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Teachers use social networking as teaching tool

Kids go crazy for their favorite social networks and it's typically just that, social. But now there's a new trend. Some teachers are using the latest in technology as a teaching tool.
Kids go crazy for their favorite social networks and it's typically just that, social. But now there's a new trend. Some teachers are using the latest in technology as a teaching tool.

"People learn best when they are in a comfortable setting, a setting that incorporates what they do on a day-to-day basis," says Dr. Monica Rankin, assistant professor of History.

So, last semester Dr. Rankin incorporated Twitter into her college courses. She thinks tweeting 140-character updates makes sense.

"Twitter and social networking allowed the students with the types of technology that they already brought to class their computers, their cell phones, it allowed for them to communicate with me and each other in a very different way," says Dr. Rankin.

For example, she handed out a reading assignment and then during class, students tweeted about what they read allowing for a new type of interactive discussion. In other lecture halls, students are able to reach out to experts, near and far, to expand their knowledge.

"I can post something on Twitter and have a question and someone in the science department will say, 'Hey I know how to do that,'" says Grad student Kim Smith.

At least one teacher has even given tests via Twitter. Other social networks and applications are also making their way to class. Professors are using Facebook to organize functions and Second Life for virtual lessons.

"I'm experimenting right now with having a student set up a Second Life scenario for some particular episode in history that would allow them to do more hands on learning," says Dr. Rankin.

Social networking is being applied more often in higher education, but when it comes to the lower grades, it's a little more complicated.

"There is a lot of concern over privacy issues and there's a lot of schools who block social media on their campuses," says Dr. Rankin.

"The challenges that I see schools grappling with is where on the continuum they're going to open up their network in most school settings networks are pretty locked down," says Tammy Stephens, Consortium for School Networking.

Tammy Stephens helps cities and towns incorporate technology into their schools. Right now the concern is about students having access to sites they shouldn't, and outside users having access to students. She says many schools are working to balance these concerns with the advantages of the web.

"It's opening up the walls of the classroom and making more authentic learning possible," says Stephens.

"I think we're going to see far more of this in the future," says Rankin.

Teachers say they use these social networking sites all the time outside class to plan their lessons and network with others for ideas. and school districts are taking advantage of the social networks to make parents aware of important school announcements like early closings or snow days.

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