Lead Active Classroom Discussions Using Social Media
It’s a teacher’s nightmare: opening discussion to a completely silent classroom. But when done well, class discussions are an excellent way for students to work through problems, identify gaps in understanding or content, and facilitate deeper insight and learning.
Class discussions get a boost from free technology
One benefit of technology is the abundance of free, easily-accessed resources that can help spur classroom discussions. With many schools having incorporated smartboards and computers into the classroom, teachers can explore ways to enhance student learning with these features.
At the same time, it is important to ensure that technology is a learning benefit rather than an inhibitor. Because student access to and agility with these resources is at an all-time high, incorporating them into educational life can spark high levels of engagement during discussion.
Class hashtags: How Twitter can inspire classroom discussion
One free resource that can be helpful in any content area is Twitter, the social media network that specializes in sharing updates of 140 characters or less. A single class-based Twitter account allows students to communicate what they are doing with the outside world by interacting with specialists, reporting about a field trip they’re on, or taking notes on classroom content.
Students can also tweet questions under a unique class hashtag, which can then be projected on a wall using programs like Twijector and Tweetchat. This can act as an instructor backdrop and during lulls in discussions, students can refer to other student questions, mention their own, or find inspiration from what they see before them.
Using additional hashtags, students can practice skills such as finding a thesis, succinctly summarizing a reading, or reporting various concerns or questions they have over reading material. These projected hashtag searches are also a great way for students to get real-time information about unfolding events.
Rotating responsibility for the class Twitter account and projecting tweets gives the class an opportunity to highlight missing pieces, discuss what they’ve shared, or even remember something they may have forgotten.
Using Storify to compile information for discussion
When it comes to accessing information in future class discussions, Twitter’s timeliness is also its downfall — at some point, there’s too much data to process. However, that’s when another social network, Storify, comes in handy. Storify can be used to collect user-generated stories through sources including Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.
Teachers can compile news articles, student tweets, other online resources, and perhaps even an instructor video into a single Storify document. Students can then have access to this document at any time.
Creating student-generated discussions with Padlet
A final way to encourage student discussion is to create a discussion-related Padlet. Padlet is an online corkboard where students, when given a link to the hidden or password-protected URL, can post questions, images, documents, or video links.
To facilitate discussions, students could be required to submit a question to the class padlet before class. When students are together, the Padlet can be projected so the class, as a whole or in smaller groups, can discuss and answer each question. Instructors or other students can pin additional questions or responses on the Padlet so that students have an easy visual of their collaborative learning.
Classroom social media, FERPA and digital literacy
All three of these resources can enhance and facilitate classroom discussions with some forethought and routine use, but it is worth noting that every educator is responsible for ensuring student privacy under the Family Educational Rights and Protections Act (FERPA). FERPA is a broad umbrella of protections that reinforce students’ privacy rights while in school. Padlet’s ability to password-protect individual walls enhances student protections, but it is a generally good idea to have students choose nicknames, gamertags or non-name designated logins for Twitter and Storify in order to protect their own privacy.
Discussions about digital literacy and and how to create and maintain respectful online profiles is essential for these students. Rather than avoiding social media altogether, it is beneficial to have an open discussion about how to use these resources wisely. With Twitter, Storify, or a Padlet available to all, classroom time that was once wasted in silence as students struggled to find something to talk about can now be spent in deep discussions inspired by student-generated questions and ideas.
Monica Fuglei is a graduate of the University of Nebraska in Omaha and a current faculty member of Arapahoe Community College in Colorado, where she teaches composition and creative writing.