From the moment Paul Zurkowski coined the phrase, the concept and definition of information literacy has engendered much debate. Variously defined and understood as a process, a skill, or a competency (Kapitzke, 2000), our understanding of information literacy shapes and is shaped by an information ecosystem constantly in flux. Although the American Association of School Librarians (AASL) does not offer a specific definition of information literacy, The Information Literacy Competency Standards for Higher Education (ACRL, 2000), define information literacy as “a set of abilities requiring individuals to “recognize when information is needed and have the ability to locate, evaluate, and use effectively the needed information.” While this definition might be sufficient in more passive, read-only information environments, it fails to recognize the more interactive, participatory, and social aspects of information creation and production in today’s new media environments.
In the earliest iterations of the World Wide Web, information was disseminated as one-way communication; in contrast, new media technology and tools provide a platform for interactive user-generated content and sharing in which “knowledge is decentralized, accessible and co-constructed among a broad base of users” (Greenhow et al., 2009). This shift has profound implications for information literacy instruction, and education within a formative and developmental K-12 environment. All the more so, when you consider recent statistics on teen internet use and media engagement. According to a Pew Internet & American Life Report (Lenhart et al., 2007), 93% of teens ages 12-17 are online and social media plays an increasing role in their daily lives. Of these teens, 64% have created content on the Web, and in more recent data (Pew, 2012), 81% of online teens use some form of social media. In terms of overall usage, only email and search engines are used more frequently than social networking sites (Hampton, Goulet, Rainie, & Purcell, 2011).
The implications of participatory web culture and the rise of social media for information literacy instruction and education in a K-12 environment extend beyond the integration of digital tools and technology into curriculum and standards. The real question is this: how are these tools used, and why? In Trusting the Internet: New Approaches to Credibility Tools (Lankes, 2008) R. David Lankes argues that the rise of the social internet among teens ages 12-17 is intrinsically related to the very nature of learning. He places this idea within the context of Gordon Pask’s conversation theory, and further uses this model to explain that “learning and knowledge are gained through the interaction of two agents around ideas as they go back and forth describing an idea until they reach an agreement” (11). In this model, participation has a fundamentally social component, and the creation or production of knowledge is inter-related and critical to understanding and consuming information. Similarly, the Digital Youth Project (Ito et al, 2009) findings on the role and relationship of new media in youth’s lives situate participation in new media environments as embedded in a broader social and cultural ecology. This emphasis on the social construction of knowledge creation and production– and the concomitant decentralization of authority as a result of new media—have caused some (Downes, 2006; Wesch, 2009) to argue that the emergence of Web 2.0 tools for collaboration, dialogue, and participation is not a technological revolution, but a social one. With that in mind, the scale of online environments and the opportunity for conversations amplify and reinforce pre-existing models of learning as a social process with one major exception: the scale and scope of the “cloud of ubiquitous digital information where knowledge is made, not found, and authority is continuously negotiated through discussion and participation” (Wesch, 2008) shifts control of learning into the hands of students.
From an education perspective, social media represents an opportunity to break down the walls of the classroom and leverage more authentic learning environments placing students at the center of the network. In terms of the relationship between new media environments and information literacy, the implication is this:
simple use skills, that is browsing the web, are insufficient to truly understand the role tools play in the credibility of Internet information. Furthermore, if schools and other institutions prevent youth from participating in the underlying infrastructure, they are limiting youth’s ability to resolve the information self-sufficiency paradox, and therefore limiting youth’s ability to learn about, and act upon credibility (Lankes, 2008).
Yet as Frances Jacobson Harris (2008) points out, the conservative nature of contemporary schools as public institutions can inhibit their ability to innovate and respond to a rapidly changing media environment. In light of the role of public education in preparing students for citizenship in a global, open, networked, and rapidly changing digital environment, this paper will explore some of the philosophical and structural barriers to integrating social media into teaching and learning in a high school setting, while also examining existing research on the use of social media in formal and informal learning environments. In conclusion, this paper will offer recommendations for best practices in integrating social media into teaching and learning in a high school setting, provide examples of innovative use already happening in our schools, and consider the role of school library media specialists not only as teachers and advocates for information literacy, but as information professionals who are ideally suited to provide leadership in the successful integration and use of social media for teaching and learning.
Defining the Terms
Rapidly changing digital environments not only cause difficulty in defining information literacy as a concept, but also in assigning terms to describe more participatory, collaborative, and open digital environments. Depending on the time frame in which the research was conducted, and the emphasis of the study, different researchers may use different vocabulary: terms such as new media, web 2.0, and social media may be used to describe similar phenomena. For clarification purposes, new media is a broad term used “to describe a media ecology where more traditional media, such as books, television, and radio, are “converging” with digital media, specifically interactive media and media for social communication” (Ito et al, 2009). In contrast, the phrase “Web 2.0” explicitly places the focus on technology: web 2.0 as a platform. According to Selwyn (2008),
Web 2.0’ is an umbrella term for a host of recent internet applications such as social networking, wikis, folksonomies, virtual societies, blogging, multiplayer online gaming and ‘mash-ups’. Whilst differing in form and function, all these applications share a common characteristic of supporting internet-based interaction between and within groups, which is why the term ‘social software’ is often used to describe web 2.0 tools and services (p.4).
Social media is a subset of web 2.0 that shifts control from platform to user. For the purpose of this paper, “social media is a group of internet-based applications that build on the ideological and technological foundations of Web 2.0, and that allow the creation and exchange of user generated content” (Kaplan & Haenlein, 2010, p. 61). Although this paper explicitly focuses on the use of social media in education, it is difficult to isolate social media applications from the broader information ecology. As a result, some of the research cited in this paper may place greater or lesser emphasis on new media, web 2.0, or social media.
Structural Barriers to Integrating Social Media in Secondary Schools
Although the rise of interactive Web 2.0 tools and social media to facilitate dialogue, exchange, and connect communities of users may be more significant in terms of social and cultural impact, basic access remains the most fundamental barrier to leveraging these tools in U.S. schools. According to a survey conducted in 2013 by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN), only 39% of school districts have enough internet bandwidth to meet their current needs. This is critical not only because increased use of social media requires ever-increasing bandwidth, but because “bandwidth availability determines which online content, applications, and functionality students will be able to use effectively in the classroom” (Fox, C., Waters, J., Fletcher, G., & Levin, D., 2012). This has a ripple effect: teachers won’t integrate technology that doesn’t work effectively into instruction and as a result students won’t have the opportunity to learn about or leverage the use of social media tools in a safe environment.
Even if schools have the bandwidth they need to integrate social media into teaching and learning, many schools outright ban social media or severely restrict its use. In response to concerns about student access to pornography, Congress enacted The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) in 2000, requiring schools that receive discounted internet service through the E-rate program to block or filter student access to harmful materials on the internet. Although the FCC revised its policy on social media in relation to CIPA in 2011—making it clear that schools and libraries do not have to block these kinds of sites—there is still a lot of confusion about what CIPA does and does not require. In addition, many schools tack on acceptable use policies further restricting student access to technology beyond the requirements of the law. According to the latest AASL survey (AASL, 2012), filtering is nearly universal across schools and school libraries, and used much more frequently for social media and entertainment purposes than for news and education consumption. Social networking sites are the most likely content to be filtered (88%), but other social media uses such as video services (including Youtube) (66%), Gaming (69%), and peer-to-peer file sharing (40%) are also restricted.
Research also suggests a need to reframe the debate on social media among educational stakeholders (Kendall-Taylor, Lindland, Mikulak, 2010), and offer teachers more professional development opportunities on how to successfully integrate social media into their classrooms (Bynum, 2012). In a Library Media Connection survey (Dickinson, 2009) polling social media usage among school librarians, less than a third of respondents reported that they teach with these tools, model the use of these tools, or teach about the use of these tools. In this same survey, 48.1% of respondents reported using social media tools for personal use only, and just under 25% reported not using any social media tools at all.
These statistics suggest ambivalence about the role of social media in education, and this conclusion finds support in research conducted by the Frameworks Institute (Kendall-Taylor, Lindland, Mikulak, 2010) analyzing the gap between expert discourse on the use of digital media in education, and the conception of digital media in education held by the American public-at-large. While experts frame the discourse on the role of digital media in terms of greater opportunity for collaboration, increased personalization of learning, and breaking down the false divide between classroom and real-world learning, the general public compartmentalizes education and real-world learning, and perceives digital media as a passive entertainment, luxury, or worse: a potential danger.
No one would suggest that children or teenagers should have unrestricted or unfettered access to social media. Issues surrounding privacy, cyberbullying, sexting, and other inappropriate behavior present real threats, and the scale and scope of online environments can amplify the consequences. But there are several points to consider. A school can provide a safe environment to foster the ethical and responsible use of social media to prepare students to negotiate real-world information environments and participate in public life. If schools do not prepare students for these real-world information environments, then students are left to negotiate these potential dangers on their own. In fact, this is the same point the FCC (2011) made when issuing a Report and Order strengthening earlier internet safety program requirements for schools receiving E-rate funding to include “the education of students regarding appropriate online behavior including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms, and regarding cyberbullying awareness and response” (para. 1). Students can’t effectively learn internet safety without participating in the infrastructure, and teachers can’t model concepts if they are restricted from using these tools. This is an argument for schools to draft less-restrictive and more nuanced guidelines and policies to inform the ethical and responsible use of social media.
The Digital Youth Project and Participation in New Media Environments
In order to respond to the challenges and opportunities presented by new media environments, educators first need to understand and acknowledge the dynamics of how youth interact and participate in these new digital environments. In a three-year ethnographic study, the Digital Youth Project (Ito et al, 2009) examined the participation of young people in new media environments—defined as those most closely associated with youth culture and voice, such as engagement with social networking sites, media fandom, and gaming– in order to answer two primary research questions: How are new media being integrated into youth practices and agendas? And how do these practices change the dynamics of youth-adult negotiations over literacy, learning, and authoritative knowledge? While the Digital Youth Project’s study focuses on the relationship and role of new media in informal learning environments—within the context of young people’s everyday lives—it has major implications for formal education environments.
In the Digital Youth Project (Ito et al, 2009) study, researchers make a distinction between friendship-driven and interest-driven participation online, and further delineate these components into three genres of participation describing different levels of intensity and sophistication of media engagement: hanging out, messing around, and geeking out. In all three genres of participation, “youth create and navigate new forms of expression and rules for social behavior” (p. 1), and “youth are picking up basic social and technological skills they need to fully participate in contemporary society” (p. 2) even when they are simply “hanging out” online. In fact, friendship-driven participation can provide a necessary starting point for more interest driven participation. As the Digital Youth Project study notes, friendship-driven practices such as sharing photos or videos—or setting up a social network profile—can provide an entry into more sophisticated engagement with media production tools. Further, “for most youth, these local friendship-driven networks are their primary source of affiliation, friendship, and romantic partners, and their lives online mirror this local network” (p. 10).
For educators, perhaps the most salient finding of the Digital Youth Project (Ito et. al, 2009) is this: new media environments lower the barriers to self-directed learning. This is an opportunity. As young people engage in more intense, sophisticated and interest-driven participation, they learn “by exploring new interests, tinkering, and “messing around” with new forms of media.” (p. 2). This is an open-ended, experimental, and trial-by-error approach to learning. These networks for learning are peer-driven, and in their most intense form, not only does the individual develop and acquire a level of knowledge and expertise that makes them as likely to produce and distribute knowledge as access it, but “geeking out in many respects erases the traditional markers of status and authority” (p. 2). Adults and educators may not have a role to play in friendship-driven participation motivated by a desire to maintain social connections among peers; but in more interest-driven participation, adults and educators might potentially play the role of mentor or guide, just so long as they respect the autonomy and freedom of young people, and act more as peer than authority figure. This might also require adults and educators to reimagine the potential of peer networks and groups in more positive rather than negative terms.
Because constantly evolving digital landscapes make lifelong learning and transferability of skills an imperative, the linking of self-directed, and personally motivated informal learning environments with more formal and structured institutional learning has the potential to not only harness personal interest as a platform for continuous and subsequent engagement, but also leverage more authentic learning environments outside of the classroom as a way to make education more meaningful and significant to students. The transformative power of social media to bridge formal and informal learning has been highlighted in some research: (Cedefop Report, 2007; Selwyn, 2008). However, the Digital Youth Project (Ito et al, 2009) findings suggest certain tensions between formal, institutional education and learning in new media environments need to be addressed in order to successfully integrate and leverage the opportunities presented by new media. Without resolving these tensions, social media integration into curriculum and standards may serve only to repackage and reinforce traditional models of learning and information literacy, rendering students unprepared for public life, global citizenship, or navigating more complex media environments.
In contrast to new media environments which are open, free-form, and flexible, public schools structure their mission, curriculum, and standards toward achieving pre-defined learning goals and objectives. Not only do predefined learning goals and objectives impose institutional conceptions of what constitutes learning—contradicting the idea of student-centered learning and diminishing student agency in shaping the learning agenda—but also raise questions about the compatibility of traditional institutional learning goals and objectives with the new paradigm of knowledge creation and learning and the self-directed, exploratory, open-ended, and interest driven engagement of young people in new media environments. As Fitzgerald (2012) suggests, there may actually be a tipping point: “; if too much creative control is taken away from the users, this could cause a demotivational effect and make them less inclined to either browse or create content for others to interact with” (p. 205).
The tension between the more prescriptive impulses of public education and the opportunities for participation and engagement found in new media environments also makes assessment problematic: especially in an age of high-stakes testing where teachers are trying to balance institutional pressures demanding accountability while also capitalizing on self-directed, student-led opportunities for engagement. Realistically, this tension can only be resolved in formal education if institutional goals and student learning outcomes are one and the same, and formal learning and informal learning can be assessed within the same space. Public education has an economic imperative: this is obvious in the phrase “College and Career Readiness” attached to the Common Core State Standards. Informal learning encompasses a much broader social and cultural ecology. As the Digital Youth Project (Ito et al, 2009) reminds us norms and standards for participating in informal, peer-driven practices are closely tied to young people’s investment and identities in relation to their own social and cultural worlds: within this context
Not only are literacy standards diverse and culturally specific, but they are constantly changing in tandem with technical changes and a rising bar of cultural sophistication. Following from this, it is problematic to develop a standardized or static set of benchmarks to measure kids’ levels of new media and technical literacy (p. 38).
Following from the myriad of social and cultural contexts in more informal learning environments online and the shifting bar of technological sophistication, authentic assessment might look more like some sort of project-based learning leveraging student choice and personal interest. But even this might be problematic because criteria used to determine student learning are not culturally neutral. Assessors make value judgements—and these judgements privilege certain competencies at the expense of others.
Many of the tensions complicating the integration of new media environments into public education curriculum and standards came to the fore in Christo Sims (2014) ethnographic case study examining the launch of a progressive public middle school in New York. This school was expressly designed to use state-of-the-art digital media and production tools in ways that scholars deemed especially beneficial in order to extend opportunities to all students regardless of race, class, or background. The study takes a broad view of this digital intervention. But it is interesting to note that the use of social media was not considered a beneficial use, nor did students have a voice in determining which uses of digital media were legitimate. Although the school encouraged the creation and production of user-generated content such as game design, animation, 3D modeling, and computer programming, the school essentially imposed control over these uses, asserting authority over student learning outcomes. As a result, the school ignored the shifting social and cultural contexts and dimensions of knowledge creation and production, and their attempt to use digital media to reform public education in inclusive ways ultimately failed. Although students did acquire useful technological skills, the intervention did not lead to increased participation in activities considered beneficial or legitimate.
Research on Web 2.0 and Social Media Applications in the Classroom
In looking at how formal, educational institutions have integrated Web 2.0 tools and social media applications in the classroom, some scholars (Dunaway, 2011; Hicks & Graber, 2010) suggest an inordinate focus on technology constrains our definition of information literacy, and limits our ability to leverage greater sociological and pedagogical changes as a result of the new information paradigm of knowledge creation and learning. In this view, technology is a catalyst reshaping and helping us redefine social norms, values, literacies, and expectations, but students are the central actors. This hyper-focus on technology to the detriment of leveraging greater sociological and pedagogical opportunities is evident in Sims’ (2014) ethnographic study conducted at the Downtown School for Design, Media, and Technology.
In a paper written on Web 2.0 use in higher education, McLoughlin and Lee (2008) note a gap between enacted and espoused pedagogies of teachers, both face-to-face and in online environments. On one hand, many teachers espouse student-centered and constructivist approaches to learning. But on the other hand, these same teachers deliver e-content in ways that repackage and reinforce traditional models of learning that position students as information consumer. McLoughlin and Lee further argue that tools such as wikis, blogs, social networking sites, and social media applications have the potential to make student-centered learning a reality because appropriate use of these tools supports and encourages informal conversation, dialogue, collaborative content generation, and the sharing of knowledge.
Research attempting to provide a holistic view of social media applications and adoption for instructional purposes in a K-12 setting are non-existent. However, research and a review of the literature does suggest several ways in which social media applications have been used to inform information literacy instruction more generally. Luo (2009) used surveys and semi-structured interviews to examine the adoption of Web 2.0 tools in information literacy instruction. The methodology of this study likely biased the sample toward responses from academic librarians because it used members from an ILI listserv sponsored by the ACRL, although 2% of respondents were involved in information literacy instruction within a high school setting. This study found that the vast majority of IL instructors used Web 2.0 tools to deliver content, while a smaller number used these tools to demonstrate concepts. In follow-up interviews, respondents cited convenience, personal enthusiasm, and relevance to students as primary reasons to use Web 2.0 tools in IL instruction. In conclusion, Luo writes: “Web 2.0 offers an effective platform for librarians to organize and manage course material, to enhance interaction and collaboration in class, and to help students master IL concepts and skills” (p. 39).
Because Luo’s (2009) study attempted to determine whether Web 2.0 tools were effective instructional vehicles—and the study examined the issue through the lens of pedagogy, the study is inevitably biased toward pedagogy as currently practiced. Luo offers the ACRL definition of information literacy as the primary determinant shaping information literacy instruction. In the study, Web 2.0 tools are adopted because their use is pervasive in students’ everyday life, not because these tools are forcing information literacy instructors to expand the definition of information literacy to account for the new information and learning paradigm positioning students as knowledge creators or active participants in shaping their own learning agenda. This type of approach seems less likely to motivate students to extend their learning beyond the classroom or prepare students for complex information environments. Using Web 2.0 tools to deliver content and demonstrate concepts might constitute effective use if students are passive information consumers. But it also makes Web 2.0 tools adapt to the traditional parameters of formal, institution learning rather than the other way around.
Two studies suggest a framework for using social media to enhance student-centered learning and promote engagement. In the first, Jimoyiannis and Angelaina (2012) conducted an empirical study involving 21 K-9 students from two classes engaged in a project-based learning activity. The authors of the study designed an educational blog to support information and communication technology (ICT) curriculum in a lower secondary school in Greece and used Community of Inquiry (CoI) and Social Network Analysis (SNA) in order to investigate students’ engagement, their contribution, and the roles undertaken in the blog to support reflective dialogue, collaborative learning and social construction of knowledge” (p. 223). Although the blog-based learning activity was obligatory, the instructional design incorporated flexibility—it had a blended learning structure with classroom, face-to-face, and individual and collaborative work online—and offered students a shared responsibility in teaching and greater autonomy. Students were given the power of choice in determining a subject they would all collaborate and collectively investigate while developing and applying ICT literacy skills.
The COI model employed in this research measures three key components of educational experience: social presence, teaching presence and cognitive presence. But the definition of teaching presence applies to the students rather than the teachers. The teacher acts more like a facilitator of discourse or co-participant– and as learning progresses, students should demonstrate a greater responsibility for teaching presence. This approach leverages the power of peer networks to construct knowledge. SNA analysis measures this network: “SNA provides a set of procedures and formulas that measure and give insight into the various roles, groupings, and power structures within a given network” (p. 225). It is interesting to note that the authors of this study have a radically different idea of successful learning outcomes: “each of these predefined activities had a clear goal, which was to support students’ interaction, collaboration, and also their presence in the blog” (p. 226).
If high-stakes tests and traditional learning assessments do not reflect our current information paradigm or are irrelevant in dynamic new media environments, then this study presents evidence of the potential usefulness of a kind of student-centered measure of learning outcomes in digital environments, based on participation and engagement. In light of increased awareness and focus on the social construction of knowledge, participation and engagement with social media provides a foundation for lifelong learning; it also helps determine credibility, leverages the power of peer networks, and is a logical goal of education in a personalized, individual and authentic sense. Overall, this study demonstrates that educational blogs can be effective tools toward this purpose—albeit with a few gaps in participation raising questions about the best way to motivate all students, social media or not.
In another study, Castro (2012) utilized design-based research to explore how the dynamics of learning and teaching art shift through the use of social media. Fifteen students in grades 9-12 and four art teachers participated in a ten-week long art project which used the open-source social media platform Elgg to set up an invitation-only password-protected online community. In contrast to the previous study (Jimoyiannis & Angelaina, 2012), the art project was designed as an extra-curricular activity. This is a key piece of information for several reasons. For starters, it minimizes the participation problem because it offers students greater control over their learning: students who participated in the project chose to be there. Second, the extra-curricular nature of the project means that traditional assessment is not an issue: there are no pre-defined learning goals, and student learning is allowed to proceed as it would in an informal learning environment—with guidance and a few structural constraints from the teacher-participants. In fact, Castro suggests a need to expand the definition of teacher “to include images, objects, events, encounters, and so on. If learning exists at multiple scales, from cellular to cultural, then so does teaching” (p. 165).
According to Castro (2012), The curricular design for this study aimed to create both a space and a process where each individual’s local knowledge could interact, and where ideas could bounce up against one another” (p. 158). Although the week one instructional prompt/project was pre-defined, the structure of the project was open-ended, and in the following weeks, incorporated prior responses, discussion, and dialogue to shape the direction of the inquiry project. Participants both students and art teachers—“described a shift in learning one that is more socially influenced, asynchronous, dynamic, and reciprocal (p. 153). Most of the participants also suggested that they learned from comparing differences in the videos, images, blog posts, and discussions among the collective on the site—a finding in line with the constructivist theory of cognitive dissonance. Although the sample size of this study is quite small, the findings also suggest social media may amplify or enhance the inquiry process because anytime, anywhere access to social media enables students to extend the inquiry process beyond classroom walls.
In February of 2015, the ACRL (2015) released a new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education. This new document is not without its critics (Beilin, 2015), and although this framework does not specifically address information literacy in high schools, it will resonate and have an impact on the field of information literacy as a whole. Influenced by the concept of metaliteracy, “which offers a renewed vision of information literacy as an overarching set of abilities in which students are consumers and creators of information who can participate successfully in collaborative spaces” (para. 4), the Framework offers a revised definition: information literacy is the set of integrated abilities encompassing the reflective discovery of information, the understanding of how information is produced and valued, and the use of information in creating new knowledge and participating ethically in communities of learning” (para. 6). The ACRL further explains: The Framework offered here is called a framework intentionally because it is based on a cluster of interconnected core concepts, with flexible options for implementation, rather than on a set of standards, learning outcomes, or any prescriptive enumeration of skills” (para. 2). Whether the new Framework is perfect or not, it does offer a definition of information literacy capable of supporting and acknowledging learning and the construction of knowledge as a social process. The option to draft a framework rather than a new set of standards also suggests a revision of teacher-student dynamics, along with greater autonomy and responsibility for students. Within this context, there is a role and opportunity to leverage social media to not only engage students, but enhance and improve constructivist student-centered learning goals, and connect learning to meaningful real-world experience.
Although the Common Core State Standards (National Governors Association Center for Best Practices, Council of Chief State School Officers, 2010) still rely on high-stakes, standardized tests to assess student learning, they do offer a tacit acknowledgement that contemporary schools need to give students greater control over their own learning, and expand the definition of successful student learning outcomes. This is evident in the phrase “college and career readiness.” It is also evident in the emphasis placed on independent reading throughout the standards, a development based on “evidence that current standards, curriculum, and instructional practice have not done enough to foster the independent reading of complex texts so crucial for college and career readiness, particularly in the case of informational texts (Appendix A, p.3). In effect these revised expectations shift the goalpost from credential on a test to application of knowledge outside of classroom walls. These shifts may not be sufficient to completely resolve the tension between institutional accountability and the open, collaborative, student-led, exploratory mode of self-directed learning found in new media environments, but it certainly helps build a case for social media use in the classroom. Based on the new Framework for Information Literacy for Higher Education and the expanded and revised definition of student learning outcomes found in the Common Core State Standards, it seems likely that the use of social media in contemporary classrooms will only increase in the coming years.
If contemporary schools truly want to prepare students for 21st century global citizenship, then they need to find a better balance between institutional accountability, and student autonomy. Applying what we know of student learning in informal, interest-driven, peer-driven, new media environments to formal, institutional education, this means offering students greater control over learning and more choice in what they learn, and how they learn. Rather than a one-size-fits-all standardized test, a more personalized, learner-centered assessment might take the form of some type of project-based learning. Independent reading can’t happen without student engagement. In this sense, student engagement is a logical goal of formal education allowing students to apply their knowledge across formal, informal, and non-formal contexts. As a result, schools may need to offer more elective and extra-curricular activities to meet student needs, and redefine the teacher-student relationship so that teachers support and enable learning but they do not ultimately control it. In this context, social media presents another tool in the toolbox—another communication channel that teachers and students can use to capitalize on learning as a social process, and connect in-school and out-of-school learning in meaningful ways.
School library media specialists are in a perfect position to act as matchmaker, connecting teachers and students with the perfect social media tool to match the particular learning context. It may seem counterintuitive given budget cuts to school library programs in recent years (AASL, 2013), but school librarians may be in an ideal position to provide leadership in successfully leveraging and integrating social media in contemporary schools. As Joyce Valenza (2011) reminds us, access to social media tools is an intellectual freedom issue, and if these tools are blocked in your school, then you need to get them unblocked. Because there is only an indirect link between school library programs and student achievement on standardized tests, school library media specialists are not committed to the current testing climate the way some administrators are, and they do not suffer the same pressure to perform that classroom teachers do. As generalists, the job of school library media specialists is to facilitate conversations (Lankes, 2012). This means taking a leadership role to inform and educate teachers on the range and variety of social media tools to enhance and facilitate learning: social media is not a synonym for commercial social networking sites like Facebook or Twitter. The social media landscape is constantly evolving and expanding and there are many applications—some even created specifically for education or K-12 students. School library media specialists may also be in a position to put these tools into the hands of students directly, or collaborate with other community organizations or community members to further connect student interests with the resources
There are a host of innovative and exciting uses of social media already taking place in our classrooms. From collaborating on Google Drive to crowd-source and publish a work of fiction as part of the 11-12th and 12th grade curriculum in Jay Rehak’s English language arts classroom at Chicago’s Whitney Youth Magnet High School (Harris, 2014), to Silvia Rosenthal Tolisano’s Around the World with 80 Projects Project connecting her students at the private, K-8 Martin J. Gottlieb Day School in Jacksonville, Fla. with peers from around the globe (Davis, 2010), to the use of resources such as Second Life, Voicethread, Ning, Youtube, Skype, and even Twitter. These creative and innovative uses highlight not only the potential of these tools to enhance learning and prepare students for 21st century digital citizenship, but raise questions about increasing a participation gap between students who have the opportunity to leverage social media tools in a classroom setting, and those who do not. As a result, more research similar to Christo Sims’ (2014) ethnographic approach to the subject of digital interventions in public schools seems necessary. Rather than focusing on the democratic appeal and opportunities afforded by the technology, an interdisciplinary approach informed by our knowledge of sociology and cultural studies might lead to more effective use of digital tools to address the problem of social and economic inequality. Similarly, looking at social media use in the classroom not just as a technological phenomenon, but through the lens of the multiple social and cultural contexts of learning might empower students to leverage these tools for lifelong learning. Much research is needed to identify the sociological, cultural, technological, and pedagogical changes to make this ideal a reality.
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