Social Media as an Educational Tool In and Out of the Classroom

November 07, 2019

As 2020 gets closer, teaching the way we know it is changing. Educators are developing new ways of engaging their students through social media. Dr. Kisha Porcher’s Ph.D. in Teaching and Teacher Education focuses on filling the gap between what students are learning in teacher education programs and what is actually being taught in urban schools. Tasha Austin holds an Ed.M. in Language Education and her work with GSE students confronts institutional biases within urban schools. She prepares pre-service teachers during their clinical experience and is interested in how technology is being used in the educational field. Austin states, “In a learning environment, the goal is to partner with students to demonstrate to them that they bring assets to the table and that they aren't just empty vessels you’re filling up. It's a great way to show them what they offer by coming into space such as social media, that you don't have expertise in and they do."

                                           

Social media benefits the educational field as it allows in-class conversations to grow and develop outside of the classroom. Dr. Porcher explains, “When I decided to use Twitter as a component for discussion in my classroom, I knew that it would be an opportunity to expand our discussion and learn beyond the classroom.” Dr. Porcher hosts her own Twitter chats with students called #TeacherEduMatters, where her students engage in weekly discussions about topics in the course. The students are expected to use the hashtag to engage in the discussion and respond to their classmates. Every month, there are chats for educators who teach in the major content areas and cover different topics such as #disrupttexts, #citeblackwomen, and #hiphoped to name a few. She describes this opportunity as, “a way you can engage in professional development. It has made an online community students probably wouldn't have access to without this tool.” Dr. Porcher’s students have had principals and educators reach out to them for opportunities based on their Twitter discussions. Dr. Austin highlights the power of social media when used efficiently, “So many wonderful things used in the correct way can transform the educational space, some of those things include the ability to connect.” Social media is a dynamic mechanism that has the ability to strengthen discussions and relationships.  

An essential key for social media in the educational space is educators becoming comfortable with the tool and understanding their role. Dr. Austin defines the importance of keeping up with the changes, “As an educator, the most important thing is to be vulnerable with your students and demonstrate to them that you're also fallible. To withhold a tool like social media from students solely because you’re concerned with possibly making a mistake is really not a good way to go. It's better for you to venture into social media with students, especially acknowledging they will likely have expertise beyond your own.”

It’s crucial our educators become comfortable with the idea of entering new territory and that our students can guide us along the way. Further, Dr. Porcher touches on topics that may be difficult to discuss on the internet, such as race, social justice, equity, or white supremacy. When it comes to a sensitive conversation she explains, “If you don't have the tools to navigate that conversation, it can be overwhelming or challenging. It's so important if you're using Twitter, or any form of social media, that you create some guidelines about how you engage.” It is imperative that both our students and educators are well-prepared and knowledgeable prior to connecting or engaging on social media. 

Educators must go where the students are. Austin specifically uses social media to keep up with her students. When she graduated, prior to Google sites, Austin created her own website to interact with her students. Austin states, “I wanted to be where they were. We would send little emails back and forth. I have always pushed myself to be wherever the students are although, you'll never really keep up. But when you show that desire, that openness to learning what they bring and be in a space that they dominate, you mitigate the power dynamic.” It is vital that educators gain an understanding of social media as it is the gateway to reaching students through their primary way of engaging. Dr. Porcher describes how many teachers teach based on the way they learned, “It is time for us to shift to teaching the way students learn and using the tools they engage with every day as a tool for learning for us. If social media is their primary way of engaging, why not use that to our advantage?” Both Austin and Dr. Porcher specify the importance of teachers getting out of old phases and making social media part of the field’s structure.

Furthermore, over the past summer, Dr. Porcher and Professor Austin worked together using Google Hangout to bring their classes together and Twitter chats to connect with their students through discussion. With this, Dr. Porcher discovered, “Students who never talk in the class participated. It's a different way of engagement. I'm hoping it becomes a staple in the work we do.” Both faculty members are working to further expand this form of teaching here at the GSE, nationally, and globally.

This upcoming year, Dr. Porcher is working with professors at Illinois and West Virginia State to have their classes connect online at the same time to have conversations around different topics in teacher education. Through this, students will receive cross-curricular, district, and university learning by gathering students all in one space together. She is also “hoping one day we can have a GSE Twitter chat where all faculty members come together and are present.” Austin believes, “Our students are entitled to the best education they can get, if we can just show more humanity, we can really elevate the level of education our students have access to by saying let's call in this professional or let's connect with this expert.” 

Social media is playing a predominant role in our students' lives and it is our responsibility as educators to adapt and think of ways we can use this tool to our advantage. Our mission of Advancing Excellence and Equity in Education prompts us to understand and look into the several avenues we can engage our students through social media.

 

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