By Jessica Born, Digital Marketing Manager
How many times have you checked your
social media accounts today? How about
your personal or professional emails? Are
you currently streaming music or a podcast
from your phone with your data? Have you
YouTubed something yet today? Do you plan to
watch an episode (or two) of your latest show
later? How upset do you get when you don’t
have service or WiFi and need information?
These are all daily 21st-century occurrences.
Technology, the Internet, social media, and
electronic communications have permeated
our lives. And that permeation doesn’t stop
at the classroom door or during school hours.
Technology and social media have changed
students’ lives. Current students are absolute digital
natives. They know no other life; filters, on point
captions, Snapchat streaks, videos on demand,
influencers, and going viral are commonplace. In
former articles, we’ve talked about different aspects
of integrating social media into educational
activities and practice and even some possible
outcomes of doing so. But we’ve not necessarily
talked about the impact of said practice.
So, with that in mind: can social media
improve equity in today’s classrooms?
Educational equity: Equity is the fair, equal
opportunity for achievement in school without
regard to race, ethnicity, gender, socioeconomic
status, disability, or other barriers.
Digital divide: Access to technology and the
Internet has been talked about for nearly two
decades now. In 2019, statistics vary, but about
three-quarters of the population in the United States
has access to the Internet (Census.gov). But even
with many communities having high-speed Internet
and wide-reaching smartphone penetration, in rural
areas and among lower socioeconomic families,
connectivity can still be an issue. The educational
component of this issue is often referred to as “‘the
homework gap,’ or the barriers students face when
working on homework assignments without a
reliable Internet source at home” (NEA).
Device ownership and social media use in
school-age children: About 42 percent of fifth
graders have a smart device; by eighth grade, that
percentage has grown to 93 (The Social Institute).
Common Sense Media reports that about 81
percent of US youth have social media accounts
(2018), and the average age for getting their own
account or app is about 12 years old (2016).
HOW SOCIAL MEDIA (AND TECHNOLOGY)
CAN INCREASE EQUITY IN THE CLASSROOM
Improve communication with/involvement
from parents, guardians
Parent or guardian support is huge in
supporting a student’s achievement. Some
parents aren’t engaged, but not by choice. Social
media and technology can offer alternatives to
trying to engage them. Utilizing class-specific
sites or social groups allows parents to learn more about their child’s class on their own time and
even real time. Class Twitter feeds or Facebook
groups can provide a quick connection point
to stay in the know. Skype or FaceTime calls
can provide alternatives for parent/teacher
conferences. Texting and shared calendars can
offer fast and regular reminders. Translation
services are also available on many apps and
platforms, sometimes eliminating another barrier.
Expand opportunities and navigate
geographical, physical, even financial barriers
Field trips can come at extra expense to the
already limited budget and travel time. But
by utilizing social media’s live capabilities and
streaming options, classes can take virtual field trips
to just about anywhere – museums, renowned
aquariums, factories, or far-off lands – and at a
much lower cost or even free. If a student has a
physical limitation or a specific learning disability
that might limit his or her ability to travel or be in
a specific scenario, he or she can still participate
via Skype, Facebook Live, FaceTime, or video with
classmates or individually.
Establish connection, membership, sense of
The world is as flat as it is round. We are
not limited to building relationships with just
those in the desks next to us or within the
same building or zip code. Through social
networks and online spaces, students can
meet people from all over the world, thereby
expanding their worldview, assisting them in
building understanding of differences and
commonalities and developing empathy,
and affording them chances to sharpen their
communication and conflict-resolution skills –
all applicable skills to navigating middle, high
school, and the workplace.
Plus, social media, including online video
gaming, is a great place for them to connect with
other kids who like the same things. They can
develop broader communities and connections
to different causes and interests by following
hashtags, Facebook groups, Reddit threads, and
so on. They can find their tribe and develop true
friendships with online or Internet friends. It can
also be an extension of the groups they’ve formed
at school or in sports or clubs. Friendship can look
different now, and it doesn’t make it any less real.
It stands to reason that when students have
a better sense of belonging, their outlook on
their present and future is more positive.
An important caveat to all social and online use
is that students must be equipped with the skills
and practice to discern misinformation, understand
ethical situations, identify inappropriate behaviors
and circumstances, and recognize any potential
dangers. Digital citizenship and safety are as much
learned as they are modeled. Students also must
be monitored and see appropriate, responsible
social interactions by the adults in their lives – at
school and at home.
TOP WAYS TO IMPROVE EQUITY IN THE
CLASSROOM WITH SOCIAL MEDIA
- Integrate social media and technology
into the curriculum. It can’t always be a
supplement. This is especially helpful for
blended learning and personalized learning.
- Focus on the dos instead of the don’ts. Help
students navigate the platforms for their
best purposes and aid them in developing
a real social profile and not a fake presence.
Help students see social media as a tool and
not as a time filler or distraction.
- Empower students to teach others and
staff about the platforms, especially
utilizing older students to teach younger
students about use and behaviors.
- Utilize coding to help students develop
the capacity to understand the platforms
and technology they’re using rather than
just consume information.
- Be flexible in homework and online
assignments. Provide longer deadlines for
online tasks or require online components
to be completed during class time so
access to the Internet is available.
#GOALS: THE KEY TAKEAWAY
“Informed use of robust digital tools, then, is
clearly key to inculcating in our children the kind
of higher-level, dynamic thinking required of
21st century citizens and workers. . . . But equity
is not just about giving students access to the
tools that they will need for employment and
citizenship. Equity is also about equal opportunity
for achievement in school – the chance to
succeed regardless of income or background. And
technology – implemented well and appropriately
supported – has proven to be one way to help
close the achievement gap” (CoSN).