Social Media in the Classroom: Embracing Technology as a Teaching Tool

Several years ago, a photo of a group of school children staring at their mobile phones went viral.  By itself, a picture of kids with cell phones is nothing unusual. What made this photo special was that the dozen students staring at screens were sitting in front of “The Night Watch,” Rembrandt’s most famous painting and a national icon in the Netherlands.

The reaction from the twitterverse was swift and harsh, which only fueled its wildfire-like spread across the internet. People called it the ultimate metaphor for our age and a sad commentary on today’s youth.  What they didn’t know, however, is that the students were not Snapchatting, but rather using the museum’s own virtual tour to gain a deeper understanding of the Dutch Golden Age work of art.

To their credit, the Amsterdam Museum has not only introduced a 17th century painting to a  21st century audience, but also quickly and easily provided them with more context and information than can be fit on a small museum label.  And, when more than one-third of a teenager’s day is spent consuming digital media, it is an ideal way to reach Generations Y and Z.

Forward-thinking educators would do well to take note.  Your students are growing up in a digital world. They are as familiar with smartphone apps as students of days gone by were with the Dewey Decimal System and overhead projectors.  Rather than try to fight the tide, embrace technology and use it as a teaching tool.

Uses of social media in the classroom

To demonstrate their understanding and competence, your students could write a long, well sourced, impeccably footnoted essay.  Or they could produce a video on YouTube that imparts the same information in an attractive, engaging, and easy to digest format.  If improving writing ability is one of the learning objectives of the course, they could instead build out a Wikipedia article, or even collaborate on a new article together as a class project.

Students already communicate amongst themselves on social media.  Meet them there and establish a class hashtag. “What’s the homework tonight? #4thPeriodEnglish.”  Knovva’s online courses each have online community boards so that students around the world can connect, communicate, and collaborate as they progress through the coursework.  We also maintain group chats for students before, during, and after our summits, forums, and task forces to enable continued discussion among the cohorts of our international students.

Rather than ban phones as a distraction in the classroom, use apps and other tools to keep students engaged.  Project questions onto a screen and let students use their phones to answer them. Add a speed element and see who in the class can answer the most correct answers the quickest.  Students think they are playing a game and you get real time feedback on how much of the information they are absorbing. Pop quizzes have never been so much fun.

Digital Age technology has disrupted nearly every industry and aspect of modern life, including education.  It is, for better and for worse, a daily part of life for teachers, students, parents, and society at large.  When used correctly, social media can promote self-directed learning. Reinforcing these skills in the classroom empowers students to think critically and independently, and leads to better educational outcomes.

Rembrandt could never have envisioned today’s transformative technology, much less how much of it every student is carrying around in their pocket.  As a great painter and mentor, however, he knew well the value of education. Just as society was enriched by the painting of his students, so too will it be by the contributions of the teachers today who embrace social media in the classroom.

About Knovva Academy:

Knovva’s signature offerings connect top students from around the world with visionary educators, experts, and innovators to gain the skills critical to 21st century leadership. From world class online courses to five-day intensive simulations to two-week immersion programs, Knovva students break down cultural barriers so they can rebuild a world without them.

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