With the latest wave of social media tools, keeping in touch with students gets easier.
Just as teachers and administrators are getting their minds around Twitter and Facebook, there's a host of new social media tools emerging that can help them connect with students, both in and out of the classroom. Stephanie Hirsch, a high school math teacher in Plano, Texas, uses the district's MyPad site as a safe space to interact with students without using e-mail. She can answer their questions and have online chats with them, one-on-one or in groups. When students are unable to come to school early or stay late, she can use MyPad to hold virtual office hours.
Other handy collaborative tools that teachers like Hirsch are using include SimpleMeet.me, TodaysMeet, Poll Everywhere, Scribblar, and Socrative.
"Having access to a shared, collaborative tool makes the learning experience that much deeper," says Jim Hirsch, associate superintendent for academic and technology services for Plano ISD (and, as it happens, Stephanie's father).
With Socrative, for example, students can use their smartphones to collaborate on assignments (great on field trips) or to take quizzes. "It streamlined the routine I already had," says Kristina Buenafe, a high school math teacher at Quincy Upper School in Boston. Buenafe loves how the site makes grading easier by "collecting all student information and putting it in one place."
Other favorite tools are Scribblar, which is basically an online whiteboard outfitted with numerous content-editing tools, allowing students to create fun, interactive projects, and TodaysMeet and SimpleMeet.me, which provide easy-to-set-up, private chat spaces.
Administrators can begin to solve the social media puzzle by embracing some of these tools, says Jim Hirsch. "I see a lot of districts with great ideas but no long-term plan that sustains itself."
For those teachers who are hesitant about integrating social media into their classrooms, says Stephanie Hirsch, it's a matter of training themselves to do something new-and seeing how beneficial these tools are. "They're how students learn now. And it's how they want to learn. We've got to embrace that."