While I'm comfortable using social media in my personal life, and sometimes professionally, I'm unsure about the ways students use social media and about how it might be used in my teaching.
Since Facebook, the first social media platform that became really popular was created, there are now numerous social media platforms.
The proposition of each is tuned to particular types of users, they offer slightly different features and monetize (if they do) slightly differently.
From Insta to Pinterest, all offer ways to share with a network. The size of your network is up to you, but you can count on the fact that your data is used to run the network - whether you are aware of it or not.
MOST POPULAR SOCIAL MEDIA platforms
DataReportal analysis shows that 3.96 billion people use social media today, accounting for roughly 51 percent of the global population.
Even though there are lots of social media platforms we typically only know about the top ten or twenty - and maybe only use a handful.
The world spends more than 10 billion hours using social media platforms each day (which is the equivalent of nearly 1.2 million years of human existence).
The social media landscape is now so complex and fragmented that it's often hard to tell whether something is a social media platform or not.
Many platforms have similar functions - like messaging or video - built into them so its hard to figure out exactly what something is: is it a social media platform that allows you to post video, or a video-sharing site that allows you to create a profile? This is a deliberate strategy by the companies that develop them: they are all competing for your attention.
Facebook 2.7 billion
YouTube 2 billion
WhatsApp 2 billion
Instagram 1 billion
Reddit 400 million
Pinterest 400 million
Twitter 350 million
Most popular social media platforms from Charts and Chill on YouTube.
Most social media platforms do not allow users who are younger than 13.
The origin of this age restriction is the US COPPA (Children’s Online Privacy Protection Act of 1998) law, which made it illegal to collect or store the personal information of children under age 13.
But different countries treat this question differently. In Europe, most social media platforms have a minimum age of 16 to comply with the GDPR (General Data Protection Regulation Act) of 2018, but European Union member states can choose to set their own age limit to set 13, 14 or 15 if they wish.
The real issue is not a child’s chronological age but their maturity level. It's difficult to judge the precise age at which children have the social and emotional skills to cope with the demands of social media.
WHAT'S GREAT ABOUT THEM?
Displaying an online journal of your life - and share that with your network.
Especially during the pandemic, staying in touch. Despite the many criticisms levelled at social media, for many people it is a lifeline.
Access to aligned services like the Facebook local marketplace.
The ability to be anonymous: platforms like Reddit or Twitter allow you to be who you want to be.
WHAT ARE SOME DOWNSIDES?
Dependancy. Many people find the always-on nature of social media can draw them into unproductive scrolling behaviour.
Fear of missing out. Insights into other people's lives while fun, can be demoralising, especially if you are isolated.
You are visible. And so, and especially for children, it is possible to be targeted with unwanted contact, inappropriate content, social exclusion, threats and abuse.
Privacy. Many platforms have been accused of selling data about their users, targeting them with ads they don't want or tracking users' location.
Reputational damage. Although you can delete a post or image, someone can copy it and share it before you do. Photos, images and videos of you may be posted without your consent.
WHAT QUESTIONS SHOULD I ASK?
Here are some questions you can ask about your own social media use that you can encourage your students to ask, too. These questions can help students develop their digital literacy through careful interrogation and analysis of the various platforms and what they offer.
Who owns the service I am using and subscribing to?
Where is my data stored?
Who owns the rights to images and videos I upload?
What is captured by the service (location data, data on which websites I visit)?
What copyright laws apply to me?
What processes are there in place if my content is misused?
What is the complaints procedure?
If this is a free service, how does the company make money (e.g. through advertising)?
Is what they do in line with data laws where I live?
Do you, and how do you communicate, rules and boundaries around social media? Is this appropriate to do this in a school?
What kinds of content do you think students should share, how often and with whom ?
Are you fully aware of the privacy levels and controls of this platform?
MORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS - digital footprints
Everywhere you visit on the internet leaves behind a digital footprint. Webcrawlers and cookies provide records of online behaviour that are permanently recorded.
Social media platforms in particular contribute a lot to your digital footprint: these platforms know a lot about you already if you have created a profile.
Both for adults and children this is a seldom thought about hazard - but one that may turn out to be important in the future as more online content about you is stored and can be seen by employers and anyone else.
MORE ABOUT SOCIAL MEDIA PLATFORMS - ECHO CHAMBERS
The term echo chamber is taken from the field of acoustics. It describes what happens when sound is reflected back on itself in a space.
In the age of the internet, it means a closed system - like a social media platform - where opinions and beliefs reverberate, amplify and are reinforced. Often those beliefs are radical, unpopular or controversial and gain credibility by being repeated and reinforced, and usually opinions that are contradictory are never heard.By some estimates, over 60 percent of millennials use Facebook as their primary source for news.
Since social media encourages like-minded people to gather together. it can be easy to fall into an echo chamber without knowing it - and that can be a problem for both adults and children. It pays to be aware about the dangers of echo chambers and the need for people to be informed from multiple sources.
Watch this video from GCFLearnfree on YouTube about echo chambers.
MORE ABOUT SOCIal MEDIA - SOCIAL MEDIA AND LEARNING
Not all social media is about pure entertainment, procrastination or spreading unverified ideas.
In this short video from UQ's School of Education, Dr Simone Smala discusses the links between social media platforms and learning. She thinks that humans learn through situations, environments and actions that feel familiar and why social media is an educational tool.
SOCIal MEDIA AND TEACHERS
Without a doubt, the vast majority of students – at least those in middle or senior school – have social media accounts.
Many teachers also use social media personally and professionally. Teachers are increasingly using LinkedIn, and especially Twitter, as personal learning networks, to highlight innovative teaching strategies and to network with peers. And many teachers maintain personal accounts to do what everyone does - share their lives, keep connected and share their interests.
Almost all schools, and for many schools their state or territory government organisations, have guidelines, processes or codes of conduct for social media use. These are essential to understand and follow.
Issues like the content of a personal profile (image, username and bio, which is public), plus the need to ensure security using a strong password or 2FA, also need to be considered: a hacked account can be used to damage the reputation of an individual teacher, or a school, and compromise networks.
Privacy issues are also important. Teachers can be easily identified on social media and it is unwise to post about colleagues or students on personal accounts. Codes of conduct, or contractual requirements, may also tightly circumscribe professional conduct and the need to comply with legislation in relation to privacy, copyright, information security and child safety. A good overview of the issues involved is available at Australia's Victoria Department of Education and Training Social Media Use to Support Student Learning policy.
Social media, and the internet in general, also contains a great deal of information, often stated as 'facts', about the hazards of social media - internet predators, cyberbullying, the dangers of too much screen time and teen depression and suicide caused by social media.
But it's important to consider the credibility of these 'facts', to practice critical thinking about them and carefully weigh the evidence. Alarming though some accounts are, there is little credible evidence to support them. For example, a systematic review of research (viewed 261,879 times and cited 118 times) on the influence of social media on depression, anxiety and psychological distress in adolescents, published in the International Journal of Adolescence and Youth in 2020, concluded that the relationship between social media use and mental heath "is correlational but not conclusively causative." To state that 'social media causes depression in adolescents' is not correct and is misinformation.
Faced with these constraints, it might be temping to avoid any use of social media in teaching.
But, as a central part of how students experience the online world, it seems sensible to look for ways in which social media can support student learning whilst remaining consistent with the professional conduct and competence expected of a teacher by colleagues, students and the community.
There is a great deal of academic research on the use of social media in the classroom. For example, Antoine Van Den Beemt's paper Towards an understanding of social media use in the classroom: a literature review, published in 2019, presents a synthesis of conditions and outcomes relevant for a well-considered, evidence-based use of social media. The uses of social media they identified were:
Collaborative learning: active engagement with the course content and to support metacognitive skills.
As an addition to or replacement of traditional curriculum materials. The purpose is to improve communication, share knowledge and learn collaboratively, for instance by enabling students to have informal discussions about assignments.
In social constructivist approaches to learning, providing active engagement, for instance by asking students to produce digital content.
Increasing interaction between students.
As a way to develop digital literacy and social media skills.
SOCIal MEDIA IN TEACHING AND LEARNING - SOME EXAMPLES
Mimi Ito on Learning in Social Media Spaces (Big Thinkers Series). Ito, an expert in young people's use of digital media, shares her research on informal learning in online communities, where students can build technology skills, learn media literacy, and create and share their work. From EduTopia on YouTube.
There are lots of examples of social media in the classroom, either directly or to support learning activities, and this example is from the Twitter account @MathIntheNews which posts a new math question related to current events every day. These types of uses of social media are genuinely interesting, useful and support learning and teaching.
Another interesting use of social media is the Instagram account scientistselfies, which uses selfies to challenge public stereotypes of scientists.
This is part of a research project to understand how social media could be an avenue for relationship building between scientists and citizens and to challenge stereotypes of scientists. By encouraging students to reflect and comment on these images, it can help foreground issues of media literacy and help students better see themselves as future scientists and so help increase diversity and inclusion in STEM. There are many similar uses of image-based social media that can support learning.
Teachers are also using TikTok as a way to set digital assignments. These videos can be created by individuals or as group-based tasks.
Although criticisms of TikTok (which we also discuss in the course on video sharing platforms) are many and various, it has been successful in making it easy for anyone to be a video creator. Teachers are using it in many and various ways, including @Iamthatenglishteacher who began posting TikTok grammar lessons to help her middle-school students overcome common mistakes. She now has 1.5 million followers.
The Guardian reported in late 2019 on teens doing TikTok history re-enactments — anything from videos about the German empire in 1914 from TikTok user @dontkickphilip, to the American role in the creation of the League of Nations from @slavicceasar.
When a history teacher and UK school principal, interviewed by the Guardian, was asked how she’d feel if she found out this was what her students were getting up to she said: “I would be absolutely ecstatic” and that even if the videos weren’t entirely historically accurate, they work as a useful historical tool.