Back to School : Social Media
A teacher's perspective
It's a familiar story.
Parents who don't know the difference between a 'tweet' and a 'twerk' buy their kids smart phones and such, then sit back and hope social media forays don't scuttle the children's studies.
Make no mistake, an ever-growing number of social media-- like Facebook, YouTube, Twitter, WhatsApp, Linkedin and Instagram--- are vital aspects of modern life.
It is virtually impossible keep children away from social media. Most will be compelled to learn how to use them sooner or later because such knowledge is now essential for functional literacy.
Since the impact of social media on children cannot be avoided or ignored, many persons are thinking of integrating social media and education in a positive way.
Clearly, young students are among the heaviest users of social media. They communicate online frequently and easily-- with or without the knowledge, help or approval of parents or educators.
The modern digital environment offers them some of the greatest learning opportunities. But it also exposes them to serious risks, which is a source of great alarm to parents and teachers.
With the new school year just weeks away, The Sun spoke with an experienced teacher, Dianna Gittens of Goodwill Secondary School to get a teacher's perspective of students' use of social media.
Gittens says the key to the proper use of social media by school-age children is effective monitoring that ensures children get the right balance of entertainment, information and education.
In her view, the development of a child's social skills is a critical factor in education and a child's social media interactions can be streamlined to promote healthy learning experiences.
To do this effectively, she says parents and educators must carefully weigh the pros and cons of social media, which would equip them to guide children to make the right choices.
Discussing the positive side of social media in terms of education, Gittens says they "provide students with easy access to vital information that may not have been otherwise easily available."
She says this opens up an intriguing window of opportunity because information not available in texts and not taught in class can be easily and reliably presented via social media.
Also, by making use of social media in teaching, teachers can "present new information to students in an easy to understand and appealing way-- for example through digital graphics," she adds.
Furthermore, Gittens is convinced that prudent use of social media can facilitate both teaching and learning simply because, as she puts it, "Sharing of information is made easier".
This provides many significant benefits. For example, "An absent student can get information and student feedback can be gotten in cases where there is little time for this in classroom," she says.
Nevertheless, Gittens stresses the point that these benefits can only come from proper guidance of the use of social media by school-age children.
She insists that responsible use of social media by children is not possible unless there is effective monitoring of their online activities by both parents and teachers.
To do this, she says, parents and teachers have no choice but to become adept at using social media themselves; this includes becoming totally aware of their many shortcomings and dangers.
"Credibility of the information available can be questionable, and social media can distract students from completing assigned tasks," Gittens explains.
"There is the risk of 'cyber bullying', the possibility of reduced effective communication skills-- and even worse, the unintended exposure to harmful or offensive information," she warns. "Cyber bullying; sexual harassment; contact with sexual predators; exposure and easy access to unsavory information or content plus easy distraction from schoolwork are dire threats," she adds.
There is yet another dimension, she says. Parents and teachers need to educate and guide children about matters like how much personal information is too much to post on social media.
"Too much-- is providing personal information that can lead to bullying and sexual harassment," Gittens says, and children need careful guidance this matter.
"Use of social media involves postings on all activities a person is involved in, so there are the risks of posting too much and giving predators information that can harm students," she notes.
"It is definitely impossible to screen all that is seen or posted on social media by your child . . . so parents have to be creative in monitoring and controlling the child's use," Gittens says,
Asked about social media being incorporated in Dominica's classrooms, Gittens says she is not aware of this being done on a large scale right now, but it is a distinct possibility in the future.
"Social media are not used a lot in the classroom, but they may be used to post information related to a class or share information about upcoming social events at the school,"she says.
In closing, Gittens indicated that teachers can tap into the benefits of social media in education by scrutinizing online sites and sharing links to trusted sites with their students.