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The lessons of tweeting; learning from social media

Social media is extremely popular, especially with young people. As a result the education world is exploring how that success can be used in the classroom.

But while students might think it is a good idea, some parents wonder if having fun on Facebook really can teach their children anything useful.

We check out the whole subject in this edition of Learning world.

Inside a future school

Singapore is an economic leader in South East Asia and one of the world’s top 10 competitive economies. Government policy is that education is vital to maintaining that position.

To that end, the government is looking at how social media can be used for teaching and learning purposes and it has invested heavily in overhauling and upgrading its education system, including using the latest technology.

We visited a maths class at Singapore’s Ngee Ann Secondary School. The teacher sets a question and then instructs pupils to use Twitter to quickly send her their answers.

Twitter is one of several types of social media that has been widely being used at the school since 2009 and it is popular:

One student, Lucia, told euronews: “Social networking is better, because people are sometimes shy about asking questions or voicing their opinions about certain topics, and using social media will be less awkward around each other.”

Ngee Ann is what the Singapore government calls a ‘Future School’ – that is a state run school with well-equipped labs and classrooms, where new technologies are tested to see how they could be used at other schools in the country.

It is also been named by Microsoft as a ‘Pathfinder School’ for the way it uses
technology.

The school’s principal, Adrian Lim, explained: “We want to see how we can then bring that technology in to enhance learning, because those are the tools that are used by the students and I know that if we use them well with good teaching methods, you will cause a fundamental shift in how teaching and learning is delivered in a classroom.”

Teachers now use Facebook in their classes to send web links to pupils. Students use Twitter during English lessons to summarise literary passages.

In home economics and art classes, teachers and students use picture sharing and infographics sites so everyone can see the same images.

Muneira Daud, the Head of English at Ngee Ann, says it is a useful tool: “We’re talking about using social media as and when necessary. So teachers have to learn to be strategic in when they apply social media and it should be done at a point where we can capture the students’ attention the most.”

Teachers constantly monitor and share feedback on the use of social media and other technology in the classroom to fine tune teaching methods.

They say students’ grades for project work have improved since the experiment began and the teachers acknowledge that they too are learning all the time from their pupils.

Meet the ‘tra-digital’ professor

The questions remains, do teachers really have to use Facebook and Twitter? What are the advantages and why do some people think it is so important to get technology into the classroom? We put those questions to Sreenath Sreenivasan, a technology journalist and Professor of Professional Practice at Columbia University in New York.

Professor Sreenivasan, who has the title of chief digital officer at Columbia University, says there have not really been many big leaps and innovations in education in the last 200 years: “You could say maybe the dry erase marker and powerpoint are the two latest innovations in education… which is kind of crazy… to think that education should be the only form of human activity that hasn’t innovated.”

He says the big innovation is going on right now – and it is called Social Media. It is more powerful than the cell phone, but as unpredictable as any innovation.

For example – in 1996 nobody really knew what to do with emails. Now there is a similar problem with social media, both out in the world and in schools.

“Teachers need to be taught about social media, just like they needed to be taught about using the web and email and it’s not a generational thing, as much as it is an attitude thing. Some of the best people I know in social media are in their 70s. And then I know people in their 20s who know nothing about social media. They think they know, but they just go on Facebook and post a photo,” says Professor Sreenivasan.

He believes social media will soon be as much a part of schools’ routines, as it currently is in people’s everyday lives. But parents may share teachers’ scepticism on the educational value of social media and worry about safety and privacy issues for young people.

It is a problem that Sreenivasan is very aware of: “I have to deal with sceptical parents all the time, including me. My twins are 10 years old and they are not on social media. And I am very happy about that. Because they are not ready, they shouldn’t be on Facebook until they are 13 years old, that’s the rules of Facebook itself.”

The professor’s classes at Columbia reflect his views. They start with students chatting and sharing ideas – digitally – and in person.

He believes that social media can bring more interaction and exchange of knowledge in the classroom, spelling the end of the traditional lecture, with a teacher teaching and students – maybe – listening: “I still believe in the magic that happens in the classroom where there are no devices and everybody is listening to the teacher and everybody is talking and sharing ideas. The new technology and the new systems, all they do is that they enhance what’s happening.”

So, Professor Sreenivasan says his mission is to “ruin” social media for his students.

His aim is to make his students understand that it is not a fun game, but a tool to be used with caution, strategically and with full attention: “I spend between three and six minutes on every tweet I do, every post I write, because I have to think about it, to make sure it works to make sure it’s accurate. I tell people social media is the only thing I do every day that can get me fired today. So I have to be very careful, and on Twitter everything you write is archived in the US library of Congress, so I’m not writing for my friends now, I’m writing for my great grand daughter”

He says all teachers should be “tra-digital”, meaning that they should have traditional skills, but also be able to incorporate digital, social and mobile aspects, as education is about sharing – no matter on what platform.

Linking parents and pupils

Many parents are concerned about the responsible and appropriate use of social media in the classroom. We went to South America, to see how one school in Columbia is trying to tackle the issue.

In Bogota, Colombia, the Richmond Bilingual School brings together parents and children via cloud based systems to surf the net and use social media. One student there Laura, told euronews: “This year we’ve used a cloud based programme called Prezi a lot, that’s a programme for presentations for any project, not just for computer related stuff, we’ve also used it for Spanish, we’ve used it for maths, for lots of presentations.”

Three years ago, the school implemented a pilot project unique in Colombia with a group of a dozen children aged between nine and 12. They were trained to use social media like Facebook, Prezi or Google, and share their knowledge with family and friends.

It was such a success that they added it to the school’s Information Technology curriculum.

Richmond Bilingual School’s Daniel Hernández explained how it works: “They invite parents, their families, they invite their friends to set up websites so they can have their own communication networks. This helps to improve communication within the family, but also with the school – the parents with the school – so the parents have a way to be connected to the learning process.”

The school regularly organises sessions for parents, where students show them how to do things like browse the school’s website or use social media.

Laura also helps her mother, Marta, who manages a property company. Using social media, Marta can now create profiles for her clients and share documents with them but she also regularly turns to her daughter for help.

Laura says this has opened up a whole new world for her mother and reassured her: “Before, I had Facebook and everything, but it wasn’t the same because mum was always like ‘no, this is dangerous’, and I was like ‘but it isn’t like that, you don’t know’.”

Laura’s mother says there are also other advantages to sharing a new world: “We’d talked about Facebook and I though it was something really complex and complicated, but in fact it is useful. We sit together and look at her Facebook page, we sit together to look at my Facebook page. It’s improved our relationship, and brought us closer.”

And of course, social media is also part of Learning World. You can follow us on Twitter using #learnworld for example.

Copyright © 2014 euronews

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