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TOOLS FOR LEARNING: Meaningful Connections--What's New in the Social Media Sphere?

By Victor Rivero - Posted Nov 6, 2013
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Facebook is 9 years old. Twitter is barely 7. Edmodo, often referred to as the Facebook of education, is just 5. Schoology, another Facebook for education, is only 4. What’s new in social media? Considering that social media (if it were a student) isn’t even out of elementary school yet, everythingis still, relatively, very new in the social media sphere. And just as children grow older, social media in education is just now showing ever so slight, yet definite, signs of maturity.

As if measuring a child’s growth on the wall, let’s pencil in some of the latest numbers, which indicate that 96% of students with internet access report using social networking technologies, while three-quarters of seventh through 12th graders have at least one social media profile. Nearly 60% of students who use social networking talk about education topics online, and 50% of those discussions are actually schoolwork-related, if you can believe that.

Skype, YouTube, and Facebook are the most popular social networking sites used in schools, despite the fact that so many schools, thinking they are lacking adequate control and monitoring mechanisms, simply keep them blocked. (This is not working so well in the Los Angeles Unified School District. More on that later.) Yes, there’s certainly room for social media to grow in education, but while numbers reflect a near permeation of student populations, schools themselves lag behind: 35% of educators have blogs, and just 27% of schools have an online community for teachers and administrators.

So what’s really happening when so many students are immersed in social media and so many schools are not (yet)? Futurist Jim Brazell would say that education these days would be undergoing a student-led revolution, if we’d just get out of the way. “Given all the global, demographic, technological and economic pressures of the world, we won’t be able to meet the 21st-century hand in hand if we’re afraid of our children, and if we’re afraid of revolution,” he says. “We have to give the keys of the kingdom to the children now. We need to let them have a voice.”

Increasingly, handing students the keys to the kingdom translates into providing them with iPads or other mobile devices that connect them to the internet and its various social media channels.

And if we don’t?

Sooner or later, the wall is going to come down, one way or another. If there’s one thing a student can recognize from a mile away, it’s the difference between an old stand-alone 1990s school computer not connected to anything worthwhile and a sleek iPad connected to, well, just about everything, quite literally.

In the Los Angeles Unified School District’s (LAUSD) $1 billion education technology project (the first phase of which includes purchasing $678 iPads for about 50,000 students, followed by a plan to ultimately equip all 600,000 students with an iPad), students quickly breached security measures in figuring out how to get on to what matters most to them: social media, which is to say, Facebook, YouTube, and more.

Granted, Facebook chatting about a twerking Miley Cyrus clip isn’t exactly social media used for educational purposes (Miley Cyrus is a pretty bad example of what child we should be handing those keys to), but according to Speak Up survey data, among the biggest obstacles to technology at schools, from the mouths of babes, are filters and bans: filters preventing them from accessing websites they need for homework and bans on using their smartphones at school.

There is such a thing as CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act), requiring federally funded schools and libraries to monitor students to filter obscene, pornographic, or harmful sites. Nonetheless, in an insightful reflection on accusations of student hacking in the LAUSD initiative, education blogger Audrey Watters asks a great couple of questions: Why do we want students to have access—or not—to computers? And, whose goals do computers meet? Apple’s? Pearson’s? The Department of Education’s? Or students’? (See “Students Are ‘Hacking’ Their School-Issued iPads: Good for Them,” The Atlantic, October 2013,

Social media in education certainly has its problems on the student level, but it’s not going away. So why not use it to confront the future of learning and education on an educator level?

Connected Educators.

A great way to start is by leveraging resources provided at (At the time of writing, Connected Educator Month was in full swing.) An abundance of rich resources under the tagline of “Helping Educators Thrive in a Connected World” are available—everything from a video message from Arne Duncan (the site and associated activities are an initiative of the Office of Educational Technology at the U.S. Department of Education) and get-started kits, to locator searches for educators to find out what’s happening in their neck of the woods. A “galaxy of education stars” also highlights some of the happenings, and there are countless ways to create meaningful connections with colleagues through edConnectr—a nifty connect and collaborate tool especially for educators.


Skype in the classroom.

A free and easy way for teachers and librarians to open their classroom up to all sorts
of cool stuff, students can meet new people, talk to experts, share ideas, and basically create an amazing and unforgettable learning experience with teachers from around the world. You really have to see the examples on its site to get an idea of what other ideas can be generated. There’s Mystery Skype, Thailand Skype, Wild About African Penguins Skype, Observing the Ocean, and more—there’s enough cool stuff to make anyone want to be a student all over again. Ever think about having a guest speaker attend your classroom or media center? We can’t say enough about the incredible value of Skype in the classroom. Check it out for yourself. 



This Facebook for education now connects more than 27 million teachers and students globally. Similar to Facebook but with greater teacher controls, it’s a free and safe way for students and teachers to connect and collaborate. Offering tools to engage, connect, measure, and personalize academic and learning experiences, the site also provides apps that integrate with Edmodo. Entire schools and districts are online with Edmodo and for good reason, but it’s more than just a walled-garden version of Facebook, and there’s a cool intro video ( that explains how and why educators love it. 



It’s probably easy to pass up this business networking site as nonschool-related and not for kids. But, hey, wait a second—isn’t the whole purpose of school to get students prepared for the working world, for careers, for jobs, for professions, and for activities beyond school in which they will partake and become productive members of society and contributing members of the world community? And isn’t there a huge disconnect between the school (K–12 and higher education) and the so-called real world after it? Why aren’t schools a little more real? Here’s your chance to bridge that gap, using LinkedIn’s recently launched University Pages and all that entails:


YouTube for Schools.

As boring as it might sound to students searching not for hydrogen atom models but for the latest music video, YouTube actually has some excellent academic content that, being video, shows instead of tells students how things work. You can sign up for free, create an account, and gain access to hundreds of thousands of free educational videos from YouTube EDU, including from Stanford University, PBS, TED, and Khan Academy. School administration can log in and watch any video, but students can only watch YouTube EDU videos and those their school has manually added. Create playlists, add custom content, and share it all within your school’s network—and no further. Teachers will be happy to find playlists that align with Common Core State Standards organized by subject and grade. It’s worth a look. 



And if you’re feeling especially daring, you might have a look at this insightful article from KQED’s Mind/Shift blog, “50 Reasons to Invite Facebook Into Your Classroom” ( While it begins with a cautious caveat from the editor, as you look it over, you just might have a few cognitions about the actual academic value that Facebook in fact can provide. But, as is often the nature of social media, there are some unrestrained sentiments in the comments section that may have you thinking twice and reconsidering some of the safer and more sensible choices previously mentioned.


There are countless possibilities for using social media to improve and enhance learning. We hope this article has stirred some thoughts and motivated you to begin using social media in the classroom and with students to help them. It is imperative to meet them on their level and within their reality and to really bring down the walls in your classroom, school, district, library, or region. You must truly broaden the horizons of the students in your care, so as to establish meaningful connections—whether those connections are among students, student-to-teacher, student-to-expert—or just those connections that are made in the mind when a student suddenly and happily realizes that there is more to know.


Contact Victor at


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