I have recently taken to using Twitter, primarily to keep updated on interesting ideas and events rather than sending updates on my whereabouts and activities. As a ‘boomer’ I am what Marc Prensky terms a “digital immigrant” in that I have adopted new technologies – but my learning curve is quite steep and I am often hesitant in my practice.
Kids in schools today are in Prensky’s terms “digital natives,” and to them, technologies such as Twitter are second nature. Or as Don Tapscott says, “technology is like air to them.” Why is it then that most educators and administrators are so loathe to let kids use ‘their’ technologies in schools?
Eliminating distractions is one argument often presented in the case against social media technology in schools but in my view, this is a matter of classroom management more than anything else. If social media technologies, such as Twitter, are present without curricular application, the impulse for kids will be to use them in a distracting manner, adding to classroom management issues.
On the other hand, if teachers leverage the power of these technologies to further engage their students in class, the issue of distraction begins to fade and the classroom becomes a dynamic place for kids to be. Let me develop an example.
The last two weeks have seen significant events in Egypt that may lead to monumental changes in the geopolitical landscape of the Middle East. The mainstream media provided spectacular coverage of events in Tahrir Square during the first week of the demonstrations, albeit their focus was primarily from a distance, and tended to play up the violence or potential for violence.
At the same time, many journalists and Egyptian citizens were on the ground in Tahrir Square and other parts of Cairo and Alexandria – posting on Twitter. Their view of events was markedly different from that presented by the mainstream media (and far more personal). Now that the demonstrations have quieted somewhat, the ‘story’ has faded in the mainstream media. However, events continue to unfold in Egypt and are being reported many times daily on Twitter and on the Al Jazeera English network (not available in the U.S. but accessible online).
Imagine the types of lessons that could be crafted if students had unfettered access to Twitter in their schools now. Teachers could ask groups of students to follow a specific Twitter feed, and in a collaborative activity have groups prepare a daily summary of events from their ‘correspondent’ on the ground (e.g. Sandmonkey), and share their reports with the class, or indeed the entire school via a blog.
What a marvelous opportunity for teachers to bring the world into their classrooms and deepen their students’ understanding of life, on the street, in a far distant country. This, of course, is dependent on teachers and administrators recognizing the potential value of social media in their schools rather than brushing it off as a mere ‘distraction.’
PS – You can ‘follow’ my ‘correspondents’ in Egypt too – Twitter @BriggsGeorge
What are your thoughts abut the use of social media in the classroom? How can it be integrated into the curriculum? Should it be? Answer in the comment section below.