Teachers, administrators and students are using social media in all new ways. How can public schools use social media? Schools have often relied on traditional ways of disseminating information such as town hall meetings or newsletters. But more and more opportunities are arising for public schools to get their message out using social media. There are many different ways educators and administrators are using social media to interact with their communities.

Facebook is not just meant for college students; it and other social networking sites have a wide range of ages for their users. According to Pew Research data, the percentage of adults using social networking is on the rise, with the number of responders saying they use a social networking site (such as LinkedIn or Facebook) more than doubling since 2008. With this increase in online users, some think public schools would be remiss not to reach out to community members, particularly when considering those who may have otherwise found it difficult to stay connected.
Amid budget cuts and other issues, many think it is especially important today for schools to be actively involved with their communities through social media. In some cases, educators from public schools have used social media to protest policymakers. In Florida, teachers used Facebook pages of more than 200,000 combined members to protest a bill they thought would have harmful effects. Because of their engaged online activism, the bill was eventually vetoed by Governor Crist.

Teachers are using social media to do more than protest bad policy. They’re also using it to teach. For example, Spanish teachers in a Baltimore school have been posting tweets in Spanish that they expect their students to respond to, or contain links to videos or other documents that the students are required to view. Students get the chance to expand their learning outside the classroom through this interactive approach.

With these developments, it is a wonder why high school or younger students have not used social media for ends other than socializing. According to a survey of middle and high school instructors throughout the country, a large majority of teachers say that social media is helping students express themselves creatively. What other uses might students be making of their social media platforms? With tools like Instagram making image sharing instantaneous, perhaps public schools could encourage students to share school-related events with the wider community. This would allow students to express themselves, and make their thoughts and perspectives known to community members. Social media can provide a voice to all ages, and a purpose for those who choose to use it productively.

Did You Know?

Mashable, a website that covers topics related to what they call “the connected generation,” cites the seven best ways to use social media to promote learning. Here are two of the most unique:

  1. The all-encompassing: Teacher Anna Divinsky created an iTunes U class at Penn State that she converted into a MOOC (a massive online open course). The 58,000 students enrolled in her class “Introduction to Art: Concepts and Techniques” were required to use social media in critiquing each other’s work. Some students uploaded pictures of their art to Flickr, others tweeted about it on Twitter or posted on Facebook. Each post required the specified “artmooc” tag.
  2. The mass-twitter questioning: According to a survey released by YPulse, 21 percent of 14—30 year-olds use Twitter as their main source for news. To capitalize on this, a professor at NYU encouraged students to live tweet their questions in a class of 200 during a speakers’ series of prominent journalists. In using the hashtag #IJNYU (investigative journalism New York University), the journalists were able to view and answer questions in real-time during their discussions. After the class, students had 24 hours to use Storify to create a summary of the tweets. Storify allows users to collect media data from the web and then publish it on their site which dually shares it with others and notifies the sources.

Other ideas include student-run blogs, or using alternative outlets for hosting classes such as Google Hangouts, Edmodo and Second Life.