Why Social Media Can and Is Changing Education

cc licensed flickr photo shared by shareski

Social media is something that has become so prevalent in our culture that I have seen everything from large companies to churches having their own facebook accounts.  When I first was presented with the idea that using Twitter, Facebook, or blogging as something in education I was weary of its application.  As I have immersed myself in the process, and have seen my own staff and school use this themselves along with students, I have seen some tremendous changes in their practice.

I really believe that using technology just to do the same things that we have always done, but on the computer, is not a good enough reason.  There has to be more.  Thinking about this today, I have really seen some of the impacts that social media is having on education.

1. It’s free. Okay, in reality, nothing is really free.  We still have to pay for Internet and technology in our building, but our software costs have gone down significantly.  As educators continuously have to deal with budget cuts, it is important that we use tools that do not have a cost on it.  Safety is essential, but with teaching Internet safety, setting up certain sites, with a little hard work, the software costs nothing.  Our school has paid $300 for server space (for three years) in the last two years that I have been here, and have set up a safe and secure blogging platform for our students.  This is music to any educators’ (especially those dealing with budgets) ears.

2. It cuts down on isolation. One of our programs is an off-site building that is out in the country. This program serves 12 students and has two teachers.  Every few years, this program is revisited and we ensure that teachers have an opportunity to move so that they have the ability to connect and learn from others.  This year when we had the conversation, both teachers did not feel the need to move.  They are both connected through many teachers through social networks and the feeling of isolation has somewhat dissipated.  Now with small schools that are out in the country, you are never limited to the ideas and camraderie of those in the building, but those that you are willing to connect with.  When I first started my career in a small town, it felt very lonely and on some days could be very taxing.  The opportunity to connect is there for those who are willing to take it.

3. Building tolerance and understanding of cultural diversity. There are so many different cultures in the world and when I was a kid, we only had read about them in books.  There is so much of an opportunity to not only read content from different people and hear their perspectives, but social media gives us the opportunity to actually talk with people.  Having the opportunity to connect with people all over the world breaks down a lot of barriers and builds understanding.  These are opportunities that we did not have as kids but we need to ensure that our students have this opportunity now.

4. It can amplify passion. Passion is a term that has been used a great deal in education.  I am a firm believer that we have to build learning upon the passions and interests of our students.  We now have the opportunity to not only connect with people of different cultures, but to people with similar interests. If you watch Chris Anderson’s Ted Talk, he discusses how people can connect with similar interests and create innovation in new areas.  He talks about through the use of video, dance has evolved so rapidly because of the ease of sharing.  The child who does not feel anyone has similar interests in the classroom, is not limited anymore.  We can help to facilitate these connections in schools so our students do not only feel “normal”, but their passion thrives.

5. The world of education is (and needs to be) more open.
As an administrator, I need to continuously communicate and connect with not only my stakeholders, but the world of education.  Parents no longer need to wonder what I am thinking, because I can share it continuously in an open way.  I can do everything from sharing my calendar for the week with our community, to things I am reading.  Chris Kennedy, a superintendent in British Columbia, shared everything from his cell phone number to his calendar with the entire world.  The parent who may not know the teacher in the next grade, can simply follow their blog to get to know about some of the practices.  This breaks down walls and helps to build relationships with families and our community.  Parents could not see the other classroom’s “newsletter” unless it was passed around; now it is easily shared.  Knowing people beforehand will help to break down barriers that may have existed before.

I have said this many times before, that education is based upon relationships.  While people often look at social media is just “technology” we have to see how proper use can help really bring our world together.  If we are proactive in the way we work with kids using social media, there is no limit to what we can do.



  1. George, well said. I think we are only scratching the surface when it comes to the potential of Social Media. I think one of the apprehensions that people have is that is will further isolate us because we are not meeting F2F. However, that has not been my experience. Nothing will ever replace the F2F encounter, but Social Media can expand our personal connections far beyond our previous expectations.

  2. Great article! And I feel you've provided 5 great points here.

    I would challenge #2, because I do feel that real social interaction is decreasing while virtual interaction is exploding. I'm a hippy that loves the net, but sees it as a double-edged sword too.

    On another front, I thought a tech-saavy principal like yourself, might enjoy what I saw pop through on the twitterverse today. Farbood Nivi (@farbood), an old roommate of mine, CEO of grockit, and education "disruptor" sent this out:

    "Technology is so powerful that it will overwhelm education. Will be scary if we're not ready"

  3. Thanks for sharing your thoughts. Great read.

    I would actually have to disagree with @brad5patterson and have encountered social media as a facilitator to social interaction and not a replacement. While I work with social media from the business side, we have found that an approach of using social media as a facilitator to foster IRL connections will improve the effectiveness of social connections. Those using social media as a replacement for IRL relationships tend to have poorer emotional returns than those who are using social media to make new connections.

    As a personal observation, those who really succeed in utilizing social media are those who are already of a socializing mindset. They are networkers or social personalities who use social media to extend their reach. For educators, I believe this can be a powerful, effective tool to improve their own knowledge base and better everyone's game.


    • @brad5patterson said: I would challenge #2, because I do feel that real social interaction is decreasing while virtual interaction is exploding.
      To which I'd like to add that it seems it's deeping the digital divide – Or is it blurring the professional/private divide ? because while professionally it obviously does "cut down on isolation", my not not online non-academic very very good friend jokes that she's "lost me to the internet" – there are only 24 hrs in a day after all.
      What a pity the same word "friends" is used for real – and online friends (though of course the two can merge at times :-)) – Two interesting recent posts on this subject http://bit.ly/gulaPP , http://bit.ly/eJwzpl

      • Hi Elizabeth.

        Thanks for those links as they were great reads, as were the comments within, especially as many of them were from people in my PLN… be a PLN worthless or not! LOL. And yes, while your friends joke about "lost you to the internet", there are real issues at hand.

        First off… sorry if we've gone a bit "off-topic" here, George, but I'm sure your posts often engage topics that shoot in new and different directions, and I hope it's fruitful for us all. :)

        OBSERVATION: At times I find it ODD how NORMAL it is to sit in the same room with family and friends staring at a screen. Nowadays, each person has their own screen-laptops. As I work on the internet, I spend nearly my entire day here. That becomes odd at times too, especially for someone who really appreciates connection with people and nature. More and more abstract. It brings to mind Neil Postman, and "Farenheight 451".

        So with that, I'll post 2 quick quotes from Postman as my conclusion, throwing a bit of curry and fennel seeds into this enjoyable post and discussion thanks to George:

        "Physical reality seems to recede in proportion as man’s symbolic activity advances. Instead of dealing with the things themselves man is in a sense constantly conversing with himself. He has so enveloped himself in linguistic forms, in artisitic forms, in mythical symbols or religious rites that he cannot see or know anything except by the interposition of an an artificial medium." page 10

        "The clock is a piece of powerful machinery whose ‘product’ is seconds and minutes. In manufacturing such a product, the clock has the effect of disassociating time from human events and thus nourishes the belief in an independent world of mathematically measurable sequences. Moment to moment, it turns out, is not God’s conception, or nature’s. It is man conversing with himself about and through a piece of machinery he has created. It made us into time keepers, then time savers, and now time servers." page 11

        Both from "Amusing Ourselves to Death"

        • I enjoyed your observations on how we have become a society of families, classmates, and co-workers all tapping away while gazing at a computer screen. It reminds me at all times of Plato’s brilliant “Myth of the Cave.” We are not out in the world experiencing reality, but in a cave, looking at virtual representations (or shadows) of the real thing.

      • Hi Matthew. Thanks for your thoughts. :) Please read my comments to Elizabeth as an indirect response to your ideas. I agree with what you're saying on a superficial level, it's the deeper point that gets me— we are living a more and more "abstract" life, and further and further from our natural roots.

        But all of that is "normal" today.

        Have you ever thought of how the word "dirty" which means "unclean" actually means you have a bit too much mother nature on you to be "civilized". The world today is the world today and I accept it, and enjoy my experience here, but that doesn't mean I won't add my hippy fennel and curry. LOL 😉

  4. I'm also finding that it can enable new forms of organisation to emerge. Since we set up a district-wide blog system in East Lothian, Scotland (at http://edubuzz.org) a few years ago we've found that often, a school blog won't just be authored by school staff and students. Maybe parents will be part of the mix, too; and the shared responsibility for creating and maintaining the site seems to change the dynamics of that relationship. Similarly, we have contributors from the worlds of health, careers, sports, health promotion and community groups, all of which are blurring existing organisation boundaries.
    Initially we set out to make it easier for teachers to avoid "re-inventing the wheel" and see what was going on in neighbouring schools, and that has confirmed for us that making schools more open has huge benefits. Not only are we seeing increased parental involvement, it's making it far easier for people to steal ideas across barriers of distance – and time!

  5. I have to agree with a lot of what you pointed out here. I'm a student research assistant for DMLcentral. Similarly, we try to learn and share how technology, social media, and such are consistently making an impact on society today – particularly education. I would definitely have to agree with your first reasoning being that education can also be delivered through social media without it being a fee to pay. Being a student myself, I've experienced firsthand from high school to now in college how limited students are to getting the right material or the necessary attention from teachers. With budgets decreasing every year, students can definitely get the education they deserve with the help of social media. For example, in my high school literature class, students were given their own blog sites to blog about their thoughts on a novel they're reading or simply what was on their mind. It was great because the teacher would take the time to comment back with personal remarks. It helped further build the communication between students and teachers in not just simply within the classroom walls – definitely a positive move towards education with a not a fee to pay!

    So well said here!

  6. I just wanted to add my thoughts to this growing list of great ideas and opinions. First, thank you, George, for your wonderful insights and posts. Yours is one of the blogs I read consistently and I really have gained a lot of insight because of it.

    I would like to add that I am in agreement with Matthew and Elizabeth. (Is it possible to agree to both points of view at the same time? I love being on the fence!) What I mean is that I think social media develops the desire to want to continue to discuss and learn from one another in person. The millions of people who have connected via internet and later been married can attest to that. In addition, as Brad was pointing out, a PLN is a PLN no matter what and often they end up meeting IRL/f2f after discussing many educational themes via Twitter. So, I think using social media with students does not decrease the desire to have f2f relationships or IRL relationship skills but drives the passion for them. I can envision an entire upcoming generation of students travelling the globe staying with their PLN friends in every country!

    I will say, however, that Elizabeth does have a good point on the "losing you to the internet". Sadly, my friends who I used to email that are not on facebook have been severely cut out of my social loop. Living abroad for so many years has decreased my hometown friends down to a few and we were tenuously linked via email. Now that has fallen by the wayside and so have some of the friendships. It's not a matter of losing them to the Internet, really, but a matter of losing them to an EVOLVING internet. Where I have moved into social media, they have not. Hopefully they too will see the benefit of collaborating and sharing via social media and I can get those relationships up and going again soon!

    In essence, it's the same as all things that are great…. all in balance. As the professionals who are hired to lead and coach our students on their journey of learning we have to have that idea firmly in our minds. If we do help maintain the balance between "real life" and social media, there is no doubt that amazing things are going to happen in education.

  7. What "Social Media" is truly what people who love to be able to reach out to others in business at all levels and allow conversations to take place for the benefit of both parties. As you may see there are still many people who for what ever reason choose not to include their photos on Linkedin, but will share their most private family photos on Facebook. My question is WHY? or will choose to not want to connect to others on Linkedin, but will have a very limited profile and deny new and old contacts. The pro-active and people who will consistently reach out and extend them self will be far a head in the game of the "social enterprise".

  8. George,

    Good thoughts here! I think what most people don't understand about social media is that it is creating and forming relationships with other teachers. For me, Twitter is free professional development that keeps me thinking and continues to challenge how I approach teaching. I think there is bad press about social media and the way that it's misused or teachers and administrators are afraid to say, "I don't understand how this works." that keeps educators away.

  9. Mr. Couros,
    Thanks for sharing hese insighful thoughts on the positive impact of embracing social media. As we prepare our students to meet the demands of a global society, it is important to embarce the variety of ways our students can interact with diverse populations.

    Vanessa Jester

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