What caregivers should know about social media in the classroom
More teachers are using social media as an education tool in the classroom. Here, an educator-influencer tells caregivers what to L.O.O.K. for.
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I became an “education influencer” seemingly overnight. When the COVID-19 lockdown started in the U.S. in spring 2020, I was already quarantined in Malaysia and could see how afraid many of my fellow American educators were. Although a native North Carolinian, I’d been a traveling educator for over 13 years and had already experienced teaching through the MERS and H1N1 pandemics. I began creating content on social media as a way to help and share my experience teaching through the pandemic. As my audience grew, educators began to use my content in their classrooms and students began to follow me online. I find this extremely fulfilling, because students today are all digital citizens, and, as caregivers and educators, it is our responsibility to show them ways to use social media not only for entertainment, but also for education and impact.
As educators begin to add more voices from social media in the classroom and to their lessons, including information provided by TikTok historians and turning to YouTube sources for engagement, parents may question the best ways to help their children navigate being introduced to unknown adults they could have access to online. Because of the potential risks anytime a younger person uses the internet—such as increased screen time, cyberbullying or inappropriate content—it is even more important for young learners to receive education regarding healthy digital practices both at home and at school. Therefore, I encourage parents to remember, and teach their young ones, to L.O.O.K when using social media as a tool for learning.
L is for limits.
As a parent, it is important to know the age limits for the social media platforms your child uses. Instagram and TikTok both require users to be at least 13 years old. If a user wants to interact with a TikTok content creator who decides to do a livestream video, that user cannot join or watch the livestream unless they are 16 years old. Because of this, many content creators will ban users who are younger than 16 from joining live conversations. This is to protect your child, and these age limits should be respected.
What to look for: Educators often create social media groups specifically for students to share content and converse with one another rather than attempting to connect with online personalities. If an educator elects to bring social media in the classroom by introducing educator influencers, you can ask the educator if that influencer has created safe spaces online, such as private pages or group chats, for students to converse and share content. For example, once the Black Lives Matter protests began, children needed a safe space to express concerns about family members on both sides of the issue—children with family members who were in the protests and children with family members who were in the police force. In a carefully maintained environment online, children’s feelings can be validated and supported.
O is for objective.
It is important to determine whether or not an online personality is, in fact, an educator with an objective of impacting their audience with informational content, or someone who simply happened to share a piece that went viral or caught an educator’s attention. If your child is of an age to actively engage on the social media platform, you may want to teach them to know when to regularly follow someone for education and when to learn from the content and move on.
What to look for: Pay attention to how often the content creator posts topic-related content. Consistency is key. If the content creator not only identifies as an educator or expert in their bio, but also posts related content at least three times a week, then that is a good sign that this is a person who could be a consistent source of knowledge.
O is for observe.
When young people are introduced to internet personalities, they are also being introduced to the communities that those personalities attract. As a caregiver, it’s not enough to approve the content—you also want to ask yourself if the comments and post engagement are age-appropriate. Is this a community that you approve of?
What to look for: Pay attention to the comments under each post. Who makes up the audience? Are there other educators and students? Are there healthy discussions? Is this a space that you would encourage your child to engage in, or would you rather they learn from that space but share in a private space with their friends and teacher? Some educators incorporate social media in the classroom by creating private accounts that give young learners an opportunity to express themselves in a safe container instead of publicly engaging with posts created by strangers. You may even consult your child’s teacher so you become better aware of their approach, and suggest a private online learning community if their classroom family has not already incorporated one.
K is for kindness.
As a caregiver, a large part of helping your child navigate this new world of social media in the classroom is also about teaching them social media etiquette. When is it appropriate to friend or follow? What should they do if they disagree with the content creator’s viewpoint or post? How should one protect their privacy?
What to look for: In this case, how does your child’s teacher introduce them to the educational space online? What rules have already been set? Some educators may encourage their students not to follow any online personalities. Others may have a list of approved people to follow. Your child’s teacher may also encourage all discussions to take place offline and in the classroom, rather than online. Remember that your child’s class is their community, and it’s important to help them nurture the community both online and offline.
As a caregiver, you may feel hesitant about your child being exposed to online creators. Your feelings are valid. Don’t hesitate to encourage your child’s teacher to set some rules when incorporating social media in the classroom, create consent forms if they’re creating any online classroom pages or chat groups, and receive signed waivers before sharing any of your child’s content.
In my class, we have caregivers sign a one-time waiver giving us permission to post photos and content online. However, we also ask the students’ permission every single time before posting. This teaches them that they are always in control. Students also have the option of removing content that has been posted.
Most importantly, talk to your child about what they want. Children are often more concerned about privacy than we expect them to be, and your child may not want to engage online with their photo visible, have a social media public account, or even interact with their teacher in such a public space. After your discussion, encourage your child to reveal their feelings to their teacher, if they have not already. Remember, a classroom is a family too, and it’s important to support the teacher-student relationship in that space. Work together to find some creative solutions to keep them involved.
Helping your child to navigate social media in the classroom in a healthy way as they return to school can empower them to be more confident in using social media and the internet in ways that help them grow, rather than simply for entertainment. They also become stronger digital citizens by not only learning how to engage online safely, but also to question when others are not creating a safe environment. The ultimate goal is to help the young leaders of the future to have the best learning experience possible, and support them along the way. This doesn’t require taking full control. Simply show your support and L.O.O.K.
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