Op-Ed: Prepare Students for a Global World with Social Media

Honor Moorman |

Students at the Global Learning Collaborative public school in New York City use digital technologies to connect with the world. Photo courtesy of the school.

The New York City Department of Education (DOE) recently released social media guidelines that will go into effect this fall. The nine-page document begins by stating that “social media technology can serve as a powerful tool to enhance education, communication, and learning” and acknowledging the benefits of social media in preparing students for academic and workplace success. It goes on to recommend a set of best practices for social media use by employees, emphasizing the need to clearly separate and distinguish between personal and professional use and outlining expectations for communication within each of these spheres.

Social media sites such as Facebook and YouTube are recommended as learning tools by the U.S. Department of Education’s Director of Technology, Karen Cator, and many schools in NYC do use them, but those sites are blocked by the DOE until a principal requests access.

Though the DOE guidelines say that social media technology “can provide both educational and professional benefits” and help prepare students “to succeed in their educational and career endeavors,” it doesn’t offer guidance on how to use social media. Here are some suggestions.

Make It Real: Connect with the World

Students want to work on things that matter to them and matter in the real world. The use of technology, and social media in particular, is one of the most effective ways to make learning relevant for today’s learners. Teachers can bring real-world connections into the curriculum and connect students’ work with the larger world.

One great way to bring the world into the classroom is with YouTubeEDU and TEDEd. YouTubeEDU videos are organized by subject area and grade level and provide ad-free and comment-free educational content from organizations and institutions that so far include BBC, History Channel, Khan Academy, NASA, National Geographic, PBS, and TED. The TEDEd website turns educational videos into interactive lessons and enables teachers to customize lessons for their students. Teachers can use educational videos to spark discussions, introduce or review material, personalize learning for individual students, and allow students to learn at their own pace.

Students…care more about their writing when they are writing for the world, not just for their teachers.

Another key use of educational social media is to create a classroom blog. Students are more apt to do their best work when they have an authentic audience and care more about their writing when they are writing for the world, not just for their teachers. With parental consent, students and teachers can share their learning on a class blog or individual student blogs where they can embed documents, photos, videos, and more. Student bloggers can invite family and community members to comment on their work, and teachers can gain a broader audience for their class blogs by sharing updates on Twitter with the hashtags #comments4kids and #classblogs. Teachers and students can take blogging to the next level with quadblogging. Four classrooms join together and take turns blogging while the other three respond in a four-week rotation.

Expand the Classroom: Go Global

Social media provides the web of connections for us to communicate and collaborate globally. With more and more global interactions taking place online, students need to become good digital citizens in order to become good global citizens. By participating in collaborative learning projects with peers in other countries, students learn 21st-century skills and develop global competence.

One way to engage students in a global collaboration project is to incorporate an international event into the curriculum. For example, One Day on Earth is a worldwide media event that invites participants to film their local communities during a 24-hour period and submit their videos for inclusion in a globally crowdsourced documentary. Educational toolkits are provided with lessons and resources for the classroom. With possible topics including environmental science, oral history, cultural diversity and the arts, educators can weave this kind of project it into a variety of course content.

Students working with Global Kids -- including Dave Syfrain, center, from Paul Robeson High School in Brooklyn -- craft their message for a Facebook petition asking President Obama to attend the United Nation's Conference for Sustainable Development. Five students will attend the summit in Brazil in June. Photo by Sue Rissberger.

Another approach is to find or create a global project in which students learn from and work collaboratively with their peers in one or more classrooms around the world. Given the coordination this requires, many teachers turn to established projects hosted by organizations such as ePals, Flat Classroom Projects, New York-based Global Kids, iEARN, and TakingITGlobal. Educators looking to form their own global partnerships can take advantage of online communities such as The Global Education Conference Network or Skype in the Classroom. For inspiration, Connect All Schools offers stories of international collaboration between U.S. schools and partners worldwide.

Kathy Bieser, left, principal of the International School of the Americas in San Antonio, TX, and writer and educator Honor Moorman, right, plan a professional development session around the integration of Web 2.0 technologies. Photo courtesy Honor Moorman.

When students engage in real-world, global learning using social media, they not only learn the knowledge and skills of the traditional curriculum, they also learn 21st-century skills and global competencies that empower them as global, digital citizens. Greater New York educators should consider attending Asia Society’s Partnership for Global Learning annual conference June 29-30 in Brooklyn to learn more about using social media to connect students with the world.

The NYC DOE Social Media Guidelines recognize the benefits of social media in terms of preparing students for success in school and in the workforce. But these technologies are also critical in helping students develop the 21st-century global citizenship skills that will prepare them for their futures.

Honor Moorman is an educational consultant who works with New York City high schools in the Asia Society’s International Studies Schools Network.

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