Why social media in school?


It’s a good question and one many schools are asking. Whether is because of the free-flowing nature of the content and material or the potential for distraction sites like Facebook, Twitter, YouTube many others are being blocked by institutions. It is my belief however that by blocking these sites and not embracing what they have to offer we are only creating and arms race with our students and missing out on using these tools to connected with and provide new learning opportunities for our students.


In a lively classroom discussion you would hope to see a class full of students with their hands raised, but how many hands can a teacher call on in a given class? How often does the topic or conversation change from one student to the next? How many students don’t raise their hands?  Social media gives students a whole new voice in the classroom.


By using micro-blogging tools like Twitter ( and Edmodo (http://www.edmodo) students can contribute to the discussion going on in the classroom without raising their hand or the fear of doing so. The comments, observations and conversations can even carry on after class has concluded. Through “tweets” (140 character messages) or short messages, students and teachers can share their thoughts and ideas with the class as they have them.  A teacher can projects these messages and see the conversation happening, hearing from all of their students and can take an idea they see and use it in the conversation.


Social media also provides students with an audience they could never find within the four walls of a classroom. When you think of your average writing assignment a student may have a peer read the piece in the review editing process before turning it in to the teacher, but more than likely the only people who will have read the piece will be the student and the teacher. When a grade is given the only feedback that the student has received is the grade, the number – and comments left by the teacher. Through the use of a blog a student’s writing can be published to the world, they can become true authors and the number of people who could potentially read their work increases along with the feedback they can get.


Comments on a blog post are like gold and when someone takes the time to read something you’ve written AND leave a comment (positive or negative) on a students work they have really connected with what that student has to say. Comments aren’t the only piece of feedback you can get from blogging, you can see the numbers behind the piece. How many hits did your piece get? How many visitors did you have? How much time did they spend on you piece and how quickly did they click to something else (bounce rate)? These are just some of the analytics you can provide to your students to have a meaningful conversation with their writing.

“If a picture is worth a thousand words, then a video is worth a thousand pictures,” Travis Warren, President WhippleHill Communications (“The show, don’t tell era is here“).

Travis’s comment is so true and by using social tools like Flickr and YouTube we give our students a new channel to have their voice heard. When we give students the opportunity to represent their learning in different ways we also need to think about how they are going to share what they have learned. Teachers can often struggle with rubrics for grading these alternate forms of assessment, but if we allow students to publish these within these social channels they can receive the same type of comments and feedback that they would see with a blogged piece. By increasing audience you can increase the amount and type of feedback you can give a student on their work. If you look at the example of the Irish Studies course at MKA you can see just how tools like Flickr and YouTube can expand audience.


The Irish Studies program is a second semester senior level elective in which students study the Irish Famine, politics and migration before embarking a two-week field study in Ireland. While traveling, students build a site with images, videos and written content from the various areas for study. From 1999 to 2008 the site was kept within our school Intranet, walled off from the rest of the world, but in 2009 we started using a blog, Twitter, Flickr and YouTube to publish. Currently the blog has had visitors from over 17 different countries, the YouTube channel 46 different countries, the Flickr Photostream images have been viewed over 22 thousand times and the program has over 480 followers on Twitter. When the students in Irish Studies speak, their voices are heard.


But what if you still aren’t convinced? What if you still have questions? I have two answers.

This summer at MKA (@MKAcademy) we talked a lot about the ways to better engage students in the classroom. We looked at much of the research that available, particularly brain research the one thing that struck me was the fact that the brain is social, working with other people engages the brain.  When I think about how I learn best, it’s not in isolation; it’s when I am talking and sharing with others. It’s when I can hear or read the ideas of others and add mine to that discussion. Social media provides the set of tools to do this — to keep the brain social.


Numbers don’t lie and Erik Qualman has done a great job of getting them out there. He is the author of Socialnomics and writes about the power of social media. If video he released on YouTube he points out that:

  • 96% of Millennial’s have joined a social network
  • Social media is the number one activity on the Internet.
  • If Facebook were a country it would be the 3rd largets in the world.
  • 80% of companies use social media for recruitment/
  • Social media isn’t a fad, it’s a fundamental shift in the way that we communicate

Of all of these points that Erik makes I think the most important on is the “We don’t have a choice on whether we do social media, the question is how well we do it.” Now, this statement was not directed at schools, but I think that it applies equally. Schools need to look at social media and use it as a means of instructing students. Not simply is how to use the tool, but the ways to use it. We must work with our students to teach the to use social media to have their voice heard, but also to be aware of what they are saying. As Erik points out “word of mouth” has become “world of mouth” and we all need to be aware and cognizant of our digital footprint.


By understanding social media and using it effective in the classroom we can give students an opportunity to have their voices heard both in and out of school — even Facebook.

William Stites

William Stites

Director of Technology at Montclair Kimberley Academy

Director of Technology for Montclair Kimberley Academy (, "Blogger in Chief" for, consultant for Educational Collaborators, husband and father of two crazy boys. All that and still trying to find time to write and share as much as I can with you here and at