My opinions of social media changed after I began graduate work in education technology. That's when my district's technology director introduced me to My Big Campus, a social-media and learning-management system developed by Lightspeed Systems. I'm now a huge proponent of online learning.
If you're wondering how to integrate social media into your classroom, school, or district, here are few bits of advice from a former skeptic:
1. Student Safety: It tops my list. There are several learning management systems on the market - some are free and others charge fee. My district uses My Big Campus. In a nutshell, it's monitored, filtered, and offers teachers granular control of its numerous features. Posts are tracked and recorded. Users entering through free accounts are verified: Only credentialed teachers are allowed. Further, reports outlining suspicious activity, suspicious images, and general usage are a snap to generate. For more details, see the Top 10 Reasons Why I Love My Big Campus.
2. Always Ask the Boss: Secure administrator approval before engaging students on any Internet platform. Mention the topics you'll be covering on the Net and why you believe social media will enhance the lesson. Expect a few youngsters to push boundaries, so discuss how students will be disciplined for online offenses. In addition, check your district's technology acceptable-use policies for students and staff. Verify your online plans jive with the rules your district already has in place. Also, many districts require parents and students to sign Internet permission forms and AUP agreements. Your administrator will guide you on local requirements.
3. Inform Parents: Many parents are apprehensive about their children opening a social-media account - and rightly so. After gaining administrator approval for a class social-media site, talk to parents. Be open and honest. My Big Campus can help facilitate the process. After opening a free account, head to Topics, where you'll find the MBC Orientation Center. There, you can ask other educators along with My Big Campus coaches and staff for advice and materials to get the conversations rolling.
4. Keep Principals in the Loop: Email building administration about upcoming lessons. Invite principals to observe activities. Better yet, give them a seat in your virtual classroom. My Big Campus offers class discussion boards. Have administration chime in on chats. It's a great way to build a sense of school-wide community. Besides, principals talk: Soon, you'll have other teachers asking you for online-lesson ideas.
5. Befriend the IT Department: It's been my experience that district technology directors and IT staff appreciate teachers who adopt technology. Tell them about your latest social-media lessons. Build a relationship. You never know: IT might ask you to pilot the district's newest technology purchase.
6. Don't Be Discouraged: Change is difficult for all us. Some colleagues might be skeptical about the educational benefits of social media. Be cordial to these folks. Listen to their concerns. Consider yourself an ambassador for change. Don't argue with those hotly opposed to online learning. Simply agree to disagree. In addition, students will require time to adjust to your virtual classroom. At the beginning of the school year, the majority of my students had very little, if any, formal coaching on netiquette. Be firm, patient, and consistent. Model the behavior you expect. It may take time, but your students will rise to your expectations.
7. Blog: Open a blog and start writing. Share lesson ideas with the world. Email colleagues links to your endeavors. After reading my posts, teachers I hardly knew approached me for tips on how to create online lessons.
8. Administrator Adoption: School administrators can facilitate staff buy-in for social media by using it themselves. Demonstrate effective ways teachers can connect with students, parents, and the community online. You'll be pleasantly surprised at how many jump on board.
Above all, keep this in mind: Social media is here to stay. Students will encounter social media or its offspring in college and the job market. It's our duty as educators to prepare learners for the world ahead of them.