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Using social media and mobile technology in the classroom

Last week I had the pleasure of presenting at an Education Technologies conference, on the topic of using social media tools and mobile technology in teaching and learning. The conference attendees were diverse and included educators (from elementary school through to Universities), information technology officers, school board representatives, and others. The presentation was focused on using the case study of McGill’s St Lawrence Ecosystems course to illustrate advantages of using social media tools and mobile technology in an outdoor classroom, and during the presentation, the audience (situated in groups, around tables) was asked for comments on three questions. Each group provided verbal feedback, and also provided written comments.  These responses are shared, below.

Using tablets for research in the forest.
Using tablets for research in the forest.

Question 1: What are the challenges and opportunities when using social media tools in the classroom?


  • Social media can be used inappropriately, and content may be inappropriate
  • Privacy/ethical issues
  • Student may not be tech savvy
  • Too many choices (of tools)
  • Without WIFI (either because or permissions from parent, or lack of connectivity) social media would be difficult to use
  • Sometimes the software or device doesn’t connect properly, or doesn’t work


  • Social media provides a new learning tool
  • Social media tools can be engaging for the audience, and may increase participation
  • An opportunity to meet students where they are already, and perhaps where they are most comfortable
  • Global access
  • An authentic way to invite guests into the classroom
  • Can be used to solve problems in real time
  • Shy students can have a voice
  • Writing to a broad audience can improve written communication skills
Tablets in a forest!
Tablets in a forest!

Question 2: How might mobile technology facilitate learning? How might it interfere?

Facilitate learning:

  • The world becomes the classroom
  • Instant access to information when you need it
  • Shared learning (outside the class members)
  • Collaboration (knowledge building) and being able to connect with experts
  • Freedom in a new learning context, especially if student is not engaged

Interfere with learning:

  • The technology can become a major distraction (always on Facebook!)
  • Gaining instant access to answers can be problematic (easy way out!). New ideas can come through searching for knowledge without the technology
  • Might take up too much time to learn the technology – takes up time from the core tasks
  • The students and/or instructor may not be tech savvy

We also used a hashtag to discuss these topics over Twitter, with the resulting conversation available here:

Storify on EdTechMobile
Storify on EdTechMobile

Summarizing these insights is a bit of a challenge, but I would argue that there is a lot of overlap among the answers for the two different questions. To me, this shows that the tools and the technology are quite intimately linked, and discussing them together is important. The added value of the mobile technology is that communication, collaboration, and accessing information is available in real-time, wherever the teaching opportunity might be, including outdoor settings.

The other interesting observation about the comments is that there are commonalities across different levels of education. Many of the same challenges and opportunities exist whether the classroom is grade 6, college, or at a post-graduate level. This provides further evidence that ideas and practices around teaching innovation can and should be developed with educators from a range of contexts.

In sum, the hope is that this blog post, and some of these ideas will resonate with a broad audience, and more educators will think about ways to use social media, and mobile technology, as teaching tools.

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