On the Tuesday afternoon of the Handheld Learning 2009 Conference I had an opportunity to present on Social Media in School. This was part of the social media break out strand of the conference.
Below are the main slides that I used in my presentation below:
What is Social Media?
There are lots of definitions of Social Media and lists of social media tools all over the Internet. Some diagrams and descriptions are more useful than others in trying to define what social media is and how we can used in education. I came across the diagram on the right (there are various versions of it) which I thought was useful in trying to define the role of individual social media tools (you can click on the image for a bigger version of it).
As I explain during my conference session I don’t pretend to be an expert in this topic. But I have had some success in using ICT and social media tools in an education context. For me there is no single definition that can encapsulate what we mean by social media but I think it has most of the following characteristics.
- is primarily about communication in particular the conversation
- challenges traditional models of communication
- tends to be open allowing an access to a wide audience
- is normally built from the bottom up
Five reasons why schools should be interested in social media:
1. The power to engage
Social media such as blogs, wiki’s and podcats can give students a sense of audience.
Like all social media tools in school it is important to start somewhere. I suggested that a good place for schools to start might be writing a Wikipedia article about your school or at the very least having a look to see if your school has a Wikipedia article written about it. The truth is that many schools do have their own Wikipedia articles and that many of them are quite negative and not truly reprehensive of the school community.
Writing or re-writing an artical about your school can not only create an accurately researched cross curricular project but at the same time it is likely to improve the image / marketing of your school (Wikipedia is very popular in Google). It is also hugely empowering for students. How often do they normally get to publish to the largest encyclopedia in the world?
Some education authorities such as East Lothian in Scotland have really embraced some types of social media in particular blogging. Edubuzz (managed by David Gilmour) is a Wordpress Multi User blogging platform that is available for all learners within East Lothian. One of the reasons it is unique is because it is not hosted on the councils servers and therefore completely independent to the councils corporate IT department.
The East Lothian EduBuzz project has been and continues to be a massive success. Most school websites in East Lothian are now edubuzz blogs which means they are quick and easy to up-date by teachers and pupils. The director of education has a blog which shows that he is fully supportive of the initiative and schools such as Preston Lodge have over 1500 subscribers to their blog by email – creating an effective, easy to publish digital news letter. Law Primary Schools blog and how it uses ICT was sited as an example of good practice in a recent HMIe report – this has given other schools confidence to develop a similar model.
Social media tools can also be used to encourage collaboration. Again East Lothian are one of the only education authorities that I know of in the UK that have adopted Google Apps for Education across the whole of the authority for students. Not only does this provide them with a great email solution and massive free data storage solution for pupils but it also allows students and teacher to utilize Google Docs in their learning and teaching.
In my experience well managed collaboration on work normally results in an improved output and increased student pride. It is also a vital skill for enterprise education.
2. Real data in real time
Social Media can also be used to source real data in real time. During this part of the talk I described two examples of this that I’ve used in schools.
i) Google Alerts to celebrate pupil achievement
Google Alerts is a way of telling Google a key word of phrase and then if that word of phrase is published on the Internet and picked up by the GoogleBot then you get sent an email linking to the article where it has been published. I sometime describe this as ‘searching the future internet’.
My suggestions is that all schools should have Google Alerts for their schools. Why? Well it can be used as an early warning system if someone writes about or mentions your school online. Importantly, it’s also a really good way to track student achievements. Many children take part in activities outside of the school and some of them are really impressive. They are often written about in the media and normally the child’s schools is mentioned. As most papers are digitized Google Alerts gives you an opportunity to be told about this as soon as it is published and this is often before you have a chance to read the local paper.
I also believe that the use of Google Alerts is a vital study skills that we should be teaching young people in order to collect their own research. I’m sure higher education researchers use alerts a lot.
ii) Twitter to gather weather data
My Twitter snow lesson is quite well documented but the key points of the lesson were:
- My twitter network was asked where they lived and if it was snowing
- We plotted all the tweets on a Google Map
- We exported the data into Google Earth and overlaid the real-time satellite imagery
- We discussed every part of this process and the results
3. Social media is not going away
Schools need to realize that social media, new technologies and the Internet are not going away. In fact they are only going to become more prominent in 21 century youth culture and society. Schools need to start asking themselves questions about why devices such as mobile phones are banned within their education institutes? Are phones really phones any more? Or just powerful mini computers that happen to make phone calls?
Some schools have been very progressive in social media adoption and I think one of the UK leaders in this field is Saltash.net Community College in Cornwall.
You only have to look at the Saltash.net home page to see they are forward thinking. This is a school where parents and the wider school community can get up-dates on school news via the Saltash.net twitter account. Pupils and staff up-load work, assignments and achievements to the schools YouTube channel (effectively creating a school television station). The school has an animal enclosure and you can visit the pigs and chickens 24/7 via the school webcams. If your lucky enough you can also attend one of the schools live broadcasts via twitcam (an on-line video streaming service). Finally, if you like what your reading here you can even contribute to the school project via paypal! Most importantly anything that the school does with regard to social media is based on well grounded classroom pedagogy to support learning and student achievement.
Other schools are also making use of live video streaming services suck as Qik. Musselburgh Grammar School has broadcast a live music event from the schools drama studio to other classroom in the school. As the event was not open to the wider community parents and friends of the pupils involved could also join the broadcast on-line.
4. Professional development
Social media can help education professionals and school leaders move towards a more ‘drip feed’ approach to CPD. I like attending conferences for the conversation but in recent years I have learnt a lot more from my immediate personal learning network than I have from listening to conference presenters within the traditional ‘sheep dip’ model.
However, in order for people to become used to using social media for their professional development they may need to be nurtured as it presents a whole new way of working. My suggestion is to get teacher using some of the more easily accessible websites that have an obvious link to CPD for example slideshare and teachers TV. Try to get people to rate presentations and programmes and to leave feedback as this contributes to the social aspect and personal development of using such tools.
5. Businesses want to hire people who can use the Internet
Schools ICT should no longer be about how to create letters in word, underline text, making things bold or drawing a graph in excel. We have moved on and ICT tools have moved on. I’m not saying Microsoft Office isn’t important, because I think it is very important. But I also think the ICT curriculum needs to develop, move on and evolve in exactly the same way that ICT and the use of the social web has done within successful business.
Lets face it, organizations that continue to use traditional models based on an industrial hierarchy don’t seem to be doing that well in the new world markets. Banks are a good example of this. Companies such as Google on the other hand continue to thrive and expand in this rapidly change world. An enjoyable easy read on this subject is ‘What Would Google Do?’ by Jeff Jarvis.
Schools and teachers wishing to use social media will continue to face challenges. The first challenge is around permission and strong school leadership. One of the reasons that there has become wide spread blogging and more open culture in East Lothian is that the Director of Education has fully supported the blogging initiative.
The second challenge is one of web filtering. There is no easy answer to this and the situation seems to be completely un-coordinated across the UK with massive regional and local variations.
I was in a primary school before the summer holidays where I observed three girls rehearsing a dance routine for their summer show from a laptop perched on chair in the corner of the room. YouTube was un-blocked in the school and the children’s access to YouTube was built up on a system of trust and respect between the students and the class teacher. There are other schools that I know of that block this service completely for both students and staff. I know which school I would rather work for and wish that schools would risk assess filtering (in a similar way to school trips) rather than blanket banning such potentially valuable education resources.
At what point will digital entitlement for students include access to content as well as access to devices?
Finally it will be interesting to see how education institutes start to use social media to contribute to the schools continuous cycle of improvement. We have a lot to learn from enterprise here. Starbucks for example has a website called ‘My Starbucks Idea’ where customers can leave a comment suggesting ways that the coffee chain could improve its service. Some of the ideas it adopts – just think about how much money it is saving on research and development. Won’t it be great when schools become open enough to do this?
Athelstanford Primary School in East Lothian recently challenged parents at an assembly to post a comment on the schools wall wisher page explaining how they were going to become more environmentally friendly. A great example of how the whole school community can be involved in children’s learning.
As I said at the start of this long article on social media in schools I don’t pretend to be an expert on this subject and I know there are lots of other benefits and challenges in using this type of technology with young people. However, I remain committed to the fact that good teachers use good tools and I think some of the web based tools that I have mentioned above should be in every teachers toolbox.
What do you think? Please feel free to leave a comment if you were at the presentation at Handheld Learning 2009 I would love to know what you thought.