I may be presenting on social media use in education for a group of administrators in month or so, and a discussion I had on Twitter prompted me to think about why I use social media. An important aspect of any presentation on any tool is addressing the question; why should I use this?

Educators are right to be skeptical of social media use. It is commonly protrayed in the media as frivolous or inane. It can be time consuming. It is certainly the case that many people use social media as a distraction from the world around them. It is hard to convince educators that social media is worth the investment in time.

Given that there are obvious drawbacks to the use of social media, it is reasonable to ask, do the benefits outweigh these drawbacks?

I use social media to collaborate with people from around the world. I curated a presentation on different formative assessment strategies which has been viewed thousands of times. I did not create this presentation myself. I seeded it with 20 strategies for formative assessment, shared a public link tso that people could add to the presentation, and then made sure to keep the formating in place as people added their ideas to the presentation. Once the ideas stopped coming in, I closed off the document for editing, and refined the formating of the document.

I use social media to find out about things in education that are outside of my immediate world. I have heard people say that social media acts as a bit of an echo chamber, where ideas are bounced around and rarely challenged. This may be true to some extent, but if social media is an echo chamber, the typical faculty room is a linen closet by comparison. It is not that there aren’t great ideas that come out of discussions, there absolutely are, it is that the frequency of these ideas is a lot less, and they become stale more quickly.

I use social media to connect with people from around the world, share my project ideas with them, and get feedback on my work. I also get feedback from my colleagues at work on what I do, but educators are busy people. If I share something with my network, not only am I helping contribute to a growing pool of shared knowledge, a few people may help me find the bugs in my work, or even tell me that I’m completely crazy.

I use social media to discover that there are completely different ways of teaching. Teaching is a cultural activity, and to some extent we have a shared cultural knowledge of teaching, but it is also the case that there is a lot of variation within cultures, and between cultures. Cross-pollinating between different cultural understandings of teaching is a bit like preventing in-breeding by marrying someone from a different village.

I use social media to share my personal narrative with my colleagues around the world, and seek advice on how to change the ending.  I try not to forget that at the other end of each of the blogs I read, the tweets I see, and pictures that are shared, are people. These people have their hopes and dreams just the same that I do, and social media can act as a way for people to share their dreams, find other people who have the same dreams, and commiserate over our failures. While I do get lots of emotional support from my family and friends, I often have ideas that I want to discuss that are completely outside of their interest (actually, this is surprisingly common).

I use social media to transcend some of the social hierarchies of our educational society. Through social media, I discuss ideas with mathematics education researchers, professors of education, administrators, authors, and many, many teachers like me. Without social media, it is highly unlikely that any of these conversations would happen. In social media, it is more about your ideas (although not exclusively) than about who you are, what you look like, and where you work.

I use social media to learn when I have time, wherever I have Internet access, and whatever it is I feel like I need to learn. I am self-directed in my learning, and I am not restricted in what I learn to a small number of professional development days per year. Learning new things becomes something I do daily rather than monthly. Instead of having to spend my available time searching for or creating resources, resources come to me (although not always exactly when I need them).

Do these sound like compelling reasons to use social media? Can you offer suggestions for other reasons to use social media?