• Theresa Capra

Social Media: Friend or Foe?

Social media is huge: Facebook has 2.7 billion users, YouTube 2 billion, and Tik Tok has amassed 800 million users in just 4 years. With such power, is it a friend or foe to institutions such as education?

Cyberbullying


As expected, younger folks are the most prolific users of social media. According to Pew Research Center, 90% of young adults use it regularly. But social media has a dark side--it provides a wide platform for toxic behavior for both students and teachers.

For example, about 60% of U.S. teens report chronic cyberbullying, which can be more pernicious than a push in the hallway due to its omnipresent nature. Some of this cyberbullying has chilling results: post-traumatic stress disorder for victims and perpetrators, increased adolescent depression, and even suicide. Still, it’s treated quite differently across the country. For instance, the North Carolina Supreme Court struck down a cyberbullying law, while New Jersey folds online attacks into criminal statutes such as terroristic threats.

Student bashing: free speech, or free-for-all?


Educator misconduct on social media is also rampant. Instances of teachers mocking, shaming and belittling students is an alarming trend. Institutions have taken steps to enforce policies that prohibit activity which personally disparages students, coworkers, and supervisors. But which speech is sanctionable, and which is free?


The Courts have developed a two-pronged test. First, a teacher must prove the speech is a matter of public concern. Second, it must be demonstrated that the postings do not diminish working relationships (educator/student), nor have an impact on operations. This criterion is more ambiguous, especially if the commentary is cryptic.


I offer an anecdote for illustration and discussion. The social media posts below were shared by an instructor on an account with open settings followed by coworkers (and students). Identifying information and offensive language have been redacted.

Clearly unprofessional, but is it harmful if student names are omitted? Is it okay to take the proverbial teacher’s lounge to the world wide web? A study published in the Northwestern Journal of Law and Social Policy found that teacher misconduct can undermine an institution’s credibility and even worse, result in unwanted litigation from families, ironically leading to negative media.


Social media for the classroom?


With so many antisocial uses of social media, are there any educational benefits? A large-scale study out of Michigan State University found limited guidance for appropriate classroom use as well as drawbacks such as distraction. However, the study also noted its potential for communication and engagement. Similarly, research from Harvard University demonstrated that although social media can be a seesaw for teens, it can boost self-esteem and creativity. And with education rapidly becoming digitized, it may be time for educators to evaluate instructional efficacy, and time for institutions to craft guidelines to minimize the above abuses.


Using social media platforms for contained communication can safely increase engagement while helping students perceive its instructional role, especially if educators model appropriate behavior. Here are a couple worth a look.


  • Get a like. Create a Facebook page for your class, but keep in mind Facebook pages are not private. Therefore, it’s best to create a page that represents your subjects, teaching modalities, and pedagogical philosophy. Each semester you can personalize it for your current classes. It’s a great way to build rapport, especially with distance learning. Because students frequent social media, you can be sure that updates and communication are received. It’s also a wonderful forum to showcase student achievements. If working with teens, be sure to inform parents.


  • Pin it. Pinterest is one of the safer platforms with multiple uses. You can pin examples of student work, help students create digital portfolios, post images for lessons or writing prompts, curate virtual field trips, and ask students to pin project ideas for feedback. Visual media can improve engagement in remote classrooms.


  • Blog. This is my favorite. Students can comment, share, like, and discuss in a private and contained medium. There are plenty of free sites to choose from. You can post original content, link to external sites, and track the number of views. This is also the perfect forum for you to teach students how to evaluate information on social media. You can link to articles, twitter posts, etc. and have discussions about the veracity of such content.


  • Go video. You can create a private YouTube channel and invite up to 50 participants. Or if you make it public, you can turn off the comments (be sure to do that). Many college professors post recorded lectures and tutorials. But it doesn’t have to be exclusive to content—it can be light. Use your channel to send funny updates, share stories, or send out teasers for upcoming lessons. It might help with motivation in remote classrooms in particular.

What are your thoughts? Feel free to comment!

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