Once banned, now embraced: High schools teaching with social media

The latest learning tool transforming area high school classes comes from what was once banned.

Smart phones and their easy access to social media are now increasingly used by area high school teachers in their classroom lessons.

For years it was the anti-social dangers and pitfalls of social media that made teachers wary of including internet-based social media programs in class.

First student cell phones and then later smart phones were once shunned from many schools over concerns, which still exist, of abuse, including cyber-bulling, distracting digital game playing and other inappropriate internet use during school hours.

Internet access to Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat, Instagram, YouTube and other social media sites is still restricted and closely monitored in schools but now more teachers are incorporating some social media into their teaching, say learning experts.

“It’s a tsunami and it has radically change everything,” said veteran Fairfield High School English teacher Corey Simmins of the change.

“The classroom is vastly different because the students now have access to the entire world — information, video, you name it — in their pocket in their smart phones,” said Simmins who has taught since 1997.

Teachers and social media experts say classroom use has skyrocketed because of a combination of increased “media literacy” among teachers and their teenage students toward proper social media use in classrooms and greater availability of more learning platforms on social media.

Another driver of the local and national trend say learning experts, are teens’ familiarity with social media and their easy access via personal smart phones, tablets, laptops or school provided desktop computers.

Classroom social media use varies widely among school districts and within school buildings. Neither Ohio nor federal education officials track the prevalence of such learning.

According to a 2015 Pew Research Center study, “87 percent of American teens ages 13 to 17 have or have access to a desktop or laptop computer, and 58 percent of teens have or have access to a tablet computer.”

Moreover, reports the annual Pew study, access to personal smart phones has 92 percent of teens going online daily — including 24 percent who say they go online “almost constantly.”

Consider these recent scenes from local schools:

• An advance placement government class in Warren County’s Kings High School saw teacher Justin Frost ask his students to pull out their personal smart phones to do lesson research and respond to quiz questions.

• At Butler County’s Monroe High School, student lessons include watching YouTube videos on an expert’s presentation.

• In Fairfield High School a classroom uses social media to create special Twitter accounts and follow designated Twitter and Snapchat accounts as part of their English/Language Arts class lessons.

• And in Madison Local Schools, qualified seniors use social media, including their own website on the district’s home page, to blog, file videos and photos and offer advice to younger students via an award-winning social media program.

Learning through social media is not mandatory — some parents opt their children out.

And students without their own smart phones are allowed to access and use social media programs via school-supplied computer tablets, laptops or desktop computers.


Social media’s early bumpy existence in schools was the natural stumbles of introducing new technology onto school campuses, said Jeffrey Blevins, a University of Cincinnati associate professor and head of the UC Journalism Department, who has been studying online media for two decades, including its use in K-12 schools.

“The risks of social media use became more apparent than the rewards early on with high school sexting scandals, cyber bullying, social media mobbing, and the many forms of selfie-sabotage. I think the reason we first saw this as only a nuisance at first is that there was no media literacy, especially social media literacy that was being taught in middle and high schools,” he said. “Young people were exploring social media on their own without any direction.”

“What heartens me is that teachers now have the opportunity to provide some of direction — to show their students how social media can be used for learning, and other things besides mere distraction. As the lives of young people are saturated with mobile devices and social media apps, educators have to adapt,” said Blevins.

Simmins, who as head of the English department at Fairfield High School is lauded by district officials as having a “21st Century classroom,” agrees and credits social media with helping to energize his students.

“The kids live in that world and they operate in that world. And there are rules for teachers. We have a Twitter for class and students follow me on it but I’m not allowed to follow them,” Simmins said.

Lessons can be as simple and quick as learning new vocabulary words, he said.

He’ll tweet a new word for his students and challenge them to be the first one to message him back via Twitter its definition.

“And I encourage them to follow certain things (organizations, media outlets) like NASA (National Aeronautics and Space Administration) and Time (magazine). We use it for good … and they are very receptive to it,” Simmins said. “Any time you can, we get their smart phones out and let them learn something about the world.”

And the impact of learning through social media isn’t confined to a classroom.

Monroe High School Advance Placement (AP) Government teacher Chad Allen said accessing social media sites “has transformed education for this generation” and has given learning new flexibility and mobility.

“They have access to all their school work … at their fingertips. It allows them to learn outside the class no matter what’s going on. Whether they are bored in the car on the ride to school or after a (school) event they can study on the way home, it’s just a total extension of the classroom by having access to social media,” Allen said.

Like any new learning tools, using social media has its occasional drawbacks, said Monroe senior Alaezsha Mayo. Too many teachers asking students to use it at the same time can be overwhelming, she said.

“A lot of our classes use Google Classroom, an app to assign homework and to give different videos and links to watch … so you have to learn how to manage our time and assignments,” Mayo said.

Cyber wandering can be a down-side, warned Monroe classmate Jared Higgins.

“You definitely have to be disciplined to use it effectively. It’s so easy to get distracted while you are on the computer. You have one tab opened and then you go to another and before you know two hours have passed,” Higgins said.

“But social media has been very useful in the way that we learn. It’s been a great help, especially a site like YouTube, where you can find all these informational videos. It makes it more engaging to look at and in a way easier to learn rather than reading it out of text book. You are having these experts commenting on the subject and it’s like having a teacher outside the classroom,” he said.

At Madison High School, social media is used as both an informational and bonding tool uniting students of different grades.

The school has earned regional and statewide honors for its “Senior Experience” blog, where eight qualified seniors share their advice and observations with classmates and underclassmen. They use a number of social media activities — including video, photos and email exchanges — in a process that has proven popular in the school system and surrounding Butler County community.

The "Senior Experience" website has a link on Madison Local Schools' main website: www.madisonmohawks.org

Seniors provide a sort of “big sib” experience to underclassmen, doling out advice on how to prepare for Homecoming, tests, school-related activities and even how best to enjoy a Friday night home football game experience.

“We want them to give a personal perspective from a student stand point, which is something that a lot of websites, even Facebook, don’t necessarily give the opportunity for the kids to say,” said AJ Huff, the district’s coordinator of school-community relations, who also enlists the seniors’ multi-media talents for district communications.

“And the community does follow it quite a bit,” she said.

Madison High School senior Kelli Bush said the social media project “gives an insight on what it’s like to be a senior, so if you are a sophomore or a freshman kind of worried about senior year, we can give you an insight on what it is like and what you need to prepare for so we keep them connected with us.”

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