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Survey: Teachers wary of bringing social media into classrooms

The University of Phoenix College of Education surveyed teachers on their use of social media in the classroom and found teachers wary of involving their classes in websites and apps that enable students to create and share content or network with others.

With today's kids essentially living their lives and making their connections on social media, a strong argument exists that schools ought to bring the online world into classrooms.

However, teachers tell me the monitoring necessary to keep students on task and out of trouble cancels out the benefits.

While schools increasingly rely on text messages to alert students and parents to deadlines or remind them of events, it remains rare to see a classroom where mobile devices and social media are integral to daily instruction and exploration.

A rationale against incorporating social media into instruction has been that not every student had a phone, but that seems less of a barrier today. Visit any middle school in metro Atlanta at dismissal and adolescents will be on their mobile phones.

Parents at every income level have decided a cell phone is no longer an option, but an essential tool.

Today, sending children out the door without a phone is akin to sending them to school without shoes.  (I remain shocked at the number of parents who have replaced not one, but two smartphones their child either lost or broke.)

And kids are being introduced to technology while still in diapers, a trend that worries pediatricians. (This afternoon, I am interviewing an expert on children and brain development, and he, too, is worried about putting babies in front of screens. Will share that interview later this week.)

As the Los Angeles Times reported earlier this year: (Try to read this story as it's interesting.)

Most children have been using smartphones and digital tablets practically since birth -- literally. Fully 36% of parents who answered a recent survey said their children had “touched or scrolled a screen” before they had celebrated their first birthday, and an additional 33% of parents said their kids had done so while they were 1 year old. Only 2% of the parents surveyed said they had waited until their kids were 4 to introduce them to the wonders of the touchscreen.

In case you were figuring that these kids must have been born in the heart of Silicon Valley, think again. The researchers said they conducted their survey of 370 families in a pediatric clinic that caters to “an urban, low income, minority community” in Philadelphia. In fact, 13% of the parents who took the survey had not finished high school. Still, 77% of them said they had a smartphone, 83% had a tablet and 59% had Internet access.

Here is the official release on teachers and technology:

Social media is a main form of communication and connection used by today’s students. Despite the expansion of ed tech tools as classroom resources, educators have not warmed to the idea of integrating social platforms as quickly as other types of classroom technology.

A University of Phoenix College of Education survey conducted online by Harris Poll in April among 1,002 U.S. K-12 teachers finds only 13 percent of today’s K-12 teachers have integrated social media into classroom learning, with an overwhelming majority (87 percent) reporting they have not embraced social platforms. Additionally, more teachers are citing a reluctance to incorporate social media into classroom learning than in 2013 (62 percent vs. 55 percent).

“We are living in a rapidly evolving world of digital and social media, and many students are totally immersed and well-versed in these platforms,” said Kathy Cook, dean of educational technology for University of Phoenix College of Education and former K-12 educator. “For teachers to stay current, keep students engaged and promote learning, it is important for teachers to acknowledge the influence of social media and understand how to use it to the benefit of their students.”

Why the digital disconnect?

A lack of tools and training top the list of educator concerns. Almost all (95 percent) of K-12 teachers say they have had some level of training related to integrating technology in the classroom; however, more than half (62 percent) have had minimal or no training in the area of interacting with students and parents through social media. Nearly half (48 percent) of K-12 teachers express the desire to learn more about integrating technology into the classroom.

K-12 teachers raise many concerns, with four-in-five (82 percent) worrying about conflicts that can occur from using social media with their students and/or parents, and more than half (59 percent) stating use of personal tech devices outside the classroom makes it more difficult for students to pay attention in a group setting in the classroom. Twenty percent have also felt intimidated by students’ knowledge/use of technology devices.

“Social media is here to stay, so it is critical to invest in our educators through expanded training,” said Cook.

According to Cook, training extends beyond providing educators tools to integrate social media into the classroom. In addition to being prepared to use social media as a learning tool, teachers also need to be able to teach students to be responsible with their online behavior.

“Despite challenges, tremendous opportunities exist for teachers to play a leadership role in students’ digital lives, helping them learn how to use social media and understand its impact both in and outside the classroom,” added Cook. “It is essential to train teachers in digital citizenship so that they can educate students about preserving their online integrity. One misstep can have ramifications for years to come, including among future employers.”

Tips for teachers in a digital world

As the 2015-16 school year starts, Cook suggests the following additional tips for K-12 teachers to help them integrate social media into their classrooms to supplement school- or district-sponsored resources.

•Create student social media guidelines. If your school or district has guidelines for social media use, make sure you and your students understand them completely and are following the guidelines. If your school or district does not currently have guidelines for social media use, consider developing some.

•Try “closed” social media sites. EdmodoTodaysMeet and other sites allow safe and secure social media experiences in a smaller school environment. You can also create private blogs or use sites such as Kidblogs or Edublogs, which limit access and comment abilities.

•Connect with other classrooms around the world. Projects such as Global Read Aloud and Skype in the Classroom allow you to connect students in your classroom with other students worldwide.

•Connect with experts worldwide. Social media tools can help you bring a variety of experts into your classroom so students can learn directly from people in the field they are studying.  You can search and connect with experts on Twitter, Skype and other social media networks. Many authors and content experts may be willing to conduct a live tweet session with your students during which they can ask questions and get immediate responses.

•Involve your class in a social service project. Explore projects online that your students can get involved in to help make the world a better place. Choose2Matter is one global movement that may spark imagination about how social media can be used to help others.

•Learn more about social media use in the classroom. Join Twitter or use other social media tools to connect with other teachers and learn about their creative uses of social media. You can also take a class to hone your own social media skills.

Survey Methodology

This survey was conducted online within the United States by Harris Poll on behalf of University of Phoenix College of Education between April 14 and April 27, 2015, among 1,002 U.S. teachers aged 18 and older who work full time in education teaching grades K-12. In addition, oversamples of teachers from Arizona (n=101), California (n=207), Florida (n=103), and Colorado (n=100) were also included. A similar survey was conducted between October 7 and 21, 2013, among 1,005 U.S. teachers.


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About the Author

Maureen Downey has written editorials and opinion pieces about local, state and federal education policy since the 1990s.