Using Social Media To Tell Your Classroom’s Story
by Terry Heick
Educators have embraced social media to establish networks, communicate with students, get new ideas for curriculum, and advocate for initiatives in education they believe in.
But there is still untapped potential in these mobile technologies. Twitter, facebook, pinterest, tumblr, instagram, and even education-centered platforms like edmodo each connect people and ideas. So answering “What can social media do for my classroom?” is similar to answering “What can working with others do for my classroom?”
Identity and Brand
We’ve spoken before about the idea of “branding” your classroom.
Promoting your own experience and vision by blogging is a great way to clarify—often for yourself—what you believe and value in education. (And what you believe and value can have an enormous—and silent—effect on your teaching.)
Having students blog is also incredibly powerful, as it gives them an authentic reason to consider (relatively) long-form writing, and offers them the chance of an instant, authentic audience. But using blogging—and its cousin, social media—to tell the story of your collective classroom is another thing altogether. This allows you to clarify your classroom in terms of a singular sort of brand in a way that isn’t possible in isolation.
In isolation, your classroom is a mess of learning targets, projects, standards, grades, deadlines, and crowded rosters. But contrast can be revealing. By opening your classroom up to the world, your classroom begins to establish an identity.
While you may use community-embedded projects to pursue local social change, other classrooms you connect with may exclusively use digital learning domains like the Khan Academy, DIY.org, Learnist, and other collections of mobile learning apps to research, revise, publish, and form new ideas.
The physical layout of your classroom, the tone of your interaction with students, the tone with which your students speak to one another, the authenticity of the work, the pace of the instructional time—all of this is what makes your classroom unique, and the learning experience for each student unique.
Isolated, each classroom is an overly-internalized breeding grounds for vagueness, sameness, and a dearth of innovation. But when “mashed” with another classroom—even if only briefly through brief digital narratives—it becomes clear who your class “is,” and who each learner “is” as well.
This is best accomplished organically—by collaborating with other learning institutions and classrooms at the curriculum level—the “stuff” they “do.”
But there are some steps you can take to jump-start the process a bit.
1. Come up with a basic vision, thesis, or brand.
Is your class rigorous and academic, or digital and connected? Is it full of student-designed projects, or thematic units based on national curriculum maps? Does it produce innovators and creative thought, or close collaboration in traditional academic work? Know “what you are” from the beginning can help clarify where to start telling that story.
2. Look at models.
Google “classroom blogs.” Search social media. Ask for recommendations. See what others are already doing.
3. Let the students work in teams.
In using social media to tell your classroom’s story, it’d make sense for the class to do the storytelling, yes? You can let them tell this story piece-meal, like individual squares of a larger quilt, or jigsaw the process by assigning individual roles to teams: one brainstorms, one executes, one publicizes, and so on.
4. Involve PBL, and make “milestones” products of student work
The artifacts of this storytelling process should be persistent and on-going—and come from the students themselves. Consider using projects, and not just “one big project,” but a half-dozen minor projects that all converge to accomplish one singular goal—communicating to the world the message of your classroom.
5. Connect otherwise disconnected mediums.
Social media allows you to embed a YouTube video on a facebook page, tweet a blog article, instagram a physical project, us quora to consult an expert, or use jux to gather visual artifacts in one place. Use this potential to be diverse in your storytelling across digital media.
6. Create a “sandbox” community.
In an era of social media, yesterday news is ancient history. To provide real value and utility, the content, ideas, images, and messages have to be constant. If this all comes from the teacher, it is not sustainable. But if you create a “sandbox” approach, where learners, families, and their digital peers are in control of the content and communication, “user-generated content” is possible—and the process becomes organic.
7. Curate the process.
As a result of using social media, the process is visible, but not necessarily curated. Use stumbleupon, pinterest, Pearltrees, scoopit, edmodo, or other platforms to “pick” artifacts and gather them as a kind of trophy case for not only the learners, but future classrooms to use as models so they can tell their story as well.
Why tell the story of your classroom at all? You may want to advocate for a cause, provide opportunity for your students to connect with other students on a global level, develop digital literacy skills, or simply use it as a natural publishing platform for the good work happening in your classroom.
Whatever your reasons for “publishing” your classroom, the results can be powerful, and resonate with learners long after poems, pioneering scientists, or math formulas have fallen silent.
Image attribution flickr user josekevo; Using Social Media To Tell Your Classroom’s Story