Author’s Response–Why Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools

My recent essay in Education Week Teacher titled “Why Twitter and Facebook Are Not Good Instructional Tools” has generated a ton of discussion and debate.  In the article, I argue that, too often, we educators employ Web 2.0 tools, social media, and other technology in the classroom without thoroughly thinking through the pedagogical implications and the inherent value of the tool.  What is gained and what is lost when we utilize technology inside and outside of school is not debated enough.

During my own personal and educational journey, this is my current stance:  one of the best ways we can use technology in the classroom is to help facilitate the creation of original digital media work, with students focusing on process and creation, with technology being one piece of the puzzle.  By doing this, students hone their observation, conversation, and listening skills–all elements of humanity that, for some people, especially the youth, are being pushed aside or avoided for the convenience and shield created by most screen-mediated communication.

I’ve ruffled some feathers, especially those who are advocates/consultants of pushing technology applications are far as we can go in the classroom. The title of the piece is misleading, but I didn’t create the title.   Check out some of the thought-provoking comments from the discussion board and my responses:

EPlybon writes: I have seen social media, and the concepts surrounding it, used in very meaningful ways which promote higher level thinking and I’ve seen it used as fluff. Making the distinction between the two is important. I will not concur with you that, because some teachers use it wrong, we all should stop using it.  We should not all stop using it, but we should be very deliberate.

jt53 writes: While I have no anti-technology bias per se, I do see its pitfalls, particularly when I am tasked in the classroom to assist students in the very activities that disengage them and prohibit sustained depth of focus in the content area.  I completely agree.  Facebook and Twitter are inherently distracting tools, not designed for education.  For some people, interacting with social media may be causing increased narcissism and loneliness, according to Stephen Marche in The Atlantic.  We all spend far too much time engaged with screens, rather than with each other or with the physical world around us.

Sr_Geralyn writes: Educators must and should teach their students the essential skill of self control. Connected students should be taught the skills to avoid the charms of media’s “highs” as they neglect duties that their life must maintain. Either approach; throw up one’s hands and scream, “I will NEVER use technology!” or”I am connected at all costs!” is not what any educator should promote. It is similiar to prompting to a healthy diet!  Self-control is a huge part of the equation.  How you teach it, I’m not sure.  Are most teenagers developmentally mature enough to avoid the instant gratification, leisure, and entertainment distraction with social media if allowed to use them in the classroom?  My own anecdotal experience points to a resounding NO.  I’m still working on finding my own balance between things I do with technology and times when I tune out.

Coolcatteacher writes: To sweepingly state Twitter and Facebook are “bad” instructional tools is like saying that paper is bad and should be eliminated because so many teachers use it for mind numbing worksheets. Websites are modern day paper and can be used in many ways both helpful and mind-numbingly useful. Thanks for the thought provoking post.  Good point about mindless worksheets.  There is no doubt that integrating technology and social media in the classroom will create excitement and potential engagement among the students.

Anthony Bollino writes: Mr. Barnwell’s use of digital storytelling tools does many things to help his students. It creates authentic tasks for students to create using digital technology. It addresses the need for students to plan and collaborate a project using online and F2F methods. They produce a multimedia project that requires desirable skills in many areas of the work force. All of these are addressing the speaking and writing components of the Common Core.  It’s the speaking and traditionally communication skills that I’m worried are being swept aside if we embrace too much technology.  If you teach high schoolers, you’ll understand how difficult is it for them to engage in meaningful, real-time conversation and debate.  Much of this is due to constantly communicating through a screen.  I wrote about this is a previous blog post.

aradeba writes: Distractions from technology is a very big problem–most of my kids can’t even sit and read a comic book much less a short story or a book. They just need constant stimulous–I don’t really know what the answer is–especially when our district and our administrators are all on the “technology express” and despair when they don’t see it being used even if it’s not appropriate.  I don’t know the answer, either.  But I do suspect that if we enthusiastically embrace the bells and whistles and constant stimulus that social media and new technology can provide, each year, student attention spans will continue to decrease.  I try to create space in my classroom–even the digital storytelling course–where there is plenty of time for mindfulness and “slower” thinking.

Braddo writes: So does the old adage, it’s a poor workman who blames the tool. It makes no more sense to say Twitter is not a good tool than it does to say a hammer is not a good tool. Goodness or badness do not inhere in the thing but in the way it’s used. Indeed, I ‘ve seen many more examples of poor teaching with pencil and paper, textbooks and chalkboards than I have with any bit of modern technology. Like EPlybon, I’ve seen exemplary teaching with social media. As for the value of 140-characters: ask Marcus Aurelius about the epithet.  I’d argue that the inherent distraction and fragmentation of thinking in Twitter and Facebook may make them inappropriate tools to rely on in an educational setting, so I disagree with the hammer analogy.  Hammers can be used for many things, but they are great for building.  Twitter and Facebook can be used for many things, but they are not great for education.  With so many students choosing to write in fragments and struggling mightily to write purposeful, longer pieces, we need to find ways, both old-school and new school with technology, for students to sustain thought and compose longer arguments and presentations.  Twitter and Facebook are not good vehicles for this type of thinking.

Markbarnes19 writes: My students use smartphones daily in one way or another. We also use message boards, blogs, wikis and social bookmarking sites. Some kids access from their phones, others from iPods and some from our desktop computers. The interactivity compels students to complete projects and in-class activities and communicate in ways they typically aren’t allowed to.  Mr. Barnes sounds like a master-integrated of new technology in the classroom, and I’d like to see the class at work.  I wonder what types of students he teaches.  Most of the demonstrations I’ve read about, with this type of seamless internet and social media usage, have been in upper-level AP courses, charter schools, and other places with more motivated/supported (at home) student populations.

Thanks for all for engaging in this debate.   What are your thoughts? 


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