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How should teachers, students, social media mix?

A new national survey from University of Phoenix College of Education suggests K-12 teachers remain unclear and untrained about how to integrate social media into the classroom and whether to use it to engage with students and parents. In fact, a large majority (80 percent) of teachers worry about conflicts that can occur from using social media with their students and/or parents. Four-in-five teachers use social media for either personal or professional purposes; of those, more than one-third (34 percent) have encountered difficulties with students and/or parents attempting to connect with them via social media.

The survey finds nearly half (47 percent) of all K-12 teachers and 58 percent of high school teachers believe that participation in social media with their teachers can enhance a student’s educational experience. Despite the perceived benefits, only 17 percent of K-12 teachers encourage their students to connect with them via social media and only 18 percent have integrated it into their classrooms. Adoption is only slightly greater for high school teachers, with 21 percent encouraging their students to connect with them via social media and 19 percent incorporating it into classroom learning.

The online survey of more than 1,000 full-time K-12 teachers in the U.S. was conducted on behalf of University of Phoenix College of Education by Harris Interactive in October, 2013.

“Many professionals face challenges navigating how and when to use social media and whether they should merge their personal and professional lives,” said Kathy Cook, Director of Educational Technology for University of Phoenix College of Education. “Perhaps nowhere is the line more blurred than for teachers. On one hand, social media can be a valuable tool for learning and connecting with students and parents; on the other, it can invite inappropriate behavior and misuse.”

Social Media Use by Teachers

Eighty percent of K-12 teachers report that they use social media for either personal or professional use, but fewer than one-in-five (18 percent) have integrated social media into their own classrooms. A majority of K-12 teachers (55 percent) have not integrated social media into their classrooms and do not plan to do so. More than one-quarter (27 percent) have not integrated social media, but want to do so.

Teachers may also be hesitant to connect with parents via social media as 69 percent believe that parents sometimes use it to monitor teachers’ work and/or personal lives.

According to Cook, by avoiding the use of these ubiquitous communication tools, teachers may be missing opportunities to leverage social media for learning, teaching and connecting with others.

“Students are engaged daily in social media, so it presents a great way to connect with them,” said Cook. “Social media can also help tie classroom learning to real-world scenarios, which can enhance student learning. Many teachers see the value of using these tools in the classroom, but may be reluctant to engage without clear guidelines and training.”

According to the survey, less than one-third (29 percent) of K-12 teachers say they have received significant or adequate training about interacting with students and parents in social media.

Solutions

To help teachers navigate the often-complicated dynamics of today’s classrooms, University of Phoenix College of Education offers a course for teacher candidates that focuses on current issues in educational settings and encourages education students to think critically about these topics throughout their coursework.

“Throughout their education programs, teacher candidates are presented with many scenarios to help develop critical thinking and decision-making skills that can benefit them when they are managing their own classrooms,” said Cook. She offers the following tips for K-12 teachers about how to connect with parents and students via social media:

  1. Choose the Right Tool for the Task: Many teachers choose to keep Facebook strictly personal, but there are other opportunities to engage with students, parents and other professionals online. Classroom-specific Twitter feeds can be a great way to connect with students and parents and provide regular classroom updates, facilitate conversations about current events, assist students with special projects and share ideas with parents. LinkedIn and Twitter can be effective tools for professional development and provide opportunities for teachers to share ideas with educators all over the world.
  2. Be Consistent: Have a specific policy, communicate it clearly to parents and students, and stick with it. It is always ok to create boundaries. Teachers can say, “I’m sorry, but I don’t connect with students and parents on Facebook—that is reserved for my private life. But you are welcome to reach me on Twitter.” This way, the rules are clearly set, and everyone will feel more comfortable to engage if there are clear guidelines.
  3. Be Social in the Classroom: Look beyond the common social media tools for those that specifically support the nature of a classroom environment. Online tools are available that are built specifically for education professionals and provide secure, closed platforms for students and teachers to interact. On these websites, teachers can build class groups, post announcements and assignments, and create interesting class projects.

To learn more about University of Phoenix College of Education degree programs, visit www.phoenix.edu.

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