This past summer, four Spanish faculty applied for a Learning and Teaching Center summer reading and research grant to support each other in projects related to pedagogical applications of social media in language classes. In this post, we share our goals for this project, what we learned, and what we are planning next. Thank you to Carleton’s LTC for their support!
Social media is part of the daily life of our students. It’s undeniable that this is one of the main ways this generation communicates with each other, accesses information and news, and interacts with the world. With this in mind, this summer we explored pedagogically effective ways of using social media in our Spanish language classrooms. Our goals in this project were to identify uses of social media for helping students to reach learning goals, to build a stronger sense of community among learners, and to connect them with cultures and current issues in the Spanish-speaking world.
We have already been working with social media in various ways in our teaching. For instance, Fernando maximizes the use of podcasts, local and international online newspapers, and search engines in his language classes. Beatriz has been exploring TikTok to promote engagement and second language learning with students. Vera has been collaborating with students on using Instagram as a tool for fostering community among learners across campus and foregrounding social justice topics. Claudia has been reflecting on digital citizenship, ways to use social media effectively and safely, and different learning approaches to promote responsible digital citizenship. These previous experiences with social media and language teaching have generated many questions for us, for instance, regarding social media’s effectiveness as a learning tool, different ways of understanding social media as content and/or as platform for student expression, whether student work should be public- or private-facing, whether the task involving social media should be required or optional, how to effectively engage students in social media voluntarily, how to prepare for the unexpected in online environments that we can’t control, among other considerations.
To help us explore these questions, we read the edited collection Social Media in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice (2018). The contributors argue that, when used effectively, social media can significantly increase student engagement and learning. This being said, the chapters were filled with caveats about the negative effects of using popular platforms that could potentially expose our students. For example, one of the main suggestions from students’ perceptions is that social media tasks should not be required for the course. Therefore, instructors should offer other alternatives for students who do not wish to participate in social media. However, if social media is not a required component of the course, then it is possible that the level of engagement on the specific platform would be low. Additionally, the tasks that could be implemented in a social media platform (and the benefits that come with it) could also be accomplished through the institution’s learning management system, which is safer in terms of privacy. For those main reasons, it seems challenging to incorporate social media as a required component of our courses. However, in order to protect their (and our) privacy, we discussed using a social media-like platform created internally with the help of Carleton ITS. This could be achieved, for instance, through a WordPress “newspaper” where students engage by posting their own written and audiovisual content–exploring different social justice topics in the Spanish-speaking world–and commenting on each other’s work. Vera and Fernando learned about a similar project while at the AATSP Conference in San Juan, Puerto Rico in July.
We also discussed Sardar M. Anwaruddin’s article “Teaching Language, Promoting Social Justice: A Dialogic Approach to Using Social Media” (2019), which dialogues with the emerging field of Critical CALL (Computer Assisted Language Learning). Specifically, Critical CALL aims not only for students to become fluent in the target language, but also for them to be critical thinkers and democratic citizens striving for justice, and this entails helping them cultivate digital literacies and critical thinking when approaching sources of information and opinions (which most students of this generation consume through social media platforms). Social media in language teaching can facilitate creativity and personalization, but this must be accompanied by critical reflection. For instance, language students looking at a Spanish or Latin American public figure’s Tweets could be asked to find evidence to support their claim or to illustrate a contrasting claim. In addition, language students can use social media to have dialogues, not only with like-minded individuals, but also with a wider community with diverse and conflicting viewpoints, so that they can learn to evaluate various perspectives and make informed decisions.
This reading and research circle helped us to think more deeply and critically about using social media in our language teaching, especially in light of current research on the topic. We are grateful for the LTC’s support and look forward to using what we learned to further enrich our teaching and to provide engaging and supportive learning environments for our students.
Anwaruddin, Sardar M. “Teaching Language, Promoting Social Justice: A Dialogic Approach to Using Social Media.” CALICO Journal 36, no. 1 (2019): 1-18.
Gras-Velázquez, Adrián. “Hablando e falando: Our Public Voice in the Media in Second-Language Acquisition Courses.” Presented at the 104th Annual Conference of the American Association of Teachers of Spanish and Portuguese. San Juan, Puerto Rico. July 9-12, 2022.
Information Resources Management Association. Social Media in Education: Breakthroughs in Research and Practice. Hershey, Pennsylvania: IGI Global, 2018.
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