroom is their ease of use, their affordability, and the minimal training that their use requires. As a result, most students have access to them.
This has led many academics to believe that social media can be an effective instrument in the classroom, particularly at the university level. According to a study, social media “has been used in university courses to facilitate teacher/student discussion, and wikis and blogs have been used to collaborate on projects and receive rapid feedback.”
#4 Immediate access
Social media can be great when it comes to sharing sources of knowledge. It has the benefit of making the exchange of notes, slides, knowledge links, and ideas an almost instant experience.
This immediate access can also help when students need to communicate daily problems to their teachers. Simple messages, such as: “Running late. Please wait for me”, can avoid a student’s exam failure. Likewise, the anytime, anywhere access can help a student send an assignment on time, as was the case with Gabriel, mentioned earlier.
# 5 Network effect
One of the great advantages of social media is that messages can be sent to one student, who quickly transmits it to the rest, making it really easy to reach the whole class. This makes social media very helpful when it comes to communicating daily issues. A teacher’s message, such as “Raining. Will be 15 minutes late” can be readily communicated to the whole class.
Similarly, students who have found new resources, solutions to difficult problems, or have unanswered questions, can quickly and effectively share them with teachers and fellow classmates. One important consequence of this behaviour is that it encourages the student’s curiosity.
# 6 Connection with experts
Social media has the great advantage of making it possible to communicate with experts, leaders, professors from other institutions, authors, etc. Nowadays, they are reachable thanks to many social media tools. An example is Gates Notes, where people can share comments on topical articles written by Bill Gates. The available tools also include online courses and videos, where students can learn from the best in their fields, ask them questions, and share knowledge with others. Besides, these available teaching resources can be used directly in the classroom, having the important effect of expanding the views of the students.
But, teaching is not only about transferring skills. It is also about the development of a taste for learning. The possibility of using the Internet to contact leading minds can be used to encourage bright students by providing them with special projects, such as group discussions, research and interviews.
Although there is no substitute for personal contact, social media apps, such as Facebook, can greatly serve as a complementary tool and help us to provide a more comprehensive and effective teaching. This aspect is possible due to the fact that social media is, in general, available anytime and anywhere, it is easy to use, provides immediate access to a wide scope of learning resources, and has been widely adopted.
Thus, social media can be a great contributor to education. Its benefits are many. Here I have mentioned a few that I have come across during my teaching years. The list is by no means complete. However, they all help in one important aspect of teaching: personal engagement with the students.