For many teachers, use of social media during classroom hours is a nuisance. Once punishable with confiscating the student’s phone, teachers may attempt to enforce discipline during virtual classrooms by making it mandatory for students to turn on their cameras so that teachers can monitor the level of attention and participation. For other teachers, integrating social media into classroom learning provides an opportunity for both the teacher and the student to gain new insights. For instance, the efforts of this sociology teacher in Massachusetts in compiling a dictionary of Generation Z slang had become viral not only for its unique approach to education but for its meaningful application to the discipline of sociology to daily life.
The relationship between social media and learning remains ambiguous for many parents and teachers. While there is a growing acceptance of the benefits of online learning tools in an interconnected world, excessive use of social media raises concerns about falling grades and reduced quality of learning (prompting many scientists to undertake detailed research about the relationship between social media and academic performance).
Addressing the relevance of social media to childhood education is a difficult task since each child uses social media differently depending upon their socio-economic circumstances. Factors such as their age, gender, economic class and social culture (such as the digital usage trends among the youth in a particular society, the privacy enjoyed by children and attitudes towards social media) can greatly influence the way a child processes the information obtained from social media. For instance, affluent families may encourage their children to use social media as a healthy platform of self-expression if it does not interfere with their studies. On the other hand, families that are keen on supporting their children’s progress in the traditional merit-based education system may not find social media skills useful towards that objective.
There is little consensus among educators on how (and whether) social media ought to be integrated in the school curriculum. Parents and teachers are conscious of the fact that certain negative effects of social media (such as exposure to fake information, cyberbullying or risky online behavior) ought to be addressed at home and at school. However, it is important for schools to acknowledge the advantages of social media to education and obtaining/updating one’s knowledge base: Online videos simplify complex problems in mathematics and science. Governments at the national and local level rely on social media to communicate important information and rules for the benefit of the community. Underperforming students may privately use social media resources to catch up with their peers in their studies. Online platforms has enabled “learning-by-doing” among the youth, whether it is improving one’s vocational skill or actively participating in civil society to strengthen a country’s democracy.
Educators often bridge the gap between social media and traditional curriculum by enabling virtual platforms (such as research groups, virtual laboratories, student councils and mock debates). Such projects allow students to gain a new skill set of digital literacy, retain their digital autonomy as active participants in a virtual exercise, and implement their school lessons in creative workshops. However, virtual classroom exercises are a short-term solution to the childhood developmental issues raised by social media. How do students develop their personal identity through the use of social media? If the personal development of children is harmed by social media usage, how can schools provide the tools for children to strengthen their emotional and psychological well-being? If an online video is far more interesting and up-to-date than the classroom lesson, how should the school curriculum be designed so that teachers can highlight the real-life relevance of a classroom topic?
More importantly, it is urgent for teachers and parents to re-evaluate their relationship with students in the learning context not as authoritative figures but as facilitators and trusted guides. With information one click away, children may underestimate the importance of formal learning and consider it as an interference to their own ability to verify and learn through an online resource. Not all students may share the ability to discern the quality of information they obtain through social media (such as biased blogs, posts with corporate sponsorship, or oversimplified/incorrect summaries of a subject).
While we are far from achieving the perfect harmony between social media and structured classrooms, it is important that we adopt a principled approach towards overseeing a student’s use of social media outside/within classroom hours. In an environment of trust, autonomy and intellectual curiosity, students can use social media in helpful ways and can rely on a supportive network of schools and parents when help is needed.