Help Students Use Social Media to Empower, Not Just Connect

By Andrew Marcinek

Students get it. They understand how easy it is to connect with one another,
but don't fully realize the greater potential. As educators, we have all
benefited greatly from our personal learning network or critical friends group.
Some of us have garnered a job, found great content area resources, or tuned in
to a conference. But are we transferring that potential to our students? And if
so, are we giving them the proper guidance to travel down these varied paths?

There is no denying that students see the potential in using social media,
but are they really using it to their advantage? A colleague of mine shared with
me a sentiment one of her students said this past week. The student said, "Could
you check my Facebook profile, I want to make sure it is appropriate for
colleges to view." Eureka! One student gets it, however this sentiment while
encouraging to any teacher, is not using social media networks to their full
potential. It is only scratching the surface. In short, it’s like hearing, "What
do I need to know for the test?"

Connect Effectively

Instead of this student asking whether or not his or her Facebook profile is
"acceptable" to view by colleges alone, why don't we flip this question around,
"How can I strengthen my voice and my abilities better via Facebook so I can
market myself to colleges and beyond?" This is what we should come to expect
from our students. Let's not only help them connect, but connect effectively.
And when they do connect, let’s not limit the scope to "What colleges will

Connecting is easy. There are various outlets for students to connect and
most of them engage this way every day. Simply connecting a student to another
classroom via skype, a blog, or a wikispace is not groundbreaking classroom
practice. We get it, the classroom is flat and there is no excuse for
connectivity, but what are we doing to promote critical thinking, questioning,
and constrictive criticism during these lessons?

Qualities of a Strong PLN

A graduate student asked me last week, "What is the criteria for someone
joining your PLN?" I really never thought about it too hard, but after brief
deliberation I came up with a few ideas. I want someone in my PLN who is going
to give me constrictive criticism and also accept it. I want someone in PLN who
is going to share both professionally and personally (i.e. picture of his or her
dog). I want someone who has a sense of humor. I want someone who wants to
learn, listen, and consistently share. I want someone who provokes my thinking.

What I don't want in my PLN is someone who is going to blindly re-tweet
something I post. I don't want someone who is going to cheer me on when my
material isn't that good. I don't want someone who is going to bully or
criticize without any context or insight into the topic at hand. I don't want
someone who is going to give me an award.

PLN as an Engine of Support

And this must be transferred to our students as they begin to connect
regularly both inside and outside of school. As educators, we must model
positive use of learning networks and groups, and give students the proper
foundations in the effective use of social media. Let's move students beyond the
simple connections that they get, and really empower their voices, abilities,
and talents. Teach students to not just join a PLN or hashtag, but also become
an active member. Promote debate and constrictive criticism. Encourage students
to find ways to improve the work they post and share. Part of being in a PLN is
having that constant drive to provoke thought, accept constrictive criticism,
and debate freely. Simply allowing students to connect is only the beginning.
My Personal Learning Network is the most awesomest
thing ever!!
by: George Siemens
....Online, we are obsessed with size and numbers (Twitter followers, open courses, number of blog hits, Google alerts on ourselves/blogs, etc). But you don’t need to run an open course with large numbers of participants to make an impact. An open course for five people is just fine. It’s the act of giving, not the subsequent impact, that is most significant.
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