An online poll of K-12 teachers in the USA has found that nearly nine in ten of them have not integrated social media into their classrooms and almost two-thirds have no plans to do so. But are they missing an opportunity?

The survey conducted by Harris Poll for the University of Phoenix College of Education shows that despite the  increasing use and popularity of social platforms outside of the classroom, in-classroom use has stayed virtually the same since 2015. In fact, teacher use in the classroom has decreased since late 2013, when the percentage indicating they integrated social media into the classroom stood at 18 per cent.

While there is understandably some hesitancy to incorporate social media into the classroom, there is a wealth of opportunity for teachers to use social media to enhance the student learning experience. The first steps to using social media as an educational tool is acknowledging its impact on the lives of today’s students and teaching them about the importance of digital citizenship. If K-12 students experience social media in a productive environment like the classroom, it can help set the tone for their future usage.

Said Kathy Cook, dean of educational technology for University of Phoenix College of Education and former K-12 educator.

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80 per cent of these teachers saying social media can enhance a student’s educational experience.

Forty-five per cent of teachers agree that participation in social media with their teachers can enhance a student’s educational experience, according to the survey. This increases substantially among those who have actually integrated social media in their classrooms, with 80 per cent of these teachers saying social media can enhance a student’s educational experience.

The survey also reveals four in five (81 per cent) K-12 teachers remain worried about the conflicts that can occur from using social media with their students and/or parents (82 per cent agreed in 2015). Only one in five (19 per cent) teachers indicate they are intimidated by students’ knowledge/use of technology devices.

There can be a disconnect for students when the technology they use to learn and communicate in their daily lives is absent from the classroom. Learning how to effectively leverage social media in a classroom setting can help enhance the experience for students and teachers alike. While many assume the popular consumer social media tools are the only options for educators, there are actually many social tools that are designed for the K-12 environment and that have custom security options.

Said Cook.

Despite low classroom usage, the survey indicates more than four in five (83 per cent) teachers use social media personally and more than one-third (35 per cent) use it professionally to communicate with colleagues, students and parents. Nearly one-third (31 per cent) have experienced issues with students and/or parents connecting with them on social media. More than three-quarters of K-12 teachers (76 per cent) say parents sometimes use social media to monitor teachers’ work and/or personal lives.

To help address some of the ethical dilemmas teachers face in the classroom environment, including social media, University of Phoenix has integrated ethical decision making into coursework and offers specific Continuing Education for Teachers courses to help teachers navigate the increasingly social landscape.


Top tips for introducing social media into your classroom

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Don’t be afraid to engage students in the process of figuring out what is right for the classroom.

Cook says integrating social media in the classroom can be challenging for teachers, but also very rewarding. Cook offers the following tips for engaging students in the classroom using social media platforms.

  • Start small. Start a closed classroom Facebook group and encourage students to post and interact with each other. This is an excellent way for students to incorporate a popular social channel into a learning opportunity. From there, build out lesson plans that involve social media platforms. Other options include starting a topical Twitter feed or requiring students to blog about educational topics.
  • Create boundaries. Develop guidelines for how you plan to interact with students and parents and communicate it clearly. Set these policies early on and stick to the plan. Having students help develop guidelines can also help them set boundaries in their own personal social media usage.
  • Be channel agnostic. With so many tools at your disposal, it’s important to focus on what you want to accomplish and then determine the channel. Also, don’t be afraid to engage students in the process of figuring out what is right for the classroom. It can be a great critical thinking exercise and a way to empower students to make choices in their learning experiences.
  • Continue learning. In today’s changing digital world, it is important for teachers to be equipped with the knowledge and skills needed to perform effectively in the classroom. Continuing Education for Teachers courses are an option for teachers wanting to educate themselves on the newest technology or how to use social media. University of Phoenix offers a ‘Cyberethics for Educators’ course in which students study digital and ethical-decision making both inside and outside the classroom.
  • Be social Engage with other teachers in social media to learn what they are doing and find great ideas for projects. The more engaged teachers are personally in social media, the easier it can be to understand the implications and limitations for their classrooms.

The Harris Poll survey was conducted online within the United States on behalf of University of Phoenix 14–25 April 2016. Respondents included 1,005 US residents employed full-time as teachers in grades K-12 who have at least an undergraduate degree.

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Special World, from Inclusive Technology, is a free website linking 125,000 special education teachers, speech therapists and occupational therapists in 150 countries. Special World readers and contributors work with children who have additional needs or special educational needs including those with severe, profound and multiple learning difficulties and disabilities.

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