Monday, December 3, 2012

Guest Post: Power of social media in classrooms, digital skills are proving invaluable in class

Power of social media in classrooms
Campbell Walsh was sick of waiting for his NAPLAN test results.

''I wanted to know how I'd done. It had already been about four months and I still hadn't got the results,'' says the year 5 student from Aitken Creek Primary in the outer Melbourne suburb of Craigieburn.

In another era, Campbell might have been told to sit down and be quiet.

Instead, his teacher Bec Spink suggested he post the question on social networking site Twitter. Campbell had an even better idea: why not tweet to the Prime Minister? Spink didn't skip a beat.

''Righto,'' she said.

Campbell composed the tweet: @JuliaGillard Why do I have to wait for so long for my NAPLAN results? What's the point? CW (Grade 5).

Spink then sent it on her iPad using the class Twitter account.

Campbell hasn't received a response from the Prime Minister, but there is little doubt the tweet has been seen by someone from her office. It was also retweeted by the class's 115 followers, which include classes in Ireland, New Zealand and the US.

Welcome to the social media revolution. An 11-year-old can ask the Prime Minister about education policy in the time it would take to lick a stamp. "It's fun because you get to tell the world what you've learnt,'' Campbell says.

According to the American author and international speaker on digital media Erik Qualman, social media has become the number one activity on the web.

On his socialnomics 2013 video, which tracks trends in digital media, Qualman says generation Y and Z consider email passe. Some universities have stopped distributing email accounts. Kids are learning on iPads in kindergarten and 92 per cent of children aged under two already have a digital footprint, he says. One billion people use Facebook; if Facebook was a country it would be the third largest in the world.

Despite this, Spink's use of social media in the classroom is unusual. In Australia, many schools block access to sites including Facebook, Twitter and YouTube. A recent survey of more than 3000 educators by the Australian Teacher Magazine found 72 per cent disagreed that students should be allowed access to social media sites at school. "When asked if educators should be allowed to communicate with students via social media during school hours, just 3 per cent strongly agreed. About 17 per cent agreed with the statement, but interestingly, that figure jumped to 25 per cent among educators aged 21-30,'' the magazine reported.

Concerns tend to be centred on unprofessional behaviour such as teachers "friending" students on Facebook, something expressly prohibited by education departments. There are also fears students will waste time on social networking sites or be exposed to cyber bullying. The media focuses almost exclusively on the pitfalls, with headlines screaming "Teachers fall into Facebook trap" and "Teachers warned over befriending pupils on Facebook''.

But at the World Innovation Summit for Education in Doha last month, educators from across the globe questioned whether teachers could ignore social media as a learning tool when it is the currency of today's students. "'Teachers need to acquire strong technology skills to optimise their use of digital resources and teaching,'' the OECD deputy director for education, Andreas Schleicher, told the summit. "It's truly important that teachers today have a really good understanding of how young people learn, play and socialise outside their formal classroom.''

He pointed to Singapore's Future Schools - selected by the government to trial innovative teaching approaches using technology - where students tweet questions from their iPhones during class.

Singapore, which consistently places near the top in international tests, has large class sizes, particularly in secondary schools.

''In a classroom of 40 kids it's really impossible to get 40 students to ask questions at the same time,'' Adrian Lim, the principal of the Ngee Ann Secondary School in Singapore, explained in a video on the project that was screened at the summit.

"When we use the instant messaging tool we open 40 windows for 40 kids - they could ask 40 questions at the same time. The kids get really excited because they are using the tools they are very good at using, not just a pen and pencil. A lot of the younger teachers are a lot more savvy in their use of technology and communication tools and I see them teaching the more senior teachers.''

The Northern Beaches Christian School principal, Stephen Harris, who attended the summit, believes Australia has been "sadly sidelined" in its use of social media in the classroom. "It's the world kids are immersed in - if we don't become immersed in their world the gap between where we are and where they are will only grow. It's not hard to find like-minded people but unfortunately many of our governments are clearly on a different page.''

Harris says the fallback position of schools worried about cyber safety is to ban mobile phones or access to social networking sites. ''We have to tame social media to use it to advantage kids' learning," he says.

The slogan of Northern Beaches Christian School in Terrey Hills is Lead the Change. Teachers and students interact freely on Facebook group pages that have been created for subjects, such as engineering. Students post photos taken on their mobile phones during lessons and discuss questions and homework.

"They use Facebook to continue the conversation," Harris says. "It's quite straightforward for teachers to be invited to join group pages without breaking the protocols of friending."

Northern Beaches Christian School also uses social media to make a profound difference to the lives of children in countries such as Rwanda, Cambodia and Uganda.

Before students embark on their service-based learning trips to third-world countries, the school asks parents to donate old phones and laptops. The devices are given to children the students meet overseas, enabling them to keep in contact. Students help with English by chatting on social networks and send links to free online courses.

Harris discovered via Facebook that Jean, who lives close to the Congolese border, was being pulled out of school. His father had died soon after the genocide and his mother, who has AIDS, could no longer afford to support him.

"I was able to find someone prepared to give him $600 to give directly to the school principal so he could go to school next year," Harris says.

"This is all happening via Facebook. Kids in Africa, in the poorest of countries, are starting to mimic our use of social media. Social media is going to make a real difference in the developing world, because it's a free way of communicating. I see immense potential.''

Many Australian schools are now faced with another contentious issue: whether to allow students to bring their own smartphones and tablets to school. The trend, known as BYOD - Bring Your Own Device - raises equity questions because not all parents can afford to buy computers.

Spink, the year 5 and 6 teacher at Aitken Creek Primary, became a Twitter convert after attending a conference. She experimented with year 2s: "What's the chance it will rain in your country?" the class tweeted during a chance and probability lesson. Responses came in from all over the world. Spink was blown away by the real world learning opportunities Twitter provided.

She went to her principal, Peter Katsikapis, and requested the school network be unblocked so she could use Twitter and have a class blog. Spink says she is lucky Katsikapis is so supportive: "I've worked in NSW where they didn't even let us Skype."

This year she wrote to parents inviting them to follow the class on Twitter and keep up to date with the class blog and website. "Please note: Twitter is a network for people aged 13 years and older - our class account will be managed by Miss Spink, NOT students. We will be connecting with other students and schools throughout the world," she wrote.
Not a single parent raised any objection. And if they had?

''I would have explained that it is the 21st century and I believe it is crucial for kids to develop their digital learning skills.''

Jewel Topsfield attended the World Innovation Summit for Education as a guest of the Qatar Foundation.

No comments:

Post a Comment