Social networking tools aren’t just for advertising, flirting, and making us jealous of the dessert you’re eating. The evolving world of Internet communication—blogs, podcasts, tags, file sharing—offers students radically new ways to research, create, and learn. Computers and tablets should not be used solely as glorified workbooks, teachers should be embracing networking because certain platforms have the ability to transform and improve education.
It seems obvious, right? Social media allows people to come together around an idea or topic of interest, to discuss that topic, to lead and follow debates, to add new information, to share existing information, and the data can be shared all over the world—why isn’t every single classroom utilizing these resources? Bloggers write detailed pieces about Shakespeare, Greek history, advancements in microbiology, and grammar. An instructor could use this information in his or her classroom and encourage students to leave comments, ask questions, or even write their own articles. We live in a social world, and it is crucial that we teach students how to be effective collaborators in that world, how to interact with other people, how to be engaged in current events, and how to be well-informed citizens. And, here’s the kicker; it’s free. Even in low-income communities, one computer and a projector in each classroom can offer unlimited educational potential.
Teachers all over the United States have already attempted to incorporate social media into their teaching strategies. Here are a few examples of how three movements, using social networking, are making significant impacts in the lives of students and working to change the face of education by bringing it into the twenty first century.
The Buffelgrass Shall Perish Facebook “Fan Page”
In Tucson, Arizona a science teacher at a local middle school called upon his eighth grade class to pick a problem in their local community, and solve it. The students converged and came to a consensus. Buffelgrass is a weed that grows rapidly, is flame resistant, and is being imported by some states as a cheap alternative to control erosion and as cattle feed. This grass is a menace; it has the shelf like of a Twinkie, and where it’s left to spread, it destroys the natural ecosystem by hording all the water and depleting the soil of nutrients.
The students were sure they needed to educate the community about the dangers of this plant, and began by creating a Facebook page devoted to uncovering the horrors of its behavior. They also created a YouTube video to promote their cause, and used the Facebook page to update the world on their progress.
Using the networking tools of their generation, they became advocates for their town and spread their message to politicians, farmers, other schools, and parents.
Digital Youth Network: Remix World
In Chicago, the Digital Youth Network runs a private website called Remix World, which emulates popular online social networks like Facebook and MySpace. Students create profiles and include images, profile information, and links to their friends’ pages. They use this platform to post digital artwork, videos, and other creative work to their pages, and then they interact with other users. They can comment on the work of their friends and participate in discussions with other users through the Remix World forums.
By providing these students with a safe space to share their work and ideas, Remix World allows them to solicit feedback and offer constrictive criticism—some have even found the process so enriching that they have continued to post their work on public sites, like YouTube. Children ranging from middle school age to seventeen years old are posting graphic art, original videos, and computer games.
When students are motivated to create work that they can share online, it ignites an independent learning cycle driven by their ideas and energized by responses from peers. Through trial and error, they are able to add new media skills to their repertoire. These innovative skills are critical when looking for work after high school or college, and the activity helps to stimulate the mind.
The Khan Academy
The Khan Academy is a “not-for-profit organization with the goal of changing education for the better by providing a free world-class education for anyone, anywhere. The academy offers an extensive YouTube video library that includes thorough lessons in all levels of mathematics, science and economics, computer science, history, civics, art history, SAT prep, and more. The website also includes interactive challenges and assessments that are available to students, teachers, home-schoolers, adults returning to the classroom, and pretty much anyone with access to the Internet who is looking for a quick brush up on biology.
The system is customizable to suit each individual student’s needs, and the lessons are self-paced—so unlike a live classroom, where if you day dream and miss the crucial part of a lecture, you panic—when using the Kahn videos, you can rewind the material multiple times until it makes perfect sense. Some teachers will assign Kahn lectures to their students, and use class time to go into detail on that lesson. They let students work problems out, or ask questions in order to clarify ideas—so rather than teaching a topic at one pace, and hoping every student keeps up, the teacher lets the student learn at his or her pace and then uses class time to let students put the lessons into action.
The Academy’s content is used in classrooms and by individuals in over 20 languages around the world. More than 920,000,000 interactive math problems have been solved, and the videos have been viewed over 225,000,000 times. This virtual classroom offers a high quality education to students all over the globe. Even Bill Gates uses this software when teaching his children.
This project, and others like it, is possible because of the ubiquitous power of social media. YouTube enables the founders of the Kahn Project to share university quality knowledge, for free, with eager minds all around the world. Instructors are able to share groundbreaking research with their students, and students are able to share their work with others using Facebook, Twitter, Delicious, Reddit, YouTube, and Pinterest, just to name a few. In this way, social media has been repurposed—it has evolved from being solely a means of chatting and following, into a remarkable tool that fosters immeasurable advances education.
By Sasha Novikov, Creatine Marketing