Always on (them): Digital and Social Media use in Education

On Thursday we had the pleasure of attending a conference on Digital and Social Media use in Education, a welcome chance to get some fresh ideas to play around with over the Summer and think about implementing in the year to come.

The event was held at the University of the West of Scotland and it was lovely to see lots of familiar faces both speaking and in the audience. It was also nice to see the range of organisations present all having a dialogue about how they are currently supporting young people but also having the recognition that we need to continue to do more.

There is no doubt that young people’s lives are steeped in social media and in his introduction Professor David McGillivray described how social media functions as a ‘cultural mindset’. Many of the speakers talked about the need to actively work with young people on the benefits and potential dangers of social media and how to both empower and support young people, a message we are always trying to convey.

Jim Fanning, Senior Education Officer from Education Scotland spoke about the need for schools to really engage with safety and the responsible use of the internet and that this runs throughout the Scottish curriculum in Technologies, Literacy and Health and Wellbeing. He showed a document that neither of us were familiar with: Guidance on developing policies to promote the safe and responsible use of mobile technology in schools. This seems like a key document that every school should be looking at and engaging with but we wonder how many are even aware it exists. He also suggested that schools could be using the 360 Degree Safe Self Review Tool to look at current practice and think  about whether changes need to be made to help ensure staff are equipped to support young people.

via @johnjohnston
via @johnjohnston

Two experienced teachers spoke about positive experiences of social media use in education. John Johnston from North Lanarkshire spoke about the success he’s had with young people blogging and the impact that was had from connecting with the outside world. John made the point that we should consider whether our school’s use of social media was as a broadcast system or a conversation. He also posed a perhaps discomfiting question around whether we give learners themselves enough ownership over their use of social media, or if it is curated by adults on their ‘behalf’.  He talked about the pupils learning from their mistakes and his belief that the way to approach any new technology was about ‘practice and reflection’ which Athole McLauchlan from Bearsden Primary also picked up on.

Athole discussed the success his school has had with Class Dojo and Yammer (available within Glow). Class Dojo is being used to build positive relationships with the community within the school and allow the school to instantly share effective learning with parents. Lots of classes round the world are now using Class Dojo but this was interesting as it was a whole school approach and engagement with homes was so high. As only parents can get access, it gives security to schools not wanting to put pupils’ faces on Twitter. Yammer, a free Microsoft tool on Glow which can be accessed by both pupils and teachers,  has been effectively adopted by Athole’s pupils who are using it to create surveys, chat, learn and even on occasion, do homework! We’ll return to the use of Yammer in Scottish education over the next few weeks.

alway on 1And, as usual, we listened on in envy as Malcolm Wilson from Falkirk talked about the well embedded use of social media in Falkirk. It is refreshing to hear about their ‘can do’ attitude and the collaboration that is ongoing between schools. He gave useful advice for schools getting negative feedback or challenge from parents via a Facebook page or Twitter. His advice is to never engage with it and instead always invite the concerned party into school to discuss the matter further if they wish. This invitation should be repeated as necessary in ‘broken record’ style, and avoids confrontation in the online space.  Malcolm encourages public facing (rather than locked) school Twitter accounts to encourage transparency and the ability to engage with others. Both John and Malcom made us think more deeply about Twitter use in schools and the fact that, although lots of schools around Scotland have twitter accounts, most of them are using them to spread out information: a one sided approach rather than actually discussing and collaborating with parents and the community. For more information, you can find Malcolm’s presentation here, and John’s here.

Speakers from the YMCA, Young Scot and The Aye Mind Project made it clear that this is not just a school focus – work is going on in a variety of forms to support young people and ensure their rights are met. YMCA are doing Digital Streetwork and upskilling young people who are then passing on their skills to others which is an approach advocated in HGIOS4. Young Scot are trying to educate on the rights of a child in a digital age with the 5Rights framework , while Dr Trevor Lakey from the Aye Mind  project spoke about the free resources available to support mental health and wellbeing in young people.

At the end of a really interesting day, it was clear that everyone present was a believer but that no one was without their concerns. There were many questions raised about access, equity of use,  and the uncertainty around exactly what impact social media has on young people. However, it is clear that we do need to keep trying, sharing and reflecting on this to best support Scotland’s young learners in a world where social media engagement is, without a doubt, a fact of life for most.







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