Social media in the classroom
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Social media in the classroom

It is now a cliché to state that social media has revolutionised the way we communicate and socialise. Some argue we have become a generation of narcissists and voyeurs ready to expose the slightest details of our private lives to anyone who cares to be interested in what others are doing. Others believe there is a place for social media even in the classroom because children find it more interesting to acquire knowledge through online communication rather than researching in a library.

The risks of teachers using social media to record events in their private lives or comment about the different aspects of their employment often come under the scrutiny of school administrators. Policymakers are aware of the damage that too much familiarity between educators and students can breed more than just contempt. The Education Ministry has issued a consultation paper with a draft policy that defines guidelines for teachers on the use of social media. A not surprising first rule is that educators should not exchange private text, phone numbers, personal e-mail addresses or photos of a personal nature with students and parents.

The Malta Union of Teachers argues that educators are continually having to deal with issues unrelated to teaching as a result of the ever-growing influence of social media in the classroom. Abuse by students on social media is not uncommon, with some students filming incidents in the classroom, then editing them and placing them on social media with no indication of their context and veracity.

Some of the abuses of social media by educators are obvious. Teachers should never “friend” or “follow” students on their personal social media accounts. On Twitter, they may have to block students from following them. Facebook lets you decide who you are friends with but will also automatically allow anyone that attempts to friend you become a follower of your profile.

Pictures that are acceptable to show to adult friends may be inappropriate to post on social media where students may have access to them. Alcohol, drugs or anything that can be misconstrued as undesirable behaviour have no place on the social media used by educators.

Some even argue that, in a highly-polarised society, participation in political activities by teachers should not be reported in social media as students must see their educators as independent thinkers who are not influenced by political bias when imparting knowledge.

There are, of course, exemplary aspects of the use of social media in the classroom. Some schools encourage parents to communicate with the teachers of their children on a regular basis to monitor educational progress. Homework details and assessments are posted online and students and their parents can access this critical information securely and privately.

School use of social media also enables students and parents to follow interesting educational projects and activities from the comfort and convenience of their home at any time of the day. School administrators often ask for the permission of parents before posting pictures of students on the school website.

Social media has an important role to play in the classroom. However, its use should not be about the private activities of educators and their students but about the excitement of pursuing knowledge by modern means and communicating instantly with the school community.

This is a Times of Malta print editorial

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