The Potential Upside of Social Media

Yesterday, I blogged about the A, B, C’s of handling social media—specifically, how do we can teach and parent a generation that doesn’t remember a time without Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and other such sites. Today and tomorrow, I’d like to dig into the data on how this digital world impacts their skill development and maturity.

Let’s face it—with each new iteration of technology, there are ways to leverage it for good, or become a victim of it, and see it play a destructive role. Below, I offer you some fodder for discussion on the potential upside of social media.

The Potential Upside

Most of us have embraced our 21st century world of technology. We wouldn’t want to be without the gadgets, the conveniences or connections they offer us. We adults are often on our phones, tablets or computers as much as kids are. Let me offer four very real positive outcomes that are possible with social media.

When students grow up in a time of social media:

  1. They have enhanced learning opportunities.

I believe, in general, social media and technology offer entirely new ways to gain access to important information. A portable device can be a classroom. I believe this generation of students will actually learn more from a portable device than they will from a classroom.

  1. They have expanded socialization.

Often, a student who’s typically introverted or shy in a face-to-face class can be talkative and engaged in an on-line setting. Screens help them connect without the fear of social-emotional drawbacks. We find quiet students instantly feel safe to express themselves on a screen and will contribute brilliantly to a discussion.

  1. They can find solutions on their own.

Access to on-line sites can foster a mindset that believes answers can be found without help. Call it a Google Reflex, but it can help kids independently search and discover solutions and information that leads to more discoveries. In the right situation, this autonomy can lead to increased maturity.

  1. They have opportunities for community engagement.

Even in solitude, social media has the ability to beckon kids into the world at large. Exposure to an outside community affords them opportunities to engage. This can broaden their imagination and vision for the future.

Question: How can we capitalize on these positive realities?

How Can We Use This to Teach or Train?

To leverage social media and technology, you can use a variety of methods. Even the least technically savvy instructor can engage students with a screen. While these examples below are elementary in nature, they provide a launching pad for adults to leverage the power of screens and social media to connect with students.

Poll Everywhere

Many teachers utilize “Poll Everywhere,” which allows an instructor to survey responses from students in a classroom, by allowing them to use their phone to communicate with the teacher and everyone else in the room. You’ve likely experienced it at conferences you’ve attended. You can check it out here.

I began seeing this at conferences eight years ago when the hosts used this app from the platform. It enables the facilitator to discover both individual responses and group tendencies, and then report them with bar graphs on a big screen. Even if Poll Everywhere merely helps to set up a discussion, it enables students to use their device and enjoy uploading their thoughts or opinions to the group.


If you’ve been in education for any length of time, you’ve likely seen a classroom set of clickers  somewhere. These student response systems were all the rage for a while. They looked like TV remote controls and were designed as a way that students could respond to a quiz or oral question by pressing a button to indicate the answer that they chose. Each clicker was unique to that student so that the teacher could see who answered what and when.

Today you can experience the future of classroom clickers with a free tool called Plickers. It’s not a high-tech handset with an HD touchscreen, WiFi and a built-in camera. Your students don’t even need a device. Plickers uses paper and the device you already own. Yes, you heard that right. They hold up cards and the teacher uses his or her phone to gather the student responses.

Instagram, Facebook or YouTube

The social media sites most used by students today are Instagram, YouTube and Facebook. Why not employ them…rather than complain about them? I know faculty who utilize YouTube by posting their video lectures on the site, and asking students to watch their content at night—since they’re on YouTube anyway—which frees up their class time for more experiential learning and engaging. It’s the “flipped class.”

Instagram or Facebook can be used for homework projects and classes can form closed groups, where only the students in the class can access them. Since such sites are students’ natural habitat, this is a normal location for them to interact and learn.

What else would you add to this list?

The Potential Upside of Social Media