Social Media in the Classroom – First Thoughts

By Jack Quinn, Social Manager at Dublin School of English

Dublin School of English (DSE) has been using social media extensively since 2009. We have had a significant response from students, teachers and partners on our various social media sites, we therefore decided to look at practical applications of social media as an educational tool in the classroom. This provides the Sonett Project with background on the practical issues of the use of social media in the classroom.

Currently the DSE uses Facebook, Twitter, YouTube and Flicker.  Summer 2012 sees the launch of our LinkedIn and Pinterest sites.

DSE uses social media in a variety of different ways. Naturally, we use it as a strategic marketing tool: reinforcing company branding, highlighting the school’s selling propositions, priming prospective customers and driving traffic to our principal website. This is very much standard usage of social media for any forward-thinking business with a broad internationally based clientele.  However, as an educational institution social media goes far beyond marketing.  It is effectively a way for students from all over the world to stay in touch.  We have created a strong, vibrant community of students – past and present – teachers, management and partners. We use it to disseminate information, highlight special offers, run surveys, competitions, advertise jobs, accommodation vacancies, school news, articles/blogs and cultural events.  This is instrumental in educating students on all aspects of Irish culture and history, not just in the pedagogic sense, but in a manner whereby students can participate in the process – contributing their chapter to the story of Ireland, connecting them to DSE, Dublin and indeed the entire country, past, present and future. It serves as a forum for students, a medium where they can share their photos, videos and stories. Indeed user content is where there is a exciting opportunity to bring Social Media into the classroom.

While our Twitter functions as a ‘microblog newsletter’ posting links to what’s going on in Ireland in any given week, Facebook, YouTube and Pinterest have the most potential for practical applications in the classroom. To date teachers have prepared students, set them research topics and tasks such as Internet research and on-the-street surveys, then filmed a variety of songs, comedy sketches, drama shorts and informal documentaries in the classroom. This has proven a excellent way for students to use the English they have learned with us freely and in an exciting engaging way. Presenting students with tasks like this is an ideal way for them to practise their spoken English, taking it out of the textbook and into their mouths. We have noted that inhibitions and insecurities are lost when there is an element of fun involved. The result of these projects speak for themselves on our Youtube site and students are generally enthusiastic about having their projects uploaded for their teachers, friends and family to see.

In a similar, way our Facebook site serves as a forum for students. Teachers will tell students that they are going to be allowed use their mobile devises in class as part of a lesson. They put students into pairs and instruct them to tell each other what they would like to say on Facebook about DSE, Dublin or any aspect of their stay. They then write down a short piece on the subject. They pass the blog to their partner, who tries to spot errors in it. They discuss their work and how to improve it. The teacher monitors, helping out where they feel necessary but generally focusing on auto-correction so that students get the most from the exercise. When they have finished, they are allowed take out their mobile devises and post them on our Facebook page.

We will be using LinkedIn to create a profession network of past present and trainee teachers. It is therefore not relevant to this discussion.

While Flicker (like Picassa et al) serves as an effective gallery, Pinterest is a much more interesting platform for our purposes with its ‘cross pollination’ functionality regarding a wide range of related subjects of interest and the discussion they will inspire.  Pinterest will be used primarily for arts and crafts in our Summer School. Students will be instructed by their art teacher to photograph various things while out on excursions. They will then upload them to our Pinterest site. In the next arts and crafts sessions the teacher will ask the students to explain why they chose such an item and what artistic medium they feel would best suit its expression; be it painting, clay modelling or jewellery making, or whatever medium is appropriate. Once students have completed their reproduction on the photograph, it will be uploaded along side the original.  This can then be used to stimulate comparative conversation and discussion in the classroom.  This may be shared with family and friends in Ireland and back home. Indeed, all of our social media sites are interconnected, feeding into each other; videos on YouTube are posted on Facebook and this will be the same for art projects. Other students will view these projects, comment on them and share them, hence creating a wider conversation within our international community.

In conclusion it must be said that while the educational applications of social media are very much in their infancy, there is no doubt that they will be far reaching. Students have embraced social media on scale that has never been seen before, making the world a smaller place. English is the lingua franca of The Internet, this fact must be exploited in order to further English language learning in an exciting, dynamic, engaging way.

Jack QuinnJack Quinn is the social manager of the DSE. As well as being responsible for the various social media platforms mentioned he organises the tour and excursion programmes of the DSE and has been known to give the odd tune on the guitar.

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