Social networking is hardly a new phenomenon, but teachers have come a long way in their use of sites like Facebook and Twitter. These forms of communication and collaboration have become so common, it’s easy to forget that even a social networking heavyweight like Twitter only gained popularity in the last three or four years.
Results of a survey conducted by MMS Education show that between 2009 — when the survey was last conducted — and 2012, teachers have significantly increased their use of social networking for both personal and professional use. According to a Survey of K-12 Educators on Social Networking, Online Communities, and Web 2.0 Tools 2012, the percentage of educators who replied that they were part of at least one social networking site went up from 61 percent in 2009 to 82 percent in 2012 — a significant 34 percent gain.
It’s not too surprising that Facebook is still the most popular site, with 85 percent of respondents saying they are members, but educators also favor Google+, Twitter and Pinterest, a surprise write-in. Even more impressively, participation on education-focused sites, some of which didn’t exist during the 2009 survey, has increased dramatically. The most popular is Edmodo with 27 percent, but more established sites like edWeb saw significant increases in participation as well.
While teachers understand how important social networking sites are to students’ lives, most indicated that they haven’t been able to capitalize on that energy for the purposes of learning. Access to sites is still a huge problem; 47 percent of educators said they felt the rules were too restrictive for their students and even for themselves when at school.
“When educators do find value in an education-based site, they visit frequently,” said Susan Meell, CEO of MMS Education in a webinar explaining the survey results. Many educators reported getting a lot of use out of their interactions on social media sites, especially from free professional development and sharing ideas.
“Teachers often tell us that they feel isolated in the classroom because they find it difficult during a busy day to connect with colleagues and get feedback,” explained Meell. Social networking is an easy and quick way to do both. It’s also a great way for teachers to broaden their ideas about teaching and to share new digital tools.
“It is so very important that we as teachers begin to use technology, as students are already ‘equipped’ with the mindset for technology,” wrote one teacher on the survey. Others noted that teachers need to be teaching digital citizenship and using web 2.0 tools to transform teaching and learning. And in a striking parallel to how online learning can bring out shy learners, many teachers noted how much they gain from interacting with other educators through participation on social networking sites.
But teachers had concerns as well. Foremost on their minds was the potential impropriety of participating in networks with students. And even in their private lives, educators worried posting might jeopardize their jobs. Others felt that the sites are a distracting waste of time with too many opportunities for misuse. And there were concerns that poorer students wouldn’t have equal access to the tools if teachers try to integrate social networking into their classrooms.
General social networking sites, as well as education-focused sites, have emerged as powerful tools for teachers in the last several years. They combat the isolation of the classroom and can provide forward-thinking teachers with a community that shares their views. But challenges still remain with access to useful sites and in the lack of security teachers feel around trying out new strategies.