Catherine Lang

Why teachers and academics should use Facebook and Twitter

University students and most secondary school students today carry connected devices with them at all times. They constantly inhabit various forms of social media, which seem to be continually evolving. I want to share with you how I have used this to engage my pre-service education students.

I believe social media provides a suite of tools to teachers and academics that are powerful additions to their usual teaching methods. Social media demonstrates that “the medium is the message”, as philosopher Marshall McLuhan told us fifty years ago.

It is all about using social media to teach about social media, its potential and its limitations.

The ‘T’ in STEM

There is much in the media and technical education space at the moment related to STEM (Science Technology Engineering and Maths) education. In the USA and Australia there are claims that 75% of all jobs in the future will be in STEM so all students need to “do” STEM.

The T in STEM relates often to digital technologies, also known as computing. We have politicians calling for compulsory computing in schools, for example Prime Minister Malcolm Turnbull declared coding to be as “fundamental as reading and writing’’ in an “agile, innovative and creative Australia’’.

In Australia, the new national curriculum, to start next year, will introduce coding in primary school.

President Obama in the USA announced his intention to offer “every student the hands-on computer science and math classes that make them job-ready on day one”. And earlier this month in Japan a new policy was announced to make “computer programming compulsory at all public elementary schools from 2020”.

We can use all of this interest and hype around digital technologies to help educate pre-service teachers about social media.

Why use social media?

I have long encouraged teachers and pre-service teachers to actively engage with their students in social media. It helps teachers create another level of engagement as well as side-by-side learning with their students. It also enables a soft entry into digital technology applications in the classroom. (I will disclose, however, that I don’t embrace the call for all students to learn coding.)

By using social media, teachers and academics can provide opportunities for public global dialogue, continuous discussions in the online space beyond the four walls of a physical classrooms, and greater interactions between individuals and collective groups.

What I did with my students

In 2006 my students approached me about setting up a Facebook group for our Women in Computing club. I listened. I was initially reluctant (well it was ten years ago) mainly related to what I had read about privacy issues in social media.

However, I soon realized (and was shown by my tech-savvy students) that privacy and security can easily be managed. I was not new to Facebook, and had a personal page that I maintained for with family, friends and computing colleagues who I had met at conferences around the world. I knew that friendships and networks could be maintained in the virtual space, even if you only met face to face, in real-time once every couple of years.

In this instance I managed my privacy by setting up a professional Facebook profile, it is not hard to do. I linked this to my university email account, not my personal email, to ensure that my personal privacy was maintained.

Our Women in Computing closed Facebook group soon provided a medium for generating a strong sense of community and the students embraced it professionally. Events were promoted and publicized, professional development opportunities were advertised and polls were conducted to determine which social events should be planned and delivered. This was all done with minimal effort and oversight.

What happened on the Facebook page

I watched student engagement grow on the site. The students shared advice, technical and otherwise. New students interacted with senior students as equals. And as the years went by alumni stayed connected and interacted with current students regularly. The social media site enabled me to connect with a wide range of students in a more personalized manner, many shared photos of themselves on the site and if I saw them when walking around campus I knew them.

Since moving from a Faculty of Computing to a School of Education I have used closed Facebook groups when taking students overseas for international professional placements. It provides an immediate and social communication tool that allows the group to share information and celebrate successes.

Many schools today are using closed Facebook or Edmodo groups ( a Facebook type application specially for teachers) for communication with students and their parents. In fact it is a strong part of the communication in the international schools we visit in Malaysia.

Use Twitter too

I also embraced Twitter, another social media tool where it is easy to maintain privacy. You can be alerted to who is following your tweets, and of course, can decide when and however you want to post. Twitter provides a broadcast medium, rather than a closed community tool allowing you to share resources, news clippings and blogs with your classes.

Twitter can be used to generate discussion between students using a subject specific hashtag (e.g. #EDU1PAL) and to follow commentators and bloggers in specific disciplines. It enables students to be active in researching useful commentators in the subject they are studying.

My tweets at @Clang13 are less prolific, sometimes political, and hashtagged to suit events I attend e.g. (#atea2016). I am a strong believer in being a co-learner in student directed learning environments.

I am still surprised when I meet teachers and academics who are not on Facebook or Twitter. It is such an easy way to manage the message you want to provide.

Facebook is an excellent medium to present the spark (a photo), response and then reflect pedagogy. Twitter provides a summary of recent media publications on related topics.

I encourage you to find what you are comfortable with and explore with your students. Try a new activity or medium each semester, see if it works or not.

Catherine Lang

Catherine Lang

Catherine Lang is Associate Professor, Director, Engagement and Professional Partnerships at the College of Arts, Social Sciences and Commerce Education at La Trobe University. Her research initially focused on the under-representation of women in ICT, an area which was also the focus of her PhD. She was a Chief investigator in the ARC Funded research project “Digital Divas”, developing and implementing a curriculum initiative for secondary school girls. This research has led her to focus on teacher and pre-service teacher technical self-efficacy, pre service teacher professional experience models, and their development of intercultural competencies through international professional placements.