Tweeters' lessons must be welcomed in class

4th June 2010 at 01:00

So this was the year when the wacky world of social media finally matured and made an impact on something that really matters. If, like me, you have children in their late teens who recently voted for the first time, and if, like me, they allow you into that online world they inhabit - Facebook, Twitter and YouTube - you can't help but be impressed by tens of thousands of young people talking politics.

It's a scary thing to be one of many hundreds of my children's "friends", but I guess I should be thankful that they allow me into that space where they live their lives in the glare of the social media spotlight. Yes, I have those cringe-making moments when I shudder to see last night's status update; on the other hand, it really is extraordinary to watch and join several A-level history students debate the role of the tank in transforming the First World War.

Looking at the rich, informal learning taking place, I ask myself how this is reflected in more formal learning environments. The frantic online activity of the past few weeks has taught me one thing: social media is here to stay and is the way young people communicate. Communication and learning are coterminous and, as teachers, we should look to the young people we work with to understand how we can harness the technologies they own and use.

During the general election, MPs and prospective MPs tweeted, created Facebook pages and launched their online identities. All the television channels looked to the "noise" on Twitter to gauge immediate reactions to the televised debates, with some social media stories revolving around parliamentary candidates making fools of themselves through their messages. Nevertheless, it is surprising that only 31 per cent of the Institute for Learning's (IfL) members say they embed social media regularly in their teaching. How does this measure up to almost all of the young people they work with having Facebook accounts?

Confidence in using social media is highest among those members of the IfL who are below the age of 30, and the average age on entry for a further education teacher or trainer is 38. Does this mean that we have at least eight years to wait before teachers and trainers, on balance, are as confident in the use of new technologies as their learners?

Of course not. There are many and varied examples of excellence in the use of technology to support learning, evidenced through IfL's sampling of its members' continuing professional development. But one in three of our members tells us that they do not have the skills or confidence they need to meet their learners' needs when it comes to technology.

How many colleges and learning providers block Facebook through their IT policy? How many teachers frown on tweeting or ask their learners to turn off their mobile phones during lessons? How many see technology as disruptive when, in fact, the immediacy of communication is an essential element in learning?

Change was an important theme for the three main political party leaders in their televised debates, and the 2010 general election certainly delivered that. This was also the year when social media matured and became important. Let's make it important for learning, too.

Lee Davies, Deputy chief executive, Institute for Learning.

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