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Tuesday, April 19, 2011

The Benefits of Social Media for Teachers

Developing an online PLN and the benefits of doing so is something that I've written about more than a handful of times over the last couple of years. My favorite post on the topic is this one in which my PLN gave me a great assist when one of my lesson plans was falling flat on its face. I realize that not everyone has the time I have to participate in social media and I know that participating in online communities isn't something everyone enjoys. Even if you don't have the time or aren't comfortable posting in online communities, you can still benefit from having familiarity with social media.

What is social media?
The term social media has come to be used in many ways, but generally it refers to websites that allow their users to share information about themselves. This information could be something as simple as link to a new website that you've found or as deep and complex as a blog post explaining the US federal budget. For this post we'll keep it simple and talk about the simpler uses of social media; Twitter and social bookmarking services.

Benefiting from Twitter without joining Twitter.
What is Twitter? Rather than reinventing the wheel, I'll let Common Craft explain. Watch the video below.


Now that you know what Twitter is, let's talk about how you can benefit from it without joining. Everyday there are millions of people sharing millions of links on Twitter. If you don't join Twitter you can still read these Tweets, provided the Tweets weren't protected by users. Most people don't protect their Tweets from public view so you can read them even if you're not a Twitter member. Let's say you're a social studies teacher looking to find the latest information about unrest in the Middle East, you could go to your favorite news website and do a search there. Or you could go to search.Twitter.com and find not only news stories, but also comments ,pictures, and videos from people that are there on the ground. This is exactly how I found fantastic video footage from Egypt to share in my Global Identity course. To learn more about Twitter search, watch the video below.


Social Bookmarking
The most clear-cut reason why you should be using a social bookmarking service (also referred to as an online bookmarking service) is that all of your bookmarks are saved online so that you can access them from any computer anywhere. By using a social bookmarking service you don't have to worry about losing your bookmarks if you get a new computer or your existing computer is re-imaged (I'm talking to you MLTI computer users).

Social bookmarking services give you the option to make your bookmarks public or private. Some services also allow you to make some of your bookmarks public while keeping others private. If you're willing to make your bookmarks public you can help others learn from your online discoveries. For example, let's say you've found a bunch of great websites for mathematics skills practice and labeled them as such, by making those bookmarks public you're allowing other teachers, parents, and students to see that you think those sites can be useful for mathematics practice. Most social bookmarking sites keep track of how many times a particular link is publicly bookmarked, the more a site is bookmarked the higher it appears in search results in that service's search engine. The next time you're looking for a resource for a lesson plan, rather than doing a Google search try searching a social bookmarking site to see what other teachers have found on the same topic. If you want to start using a social bookmarking service, give Diigo, Delicious, or Google Bookmarks a try.

Just in case I didn't explain the benefits of social bookmarking clearly enough, here's Common Craft's explanation.