I only graduated high school two years ago, but my learning experience has already become outdated. In a classroom at Emerson College this past year, I was asked to use social media, much to my bewilderment. My professor set up a crowdsourcing website—a form of media I had never even heard of—for us to compile each day’s notes. Crowdsourcing has been used for many outlets, but most notably by businesses to project problems to the public and encourage crowd participation to gain solutions.

Social media, once an enemy of teachers, is now slowly filtering into the classroom. While cell phone use, specifically texting, had become a large source of distraction to students, laptop use is now being encouraged in some settings. Students participate using features similar to text messaging; the only difference is that the entire class, including the teacher, is viewing their comments. Educators are finding that letting students engage in social media keeps their attention focused on the lesson at hand and even prompts more students into a discussion, albeit, silently.

There are various types of social media being indoctrinated in daily lessons, and this isn’t happening just in America: teachers all over the world are inviting social media into their classrooms, from the elementary to the college level. In K-12 classes, such as the 11th and 4th graders from Sioux Rapids, Iowa, educators have been not only satisfied with the efforts of social media interaction in the classroom, but also impressed with how well their students used it. Universities in Sweden, Great Britain, and Wales have met similar success.

Twitter and other similar technologies, such as Google Moderator and Today’s Meet, allow students to participate in a class discussion, eliciting answers from even the shyest students. They provide a forum for feedback, allowing teachers to respond to posted questions and comments. The set-up of many of these “backchannel” programs, most of which are free on the Internet, is similar to a private “chat room.” Google Moderator, in addition to providing a forum, has areas for voting boxes and brainstorming ideas. Today’s Meet allows for a live streaming of comments so educators know which points of their presentation need clarification.

However, this innovative style of teaching does not go without its naysayers. Any time laptops are used in the classroom, there is a good chance that students will be using them inappropriately, whether they are checking their email, playing games, or instant messaging each other. But teachers looking to find a home for social media in the classroom argue that giving students a productive method to use their technology prevents inattentiveness. Some educators are even creating their own type of social media, like the Hot Seat, which was developed for Indiana’s Purdue University. The Hot Seat is a personalized backchannel forum for posting questions and comments during a lesson. It is accessible by laptops and other handheld devices, and also can be projected onto a screen. This way, the Purdue staff can see how the lecture or discussion is progressing. Although only twelve courses took advantage of it this past semester, the educators who did found promising results. More students “spoke up” during class, and questions were dealt with quickly and efficiently.

While having social media in the classroom is still an experiment, it is clear that there are some positive results. In some cases, students are more familiar and at ease with the technology than are the teachers, which is maybe what makes its appeal so great. Whatever the changes in technology, look to PSG to help guide you through them.