Should Your School Use Social Media? Second Thoughts

Harris Interactive, on behalf of the Phoenix University College of Education, recently conducted a national survey of 1,000 teachers about their use of social media for students. Although most (80%) of the teachers surveyed use social media in their personal life and about half (47%) believe that social media can enhance their students’ educational experiences, only a small minority (18%) have integrated social media into their classrooms. So while the Pope and the Dalai Lama are making use of social media, we are still struggling to decide if we should be using it in our schools!

A couple of years ago, my answer to the question “should schools use social media?” would have been an unqualified “yes.” But now I have second thoughts. Not because of a change of mind about the value that social media can provide for our students – I remain convinced that social media can play a positive role in the learning environment. So why the second thoughts? 

In my work with schools, I see wide diversity. While school personnel often speak about their schools being “up to date” and in the 21st century, my sense is that in some of our schools, the only thing that is really in the 21st century are the calendars on the wall. That is not to disparage the fine work that teachers in such schools are doing. It is only to observe that the organizational and learning cultures of the schools have not been affected in any significant way by digital media. In those schools, social media is unlikely to reach its potential. It will operate more like a side show than part of the main event. Beyond that, it could create problems if the school community – teachers, students, staff, board, parents – is prone to jump on any problem as evidence that social media does not belong in the schools.

Mainly as a result of my work with CoSN, I have come into contact with schools that are turning a page and adopting new best practices. These schools understand that dealing with social media’s downsides doesn’t entail merely writing a policy or putting digital media on top of what currently exists. Rather, they strive to create new organizational cultures where responsible and effective use of all forms of digital media vitally impacts the ways in which teachers and learners function.

Social media dominates how we communicate, interact, and collaborate in the 21st century. For schools that have turned the page, the use of social media is a given. To take social media from those teachers is to deprive them of doing their best for their students. The issues surrounding the use of social media, in particular Facebook and Twitter, are all matters that can be handled intelligently by teachers who understand the tools and have sound professional reasons for using them. While there is continuing need to convince more schools to take full advantage of social media, my personal commitment is to do all I can to help those teachers and administrators who “get it” continue to move forward in best practice use of social media  and to join forces with them when there are efforts to obstruct their forward movement.


James Bosco is Professor Emeritus at Western Michigan University and a CoSN Consultant.