Social networking seems to be absolutely everywhere. Students these days can't seem to go five minutes without checking their Facebook or Twitter streams. Harnessing this technology can be difficult for teachers, especially because they didn't grow up with it themselves, but it can be a necessary tool for success in the classroom. From simply sharing information to creating projects using these sites, social networking in the classroom is powerful and should be used.
Students are signing into their Facebook and Twitter accounts more than they're checking their e-mail, and definitely more than they're checking the school website. If you can create an account that your students can follow, you can share information and important reminders with them quickly, and you can be sure they're getting the message.
Facebook and Twitter allow you to upload videos, link to documents, and share other great resources with your students. They're checking it already, so why not add a bit of education to your students' streams? If they need help in doing their homework, they can go to your page and find a video tutorial you've uploaded. If they need an extra reminder to study for a big test, they'll get it by looking at your updates or checking a message from you. If they have a question that isn't answered on the site, they can easily tweet you on Twitter or message you on Facebook. With all the mobile apps available, this can be useful for students without computers or teachers who can't stay logged in to their e-mail all the time.
Using Twitter and Facebook to create projects can be really fun, and can require more critical thinking than other projects or even writing a paper. For English teachers, a favorite project is to have the students create a Facebook or Twitter profile of a character in a book. This can be a great group project, too, if each student in the group takes a different character and creates different profiles. Then, they can friend or follow each other and comment or respond to the updates. This shows they truly understand the characters and their use of language.
This project can be easily adapted for history, as well, by having the students choose an important historical figure they have studied in class and doing the same thing. For science, math or other subjects, you can use this as a research project for students to research famous scientists or mathematicians and create their profiles.
As a teacher, you will definitely want to use caution when employing social networking. If you have a personal Facebook or Twitter account, you will want to think about creating an account just for teaching and keeping it separate. Your students definitely do not need to know about your personal life, and keeping that separate can be very important to not blur lines in the teacher-student relationship.
You will also want to be cautious with students who want to friend or follow you. If you find out information about them that a school counselor should know, you may want to have a policy in place for contacting someone immediately. It's a good idea to speak with your principal or school counselor or a social worker before starting anything like this. You may also want to have your students and their guardians sign an Internet acceptable use policy. There are many of these online that teachers have used if you do an Internet search. This ensures that they know what is expected of them and what will happen if they break the rules.