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Bridging Classrooms and Digital Worlds

Katie Novak
Katie Novak
April 18, 2024

As educators, we're at a unique crossroads where the traditional classroom meets the digital universe. Our students navigate social media (think YouTube, Snap, TikTok) with frightening ease, a landscape that, while seemingly at odds with educational norms, actually presents us with an opportunity. Instead of viewing this digital realm as public enemy #1, we need to embrace it as a bridge to connect, engage, and enrich our learning environments. See the following as a case in point!

One teacher, @antisocialstudies uses her social platform to connect with her students. Check out one of her videos (linked here) that is designed to prepare students for the AP US History Exam - it’s a series focused on the Swifties tour and AP US History as a way to bridge students’ interests with the key learnings 

Social media, with its emphasis on connection, creativity, and real-time communication, holds immense potential to transform how we connect with our students. Yes, it's filled with distractions, some negativity, and privacy concerns, but the reality is it's not going away. So, if you can't beat 'em, join 'em! By leveraging social media, we equip our young people with the skills to navigate its power for good, fostering positive online interactions, responsible content creation, and, most importantly, meaningful learning opportunities.

Recent research is clear that social media is a valuable tool in the classroom when certain parameters are met. Marius Smit's (2023) comparative study across South African, U.S., and European schools illustrates social media's challenges and opportunities in educational settings. Highlighting concerns like cyberbullying and addiction, the study emphasizes the need for careful management and policy development to safeguard students. When these safeguards are in place, the research underscores social media's pedagogical benefits, such as enhancing student engagement and providing global learning experiences. You don't have to wait if these safeguards aren’t in place yet. Even if students can’t post on social media in your school or district, you can still simulate social media environments within school-approved platforms or create assignments that mimic the creation process without the need for actual posting. The question remains: how?

Here are some concrete ways educators can leverage social media tools to enrich learning experiences using the UDL lens:

  • First, leveraging social media helps students access multiple means of engagement. For example, instead of call-and-response, facilitate class discussions on a digital platform mimicking social media. This could involve creating a class hashtag on a controlled platform where students can post their thoughts, questions, or responses to the material, fostering community and discussion outside the traditional classroom environment. You can also encourage social media role-play in any subject area. For example, in a history class, students can curate a series of Instagram-style posts from different historical figures during a significant event, like the signing of the Emancipation Proclamation. Students could dive into the minds and perspectives of key historical figures, creating posts that reflect what they might have shared on social media.
  • Social media helps students to access multiple means of representation. One great strategy is to use social media to create text-sets. Collaborate with students to curate or create simulated social media feeds that include short videos, infographics, memes, and posts that provide diverse perspectives on the subject matter. For example, in a Science class, students could follow a live Twitter feed of a space mission, comparing the real-time updates and visuals with the theoretical concepts they've learned about in scientific texts. In Environmental Science, students could analyze social media campaigns on climate change, comparing the messaging and effectiveness of different advocacy groups.
  • Lastly, social media is a great tool for students to share their learning using multiple means of action and expression. Instead of requiring all students to write a response, take a multiple choice test, or participate in a classroom discussion, encourage students to express their understanding and takeaways from lessons by creating content that could live on social media platforms, such as TikTok videos, Instagram stories, or LinkedIn articles. Offer choice for what type of content they create, such as: 
    • Imagery and Infographics - ideal for displaying quotes, illustrating step-by-step guides/processes, or assembling curated collections.
    • Carousels - effective for summarizing key points, highlighting historical figures/events, or sharing visually engaging lists/information.
    • Short Video Content - great for producing concise (under 90 seconds), explanations of concepts (e.g., mathematical problems, debate points, demonstrations).
    • Written Posts - appropriate for detailed information in text form.

If your school embraces project-based learning, you can create deeper learning experiences beyond content creation. Planning social media strategies offers an excellent collaborative opportunity, enabling students to delve into various aspects of social media tailored to their personal interests. For instance, students who love to share their thoughts in writing can concentrate on crafting post copy and SEO strategies, while those drawn to creative production might focus on video editing. You can further enrich learning by including focus areas such as editing, audio, music, copywriting, optimizations for algorithms and search, analytics, and studying the behaviors of content viewers, readers, and listeners.

By embracing platforms that students already use and understand, we can increase engagement in authentic, standards-based, and student-led ways. Of course, implementing these strategies requires navigating privacy concerns and ensuring a safe, controlled environment - but it’s well worth the investment. Such approaches not only engage students in familiar formats but also equip them with valuable digital literacy skills, critical thinking, and creative expression.

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