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In todays technological environment, it is important that teachers try their best to make use of this innovative technology. As explained by Thaker, this technology can be used to facilitate communication between the students and the teachers. However, this new form of communication can also help parents in getting involved in the learning of their children. One way of enhancing this communication is through the use of social media (Bienstock, 2012) (Thaker, 2011).
There are a number of social networking sites that can be used. Facebook  , Twitter  , Edmodo  , LinkedIn  , Twiducate  , Classroom 2.0  and Google+  are just few of the existent social media that one can make use of in education.
These media are being constantly used by almost everyone on everyday basis. The results obtained from Pingdom (2012) on the demographics of 24 different social media sites show that these media are being used by different persons in different age groups. In fact, the study shows that even teenagers are making use of such media (Pingdom, 2012). However, one might argue, should we use such media in education, even though we know of the problems and issues related to such media? However others might reason that we cannot just eliminate the use of such a valuable and easily accessible resource. Bienstock (2012) makes reference to the New York Times article in which Ms. Pust states “I think that we would do more good keeping kids safe by teaching them how to use these tools and navigate this online world rather than locking it down and pretending that it is not in our realm.” (Preston, 2011 in Bienstock, 2012)
In the following sections, we will discuss the advantages that social media offers in the area of education. However, we are also going to point out the problems that these media might present and how to cope and manage them.
Social Media Benefits in Education
Develop communication skills – students can gain social confidence from online interaction, which may help them feel more secure in new situations
Increase skill in technology – students become more familiar with new and emerging technologies, as well as increase their media literacy through exposure to many different types of online media
Since many students already use these forms of technology, they may be more engaged in learning if they utilize it
Online communities can be very diverse and expose students to many new view points, ideas, and opinions
Social media can also be a source to increase talent to work on group projects
Students can develop an optimistic image of themselves by putting best qualities out there
Enhanced Collaboration – acquiring information can be accomplished by students alone. But problem-solving skills are often better enhanced in a collaborative environment. Social media allow students to work together on projects beyond an individual’s capability
Teachers and Schools
Increased access to resources since learning materials can be shared
Collaboration amongst teachers and exchanging of lesson plans and information
Can reach parents who are incapable to come to school in a cheap and effective way
Can form partnerships with schools in other states or countries
Enhanced Flipping – Social media can be used to enhance the teacher-student relationship. Students view recorded lectures or read curricular material outside the classroom. Inside the classroom, students complete what usually qualifies as homework. Teachers act as tutors, helping students through problem areas in their work.
Modernize Discussions – through social media teacher can credit students for in-class participation. This requires teacher to monitor which students are speaking up when.
Communicate Between Classes – Teachers can send out announcements, share ideas or pose questions to pupils, especially when classes are spaced several days apart.
How well are schools using social media?
Making safe communities – some sites allow teachers to control online environments thus reducing dangers associated with social media
Lack of knowledge – a school’s social media account should be managed by someone who understands social media
Encouraging collaboration – students can critique and comment on each other’s assignments. They can easily work in teams online and asking teachers questions or starting a discussion is easy
Lack of features – lack of engagement for students can make them feel as if the school doesn’t care. Features should include one-on-one connection
Invitation to produce content – social media can invite students and schools to produce content for both enrolled and prospective students. This can show the school’s personality
More than a presence – a social media profile requires daily maintenance and interaction with students
The NCF (Ministry of Education, Employment and Family 2011) argues that “literacy, numeracy and digital literacy are the foundations for further learning.” Our students are digital natives whether we like it or not. For us as teachers we have to accept this and exploit it to deliver the subject content to our students.
Students and Social Media
Our students are continuously communicating through social media, in Malta the most popular one being Facebook. Can we stop this? No we can not as out students are equipped with laptops, tablets, iPads, smartphones all providing easier access to social networks. Introducing social media in education is not an easy step, as mentioned before students are continuously using it with most of them ignoring the possible consequences. When the topic is approached only on a theoretical level students think that it will never happen to them, for them there is nothing wrong uploading any kind of photos to appear ‘cool’ with their friends. They can not perceive that once a photo is available on the Internet is available to anybody even though they select the ‘Only Friends’ option.
Social Media Problems and How to Minimise Them?
The only way to deal with this problem is through educational videos that illustrate various situations which teenagers found themselves in because they didn’t know it could happen to them. A teacher can start by showing these two videos http://viewpure.com/nOUu1fldBbI and http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=hK5OeGeudBM&feature=channel and discuss a set of questions with the students to elicit important points from both videos; the uploading of photos, anyone can watch your photos without you being aware of it. Students need to be educated towards social media. They have a tool in their hands, they think of knowing how to use it but most of them don’t. Teachers and parents have to understand we cannot stop the social media hype. We as teachers have to educate about this tool.
What can go wrong?
Many students ask the questions: What can go wrong? These are some of the answers that we as educators need to provide:
Cyberbullying (CEOP, 2007):: By using technology like mobiles or the internet, this type of bullying can affect someone not just at school, but at home as well. Because it takes place in the virtual world, it has a 24/7 nature and can make someone feel upset or threatened in their own home. Students should be educated that this kind of bullying can be evidenced. With cyber bullying they can save text/emails/WebPages, print them and used as a proof to catch the bully.
Sexting: Someone taking an indecent image of themselves, and sending it to their friends or boy/girlfriend via a mobile phone or some other form of technology is sometimes referred to as ‘sexting’. Once these images have been taken and sent to others, control is lost of them and they can end up anywhere. They could be seen by friends and family, a future employer, or even, in some cases, end up in the possession an offender! This also puts that person who originally sent the images in a “vulnerable position” (CEOP, 2007):, as somebody they may or may not know now has these images and could use technology to bully, harass or even try to locate them as seen in the videos. Students have to be educated to think “Do I want my schoolmates to see these photos, my family?”
Hacking: Students should always choose the “Log Out” option so their account can not be hacked.
False Identity: People aren’t always honest with who they are, their age or what they look like. Students have to be share of whom they are confirming as a friend. It is very easy to lie on the Internet and there is no way of knowing if someone is telling the truth. Even if someone shows them a photo of themselves, this could be a picture of someone else or could be faked. This applies to webcam or video footage too; seeing a person in a video, does not mean it is them. Students have to be educated not to meet people they encountered over the Internet.
Addiction: One has to be aware of the time and effort spent in establishing connections. It is very easy to become addicted, for some, these sites become one of the major concerns (CEOP, 2007). This can have adverse effects on a person’s ability to work efficiently and affects one’s health as well.
Sometimes the best lesson to educate our students is not through theory but providing them with actual facts. For example this article http://www.dailymail.co.uk/news/article-2201064/Man-murders-girl-16-testify-raping-years-ago–lured-death-posing-teen-Facebook.html narrates the story of a girl killed by her rapist before she could testify against him. He posed as a teenage boy on Facebook and told Shania Gray (the victim) he had a crush on her and they agreed to meet. He took her to a secluded park and shot her (Pullman, 2012).
Everyone has a Facebook account why shouldn’t I?
Our society, educators, parents cannot hide from the reality that social media are part of our culture. The future generation are approaching their lives differently as they integrate digital technologies- such as computers, the Internet, instant messaging, cell phones and e-mail throughout their daily activities. As educators we can propose the following simple but effective SMART Rules (UK Safer Internet Centre, 2012):
Keep your personal information like address, mobile number safe. Make students think this question “If I meet a stranger on the street would I give him my mobile number?” The same reasoning has to be applied to a stranger met on the Internet.
Don’t Meet Up. Social networks can be a place to encounter with new people. Students must always know who you are talking to. If an adult they do not know asks them to meet up, they have to be educated to say no.
Accepting (UK Safer Internet Centre, 2012): Educate students to think before they accept something from someone over the Internet as it might contain viruses with the sole purpose to steal information from someone’s computer used by a hacker to keep data on people perhaps engaged by paedophiles. If students do not know from whom it is and it has an attachment, they have to delete it.
Reliable (UK Safer Internet Centre, 2012): Not everyone online can be trusted. Older men tend to lie about their age and who they are to meet female adolescents. This is a point we as educators need to stress onto; students have to know who they are talking to.
Tell (UK Safer Internet Centre, 2012): Students should not be afraid of talking if someone is harassing or stalking them over the Internet. They have to talk with their parents, or a guidance teacher or any other trusted adult if someone makes them worried or uncomfortable online. Moreover if a student knows about a friend who has these kinds of problems he/she has to tell someone. It is not betraying him/her friend’s trust, it is helping and in some cases saving his/her friend.
The Issue of No Physical Interaction
Social media is a medium that enables communication between people from all over the world through the use of technology. Such interaction can be done from the comfort of your own home and this can facilitate the process tremendously.
Some may argue that social media may present a challenge since the students are unable to socialise properly. This may be due to the fact that the interaction between peers is not presented in a physical manner.
On the other hand, social media allows people to meet in ways that otherwise would have not been possible. Social media not only allows easier communication but eliminates the issue of geographical barriers. It allows students to form and (Tomaszewski, 2012) (Connolly, 2011) (Williams, 2011)maintain friendships, that otherwise would have been difficult or impossible.
Such friendships allow students to learn and interact with other cultures other than their own. It allows wider knowledge sharing from people all over the world. Such interaction would not have been possible or would have been difficult and more costly if it had to be done physically.
Therefore, when used with properly and with caution, social media allows not only learning to occur, but also friendships and knowledge sharing to take place.
Avoid these when using Social Media
We do not want more rules but as any other important tool Social Media should be used responsibly. We are in the day and age, were Social Media is used all the time by everyone and this is the main reason why we should be careful of what we do. We should educate our students how to use Social Media sites responsibly. These are a few rules, which if applied, help us appreciate the power of Social Media when used in the classroom.
Post Illegal Activities – Although your profile may be set to private there are other ways and means how this content can become public and be view by anyone on the web. Once public, it will be impossible to remove that content from the internet.
Trash Your Teachers – Bullying can also include interactions done on posts where teachers or school administration are mentioned. This can be a grave offence even if certain things may seem harmless to who posted them.
Post Objectionable Content from School Computers or Networks – Do not use the school computers to post objectionable information. Some school networks can track this activity.
Post Confidential Information – This is very important – as already mentioned before everyone can see the information you post – so be careful not to post any personal information where people can track you.
Overly Specific Location Check-Ins – Do not use Social Media to say that you are home alone or in a remote location – this will help even persons who are not willing to help to find you.
Lie/Cheat/Plagiarize – If a lie is shared on Social Media it is most probably that everyone will get to know. There can also be investigations regarding cheating and plagiarism.
Threaten Violence – When a threat is posted online even if anonymous, there will be investigations by the police and eventually will trace the offender.
Ignore School-Specific Policies – Always abide by the policy of your school regarding Social Media.
Unprofessional Public Profiles – Students should be thoughtful of what to post online. Certain content might not be acceptable for an employer, who in the near future might go through one’s profile. Do not say or put anything on your profile which you do not want a future employer to see.
Never Rely on Privacy Settings 100% – “Students should never rely on privacy settings over good judgment,”  says social media specialist, Andrew Moravick. Some Social Media networks have very good privacy settings but some are updated very often and not everyone can keep track.
Post Emotionally – Do not post anything on Social Media when feeling emotional about something. Thing may seem very different when analyzing the same scenario when feeling calm.
As we can see, these are very simple rules students and everyone using Social Media can follow. We just have to keep in mind that anything posted irresponsibly on Social Media networks can have very negative effects.
So far experts remind us that there are clear “do’s and don’ts” for integrating social media in the classroom. Social technologies are here to stay and it is import to help students learn how to used social media. Guide students in how to think deliberately about their use and consider the outcomes of proper and improper use of social media. This goal can be appropriately reached when teacher have received appropriate training on the use of social media. Full backing and support of the school administration is mandatory to fulfill this objective. Turning social media into an educational tool can be used to further a student’s education and enrich it.
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