How Educators Use Social Media to Change the Learning Paradigm

It’s been widely reported that America is facing an education crisis. Bleak numbers indicate that more than three out of ten students don’t graduate high school. Funding cuts, overcrowded classrooms and a shortage of teachers impact this even further.

To positively affect education and learning, educators and administrators are using social in many forms. Lesson plans and projects that worked 20 years ago are being rethought, taking into account a different and more connected audience of students today. Understanding the way digital content can help students in the classroom, and how students are using it to learn, is at the heart of fostering a new style of education.

At Ning, we see how forward-thinking educators are taking the lead to combat this trend. Here are four innovative ways they adopt the power of social to empower students to succeed:

Transform Passive One-Way Teaching to Two-Way Collaboration

Education is more than simply absorbing information. It’s about asking questions, challenging the status quo, and empowering students to make informed decisions and draw conclusions. Social platforms are tools to support the learning ecosystem; it’s a technology that turns a one-way dialogue into multi-point conversations, facilitating actionable collaboration.

As computers and technology have become more and more prevalent, Chad Bruns, a history and athletics public school teacher in Iowa, has sought out ways to use Ning’s technology to engage and excite his students. Ultimately, Chad chose Ning because it was safe and easy, taking the concept of social networking and applying it to an online community for his students. Students use their profile page on the Mr. Bruns 360 Ning community as an “e-portfolio,” creating an academic repository of their online work. Not only is it a place for the teacher to post homework assignments and syllabi, the community becomes a destination for students to share their viewpoints and grow with one another.

Chad also notes that U.S. schoolchildren are now competing with students worldwide, “In this global marketplace, kids have to be able to have specific skills. I know they’re going to leave my classroom knowing how to research well, which they can use in all aspects of life. They know how to speak well— and now have blogging and writing skills. We’re fostering all these essential skills through Ning to help them succeed in the real world.”

The learning process no longer ends with the 3:00 p.m. school bell; there is a constant ebb and flow of material being absorbed inside and out of the classroom.

Empowering Teachers to Make Curriculum Relevant for Tomorrow

To help students succeed, our curriculum must be relevant for tomorrow. Students need to be prepared for life beyond the academic setting and ready to embrace post-graduate and working lives. To create a curriculum that’s truly forward-looking, teachers need to have the time and space to do research, get inspirations, and share best practices – a luxury that many can’t afford.

One of the biggest benefits of a custom social community is that teachers who share the same passion can easily connect in an open and supportive environment. Conversations and idea sharing extend beyond the boundaries of four walls. On Ning, we are seeing educators connecting with each other, in turn finding the right recipe for integrating new technologies in classroom teaching. A great example is iPads in Education – a place where Ning Creator Sam Gliksman and other educators are laser-focused on exploring the ways the iPad and new technologies can integrate in the classroom. They ask how this technology can best be used to enrich the lives of students, while preparing them for tomorrow. Teachers do this through the community’s bevy of discussion forums, offering tips and best practices, and detailing implementation plans to centerpiece iPad in the classroom to ready students for success today and in the future.

Sam highlights that education is no longer passive, and that students and teachers alike need to be flexible to relearn, at anytime. His community is taking advantage of the opportunity for educators to help out each other by sharing ways to use mobile technology in the classroom to drive student success.

Build a Support and Professional Development System for Teachers

As education reform develops into a twenty-first century curriculum, teachers and school administrators are coming together as members of online communities to nurture a professional support system. By joining the conversation through education-focused Ning communities, teachers are no longer making the education journey solo.

Classroom 2.0 is one such community, attracting a worldwide teaching audience. There, educators become part of the digital dialog, enabling them to share and learn in their teaching success with educators from around the world. Because the conversation is happening within a safe space independent of any specific education entity, the topics covered are limitless, bypassing the control of academic institutions, governing bodies or bureaucracy. Members of Classroom 2.0 act as valuable resources to help guide other educators along pathways of successful teaching methodologies. According to Ning Creator Steve Hargadon, Classroom 2.0’s use of Ning has given teachers previously without a voice an opportunity to be part of the conversation:

“Ning opens the door to all kinds of things that teachers want to do. The word here is passion – teachers are a caring community. They’re people who care about others, getting into education largely because they wanted to make a difference. And for many of them, they had to abandon those passions. They were bound by so many constraints in their lives, that they couldn’t bring themselves to their job. So all of a sudden, Ning and other social media tools provided teachers with an outlet for this passion. Teachers contribute to Classroom 2.0 because they care. This is a huge release of purpose, and purpose-driven passion for educators wanting to make a difference. Ning and Classroom 2.0 give them a voice.”

Give Guidance to Underprivileged Students to Succeed

One purpose of education is to level the playing field, giving all students equal access to learning and content, no matter a student’s background—be it racial, socioeconomic, disability or upbringing. The key is finding a platform that enables educators to help students learn in a dynamic and open environment, and creates opportunities for students to help their peers.

Carlos Jimenez and Zoomz give students an avenue to find the academic support they need and encourage students to become the first generation in their family to attend college. The organization uses Ning to put middle and high school students in touch with recent first-generation college students and graduates, promoting a college-bound culture and a community lending itself to students seeking higher education opportunities after high school. These role model-college students set a positive example for underprivileged youths to follow, counterbalancing the many negative influencers they may encounter as they grow up. Through this trusting social community, children learn how to deal with stress, raise expectations, succeed academically and take control of their destiny.

As acclaimed education reform programs like Teach for America gain more and more traction around the world, educators are also sharing their successes with one another to help students reach academic success. Ning community Teach for All Synergies brings together worldwide active corps members and alumni of the education reform program, Teach For All. According to online organizer, Jacob Kestner, it’s a way for someone in a rural part of Lebanon to benefit from the expertise of teachers in the US/UK. What’s come out of the community is more than just publishing content or best practices – it forges relationships and opens the door to worldwide education success.

In the classroom, education is being reinvented to take advantage of new technologies, online mediums and web applications. For many educators, it takes their own initiative to get the ball rolling – and at Ning, we applaud the educators who have already begun revolutionizing the ways students learn and succeed. We look forward to supporting many more teachers, students and classrooms as these practices are adopted on a wider scale.

About the Author:

Christina Lee – who has written posts on Ning's Official Blog on Social Networking Sites.