Embracing Social Media in the Classroom - From Textbooks to Twitter
I have been facilitating YSI projects in my school for the past five years. Through the years, the YSI. projects have varied in theme and topic and along with my students I am always learning.
I would consider myself to be I.T. literate, but I have to admit that my social media allegiances are to Facebook, because it’s the only one I really know how to use! I suppose it is a generational thing as when this year, whilst discussing with my class how we were going to promote our project, I discovered that Facebook isn’t really the number one site when it comes to online communication, but in fact Twitter and Instagram are the current apps of choice for spreading the word in cyber space. So, faced with the knowledgethat I was officially ‘out dated’ I knew it was time to hand over the I.T.reigns to the experts; my students.
As teachers, we can sometimes feel that it is our job to have all the answers or at least as many as possible to successfully teach our subjects, but life isn’t always like that! Providing the opportunities for our students to engage with technology in a safe and monitored environment is in fact more rewarding - for all involved - and certainly less stressful for me! So, I set up a social media team who would run all online aspects of our project. This team of students is responsible for everything online in our project, from Hub-si to Facebook and Twitter to Instagram - they ran the whole show. The entire class are involved but I have a core team responsible for administrating and monitoring everything that is posted and tweeted!
Our project 'REALationships’ has gone from strength to strength this year and is now spanning not just our school community or county or country but has crossed international borders. People from as far away as the U.S.A., Australia, Belgium and even Asia are getting involved. Without an online presence, our project would never have travelled so far and reached so many. We now have on Instagram alone over 6000 participants posting 'Relfies’ or relationship selfies with someone whom they have a positive relationship with. All of these people have been made aware of our campaign to promote positive relationships and highlight important qualities such as respect, communication, trust, love, honesty etc. as the cornerstones of any and all healthy relationships we experience in our lives.
The idea behind posting the 'Relfie’ online was to get people to think about the relationships they had in their lives be it with a parent, a sibling, a friend, a team mate, a boyfriend, a girlfriend etc., and ask them to evaluate them and check their relationships were healthy and positive. We asked people to nominate 3 more people to do the same within 24 hours. We also set up a text line to raise funds for Mná Feasa, a local domestic violence charity.
My students are the ones with the knowledge and skills to really make a difference through a medium that they relate to, understand and engage with, and in turn they engage with countless others across the globe and are able to highlight issues such as this. They are the ones who are raising awareness, challenging perceptions and making a difference, with just the click of a button.
There are so many lessons to be learned by the teacher and the student from this experience:
1. The awareness of how far and how fast information can travel online is eye opening!
2. Be very conscious of what you post, because once you press send, it’s out there and you can’t take it back.
3. Security and privacy settings are there for a reason. Turn them on!
4. You don’t have to have to even be able to turn on a computer for I.T. to play a part in your project, your students can do that, and it may be the perfect role for some of them to shine in!
5. Never say never. Try everything and if it doesn’t work at least you gave it your best shot. There is learning in that too, but always be able to say you are proud of your efforts.
6. Finally, the relationships that develop between teacher and student, when the teacher is gaining as much knowledge and skills from the students as the students are from the teacher, are so much more rewarding.
I am incredibly inspired by the students I have had the honour of mentoring this year for YSI. I feel that I have gained immensely from engaging with them on this project and have learned so much from them just by letting them take the lead and helping them reach their full potential. They have set me up with my own Twitter account this week and my next venture will be into the world of Instagram, and from there who knows!
Inviting technology into the classroom and even breaking the odd school rule and telling your students to take out their phones in class, helps them to develop into the tech savvy leaders and innovators of tomorrow. In the YSI classroom we give our students the space to test the boundaries and be their own leaders, and by doing this we empower them to be truly great.
Shelly Whelan is a YSI Guide and educator from St. Angela's College, Cork. Her 2014/15 YSI students were winners of both the Fun-raising Award and the Relationships & Sexual Health Challenge award at the national Young Social Innovators of the Year Awards & Showcase for their work on promoting positive relationships, raising awareness of domestic violence and abuse and creating a greater understanding, respect and acceptance of happy relationships.