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All’s fair in technology and social media. . . ?

Published September 3, 2019
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Digital Space

By Jessica Born, Digital Marketing Manager
jborn@pitsco.com

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?

SOME BACKGROUND

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 community

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

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Empower students to teach others and staff about the platforms, especially utilizing older students to teach younger students about use and behaviors.
  4. Utilize coding to help students develop the capacity to understand the platforms and technology they’re using rather than just consume information.
  5. 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).

“The level of individualized support you offer our teacher is amazing. It’s like having another instructional coach on our staff. Your relationship and ability to coach with empathy is appreciated. You took time to not only see a successful launch, but ongoing implementation; that level of capacity building is needed to sustain a successful program.”

– Sharrah Pharr, PhD, director of federal programs and grants, Hays CISD, Kyle, Texas

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