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Author: Michelle Manno

Digital Footprints: Teaching Social Media Literacy

Guest post by Michael W. Niehoff

Today’s 21st century learning is focused on students becoming college and career ready. This readiness is defined as the level of prep needed for students to enroll and succeed in credit-bearing courses in college. Essentially, being college and career ready is being equipped with the skills needed to succeed outside of the K-12 classroom. Beyond these skills, there are new literacies emerging that are essential in preparing for the “real” world. Among these new literacies is social media literacy, a skill set that is reshaping how universities and employers view applicants, new hires, class curricula and business structures.

Social Media in Application Processes

In a recent study of college admissions officers, Kaplan Test Prep found that admissions offices’ use of social media has had a significant impact on students’ college and career plans. The study surveyed admissions officers of 500 of the top colleges and universities in the United States. According to the study, 27 percent of college admissions officers said they have Googled prospective students and 26 percent of respondents had looked up applicants on Facebook. Of those officers, 35 percent said they found something that negatively impacted an applicant’s admission status.

Employers have joined in as well. CareerBuilder conducted an employee recruiter survey that found 43 of respondents used social media to screen applicants. Additionally, 51 percent of employers who research prospective employees on social media found information that negatively impacted the hiring process.

Social Media in the Classroom

Employment experts are recognizing the power of social media, and are considering social media profiles to be the 21st century resume. Due to the increase of data and research supporting the importance of social media literacy, educators across the nation are working to incorporate social media training in the classroom, viewing social media skills as a necessary literacy component for students to be college and career ready.

I spoke with Professor Julie Smith teaches media literacy at Southern Illinois University and Webster University. She leads workshops for teachers and parent groups on social media literacy, and also teaches students on the importance of leaving a positive digital footprint.

“Social media literacy is the most important thing we can teach our kids,” Smith noted. “It involves critical thinking, content curation, and self-image.”

Smith recently built a curriculum for 1,500 middle school students that focuses on social media literacy: “I love the idea of social media being viewed by students, parents and educators as part of their digital portfolio. After all, ‘create’ is at the top of Bloom’s Taxonomy – most of what’s on social media is under-generated content.”

Students and Social Media

California high school senior Dakota Kudra said she is well aware of her digital footprint and how it impacts her reputation with future employers and college admission officials. “I am a media student so I like to share a lot of the videos I create,” said Kudra. “Social media is a great tool for me to get my work out there and show others that I am passionate in what I do and can help be positive to others.”

Additionally, UC Santa Cruz student Destiny Anger recently experienced the power and connectivity of social media last year while organizing her high school senior project. Anger partnered with Helping Orphans Worldwide on a local awareness project. She was immediately connected to key organizational leaders in New York through a video she posted on her personal Facebook. The video spread to her school’s Facebook page, and then onto Helping Orphans Worldwide’s Facebook page. With that reach, she was able to secure a global audience and extend her professional learning network (PLN) far beyond the walls of her high school and local community.

“The communication was so easy, and so widespread, with the help of social media,” said Anger. “It was a feeling not every high schooler gets the privilege of having. [Social media] took the entire project to a new level and left me feeling confident and ultimately more important.”

Bringing Social Media School-Wide

In addition to teachers being focused on social media literacy, some schools have also accepted the challenge of building these skills into their school-wide curriculum. Daniel Ching, the principal of Minarets High School in O’Neals, CA, focuses on a number of technology literacies — including social media — during both the first week of school as well as any continued education courses throughout the year. One example is teaching social media recognition and modeling in the high school’s English classes.

“We have to teach students how to harness the power of social media by connecting them with professionals, teaching them to organize events and promote them, and even starting businesses,” said Ching. “Students can start their professional lives while still in high school…that is a powerful thing.”

Michael W. Niehoff is a writer for the USC Rossier School of Education’s online teaching degree‘s blog community. He has been an educator, writer, education reform advocate and student advocate for 25 years. His areas of professional interest is in project-based education and student leadership opportunities. You can follow him on Twitter @mwniehoff

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