Be afraid and do it anyway: Devices and Social Media in Schools

Eight years ago when I first began teaching, phones were all banned and the idea of having a pupil bring in their own device for learning was a million light years away.  How wrong we were. 

Over the last few years schools have either steered towards, or sped away from the idea that devices can be useful.   To our pupils using a device for learning is not only normal, but also enhances and supports their mastery of subjects. 

Over the past few months I have been researching and looking into how best practice can be used, throughout both primary and secondary schools. It seems now obvious to me that what needs to be recognized is how to use devices meaningfully as well as teach pupils and teachers about how to model positive behaviors.  I read something quite compelling recently: How can we get things right, if non of us know what the rules are?

It would be naive of us to believe that whilst we live in a digitally responsive world that we should discourage the use of them in schools.  Over the past few months I have been immersed in a school who are taking digital competency and communications very seriously, it has really allowed me as a practitioner to see all the benefits and have real theory’s behind why the negative views on devices and social media in schools is such an important pedagogical tool.

I have found that, although many of us, would not allow our children to go to the shops alone, we are blissfully unaware of the dangers in our own homes.  My point is not that we are not being good parents, teachers or people, but that the digital world in many respects has been thrust upon us.  I often speak to pupils about the age I got my first mobile phone and “how texting hadn’t even been invented yet”, which partly makes me feel old, but also makes it very obvious that actually we have come so far, so fast.  It has been difficult for us to be able to keep up with everything. 

Parents or I should say adults, as it is not just parents, are learning about this new world as well.  Having just read Failed it! By Erik Kessels this has taught me if nothing else if someone somewhere didn’t get it wrong, we wouldn’t have some of the wonderful things from this digital age.  In a similar consideration, it would only be another who would be the first to “Fail”.  From this I think we have to consider that as educators and parents we do not want our young people to feel as though they have failed, however, to ensure we can protect their decisions and support the right ones we have to teach them the rules.

Going back to my current school, I feel very lucky to be part of the growth stage.  The vision is to be fully digital, not uncommon I am sure in our time, however many pitfalls which could take it in the wrong direction.  Which is something that I will endeavor to ensure doesn’t happen. 

It is written into the curriculum “Digital Citizenship” or “Digital Literacy”, teaching our young people to be aware of networks, blogs, hashtags and all the other elements of our digital age. A vast amount to teach young people.  So how do we do this successfully, to ensure pupils get the right messages about the world we now live in, without scaring them away.  We allow them the use of 1-1 iPads and have specific rules about meaningful use and offer screen time advice to all our parents, but is this enough?

So, what to do about it all? After much research, podcast listening and meetings with a variety of people the team at my school and I decided to trial an online resource called Showbie. This isn’t the only available platform of its kind, but after seeing others as well as the different elements which it could provide our school, it seemed like the best option. 

My reasons were as follows, having been a secondary teacher, I have seen and been involved in some of the outcomes of social media for young people.  The issues arise in that they do not have the deeper understanding of the damage they can cause with their comments, or on the flip side, how they can be damaged by the comments said to them. 

One of the things which I feel is important is to get that message of digital literacy across to students but in a safe and managed way. We all know in school pupils come in from a variety of different back grounds, some are sheltered, some are released into it and some are in the middle of the road.  I want to be able to use such a platform to help and support our pupils, guiding them through what is and what is not appropriate. 

In addition this platform is linked with their learning. The internet is a vast array of information for us to absorb.  If we are able to link pupils understanding of social media and blog sites to that of learning, much like so many do already on things like YouTube, then we can push out that message of positive digital citizenship. 

As a teacher, introducing Showbie to my students I am allowing them to have safe and managed conversations about learning, about play times and things they enjoy, with the underlaying message that the whole application is linked back to them completing their classroom assignments and gaining valuable feedback on their work which can improve and enhance their educational experience. I wont go into at this point how valuable the feedback elements via voice recording are, I shall save this for another post. My point is that if we as educators can start at KS2 and lower in providing a positive way of experiencing the digital world, they will in turn be better prepared for a life where we are no longer there to support them.

So far we have managed to open a range of blog or social media style groups to allow the pupils time to discuss and review their ideas and learning, so far we have the following successful pupil groups:

  • The School Newspaper
  • The Digital Team
  • Book Club
  • Classroom forums

We have taught the pupils to use them in the same way we would in an open online forum.  Pupils are able to feel they can chat and share information in a safe way.  The impact of this has been wonderful, building pupils ability to be in charge of their own learning.

As we progress in the development of my school, I hope that we are able to link their work to real life bloggers and people.  I have been so inspired by other teachers who have done such amazing projects with pupils and allowed them the that authentic feedback from authors, directors and even astronauts.  It is projects like this which make the learning come to life.  One inspiring teacher in our school has already been able to use some elements of this, and the impact on the understanding of the pupils due to this is outstanding. 

We should be using the internet to show our young people how to be positive online and make a difference. Instead of bulldozing them with negative representations of how the digital age is putting holt to face to face conversations. What about the brilliance of how the internet can connect communities from across the globe and support equality and social injustice.  The opportunities which can be reached are endless and need to be tapped into further.

My second focus currently, is changing teachers mindsets, that social media is not just about the phone in your pocket or people taking selfies.  This has mainly come about by schools fears that the internet is damaging, and yes, if used in the wrong way or without understanding or being taught the rules it can be.  The internet and use of social media is the most powerful teaching tool we now have access to.  Teacher should and must have a public profile which students are able to see a role model from, to be able to understand and see that their teacher learns, they enjoy learning their subject and are able to be just as savvy in the digital world as they are. I am not for a second suggesting that everyone should blog, or that facebook profiles should be opened and personal photographs shared, but a simple thing like a professional twitter account, even if all you do is like tweets from other practitioners and join in with some of the CPD available on line you have become a digital leader, a digital role model to those pupils.  Someone who is showing young people how to appropriately behave online. 

I was speaking to a colleague the other day, someone who inspires me the more I speak with them, due to their ability to embrace the technological world.  We spoke about how we can move our young people from working on poetry on their own, to collaborating using Pages, this lead to the idea that he could create a blog. Private at first, so it was safe then there is the possibility of putting it out live.  The children are so excited, but in addition there are endless opportunities to teach our year four pupils about e-safety, how to write for others to read, appropriate blogs, how to give feedback, I could go on.  But this kind of teaching and using devices and social media for this will stay with those young people forever.  They are being taught to be digital citizens, just like we teach them to be good people, we can now teach them to be positive digital citizens, and leaders.

My third focus, is our student digital team, a group of leaders within our school, set up long before I was at the school, but who this year we have focused on ensuring they are real decision makers. When other pupils see the work they do inspiring messages about e-safety, appropriate apps, global goals and many other topics pupils really listen.  I am so proud when I hear them speak.  Most recently on safer internet day, they made the decision that with the recent release of our platform showbie, that pupils needed to know what to do if they saw or read something which upset them. We discussed for a few sessions why it was important and what the implications of others not knowing what to do. Then we were able to discuss what it meant to hashtag something, which many didn’t know about, even though they use them and see them everywhere. 

The outcome was they performed an assembly, and promoted their hashtag #SBR or Screenshot Block Report. I was immensely proud as, although their ideas weren’t new, they were important to them as a pupil team and so their message was heard by all because of their passion and delivery.  After all, Peer to peer learning is surely the most valuable of all.

So why is this my first blog post? Sadly, at some point I think, tables will turn and people will ask why teachers didn’t do more to make young people aware of digital citizenship. I am not saying that this is right or OK, but like many issues before it, it will be asked.  If we can teach our pupils the positive message, much like we would of stranger danger and such like, we are supporting their future, their decisions and there understanding of the world which they are a part of.

I, as do most of us do, have high hopes for all our young people, but most of all, I hope that using the internet for positive and interesting projects can mean that when we grow into our secondary school life . We can allow phones into our school, without the fear that they will be used for negativity and poor behavior, but for research, positive communications and learning collaboratively with the world around us. 

I hope to like so many other digital schools be promoting the use of devices and social media to be leaders and strong resilient young adults, who are able to adapt to our ever changing society.

They may change, but my focus’s are on the following.  Hopefully the strength of these will allow us to support our learners in the best way we currently know how.

1. An internal social platform

2. Open minded teachers willing to try new things 

3. A student voice


Published by

Philippa Wraithmell

Educator K-12, Co-founder if Wii_Edu, BETT MEA Advisory Board Member, Apple Distinguished Educator, Apple Professional Learning Specialist. Education Technology Specialist. Working in the UAE.

2 thoughts on “Be afraid and do it anyway: Devices and Social Media in Schools

  1. This a great reminder that we cannot expect growth mindset in our students if we ourselves don’t model it! Engaging with what is relevant to our students not only keeps us and our curriculum current, but also lends significant credibility to us as teachers and leaders. Keep the posts coming! KAT

  2. I enjoyed the information you have shared but in your experience, have you seen any down sides or negative effects on this topic? Please share. Thank you

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