I have always thought of blogs and social media as digital platforms for self-absorbed people to post pictures of what they ate for lunch, rant about politics or share oh so profound quotes. This changed this year when I started using facebook.com to make connections with local climbers so I could climb at crags that were further from home. Before I had experienced the utility of social media, my preconceived notion of social media had limited the way that I was able to connect with students in the digital realm. I had made extensive use of a range of digital platforms such as websites and youtube channels, but had only used these to push resources and information out. This had worked well but I had not provided any real opportunities for students to interact with myself or their peers as they were accessing these resources. Students had to either talk to me in person or email me if they had questions or comments and because of this, I can now see that I had missed out on an opportunity to create an online social network or virtual community to support and extend learning.
Rethinking the type of digital platforms that I use and the way in which they are used made me realise how the learners could the benefit if I added a social media component to my programme. The most significant change would be an increase in ubiquity and agency for learners. It would also make the role of the teacher less central to learning in that it would provide another avenue for communication/collaboration between students. Importantly, one that exists outside of class time. It also creates another platform for feedback so that students can ask questions which they might not have time to ask or have answered in class. Furthermore, it allows for students to make connections with their peers in other groups or classes, thus widening the potential for feedback and peer support. This could also allow for learning to be shared with parents and increase their involvement in learning. Students would also be able to share resources that they find and this would encourage a more active, self-directed approach to learning while allowing others to benefit from students who work in this way. Finally, there is the potential to make connections outside of immediate school community, to connect with experts or even just other learners to gain access to greater range of skills, resources, and experiences, create a much wider network of learning for students to access.
Wait one second, that sounds too good to be true! Well, not really, but there are some fishhooks to take into consideration. The first major issue is selecting appropriate social media platforms given that the most commonly used social media platforms (Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc.) set the minimum age for users at 13. Even if this were not the case, privacy issues would make using these platforms problematic with primary aged children. The solution to these problems would be to use a student-driven digital portfolio product such as seesaw.me that provides many of the features such as the ability to comment and ‘like’ that can be found in mainstream social media products. This could be used alongside class or individuals blogs that could be used as platforms for interaction with those outside of the immediate school community. One additional issue that exists, regardless of the social media platform/s used, is the need for learners to have a solid understanding of digital citizenship to ensure that they were able to interact online in a safe and appropriate manner. If these potential challenges were addressed then social media could play a major role in extending the learning that takes place in my classroom.