I’ve been thinking a lot recently about social media being used in school and in the classroom. There is great benefit to student use of social media, but some very clear concerns as well.
Having an online presence is becoming as important for people as a credit score. We, as a society, have become so accustomed to “googling” everything and everyone, that when something doesn’t exist on the interwebs, it becomes tough to trust it. Many have seen the studies that show a high percentage of colleges and employers research applicants before hiring/admitting them, and it just makes sense.
The immediate concern is having a negative online presence. Students are especially susceptible to this because they are in that stage of their life where they want to push the boundaries, try new things, and break the rules. Add to that a general misunderstanding and naivety of the ways in which social media works, and you have a recipe for disaster.
When you try to talk to kids about this stuff, you get some odd reactions. As a teacher, tell a student you found their twitter account. They’ll tell you that’s weird, why would you do that, and you’ll get plenty of weird looks. The idea that an adult, especially an authority figure, would look at their public presence is completely foreign to them. But I don’t stop there. I tell them that’s what they are asking for, that it is the entire point of twitter. They want as many followers as they can have, but there is no connection to them between those followers and real people; they use public social media accounts as if they are private conversations with only their IRL friends, and if you’ve ever come across a students’ twitter account, you have likely seen things you wish you hadn’t.
But what if schools, and teachers, took it upon themselves to begin having students build a positive online presence? Students could post especially well done papers, reflections on their school experiences, updates about their community service hours/projects, and even pictures of their time in extracurricular activities. We would, and do, gladly help with college admission applications, we try to teach them both the knowledge and life skills they need, so why not this?
In a world where students are numbers to an admissions person somewhere, a positive online presence could make a difference. Colleges and Universities want more than just SAT scores from their students, and we know that. We know that the big reason for admission essays is to get a look at the personality of a student, so can’t we do more?
At the end of the day, it comes down to teaching the students the proper way to use social media. Those conversations with their friends are important, but not in a public presence. What I would always recommend is two accounts: a public account and a private one. Twitter makes security simple: click “Protect my tweets” and no one can see them unless you let them. A separate account that is public, only shares things that make you look good. In the world we live in, the world these kids live in, that’s the best way to protect and benefit themselves. Now it’s up to us to convince them.