Students Speak Up In Class, Silently, Using the Tools of Social Media


That’s the headline of a fascinating article in the New York Times.

The article reports that

“social media, once kept outside the school door, can entice students who rarely raise a hand to express themselves via a medium they find as natural as breathing.

‘When we have class discussions, I don’t really feel the need to speak up or anything,’ said one [student], Justin Lansink, 17. ‘When you type something down, it’s a lot easier to say what I feel.’

With Twitter and other microblogging platforms, teachers from elementary schools to universities are setting up what is known as a “backchannel” in their classes. The real-time digital streams allow students to comment, pose questions (answered either by one another or the teacher) and shed inhibitions about voicing opinions…

Nicholas Provenzano, an English teacher at Grosse Pointe South High School, outside Detroit, said that in a class of 30, only about 12 usually carried the conversation, but that eight more might pipe up on a backchannel. ‘Another eight kids entering a discussion is huge,’ he noted.”

The article notes that the practice is highly controversial. Many teachers are understandably wary of allowing mobile devices that could distract students from learning.

What do you think?

*Thanks to my friend, Jeff Kaplan, for alerting me to this article!



  1. Karen Mackey on 13.05.2011 at 07:38 (Reply)

    I think this is a good tool, I too find it much easier to express my thoughts this way rather than speaking up

  2. Danielle on 13.05.2011 at 07:40 (Reply)

    Dear Susan,

    I applaud those teachers who allow students to use these computerized channels to voice their opinions. After all, an opinion is an opinion, regardless of whether it is voiced out loud or on computer. And eight more opinions in one classroom is indeed a lot. I applaud the teachers’ initiative. Well done!

    Personally, voicing my opinions on your blog is having the same positive effect on me as it is having on those students. It is helping me to find my voice and learn to speak my mind while gaining newfound trust in people. It does help that all have been polite, curtious and respectful regardless of whether they agreed with me or not and that is what I love about your blog Susan. I actually feel I am making new friends and it feels wonderful. I have you to thank for that Susan.

    If allowing students to voice their opinions on computer can teach them to do so in a respectful manner, then I believe that we will be making inroads and perhaps even preventing on-line bullying and that could lead to the prevention of suicides and homicides.

    And to those teachers who are wary of these computerized gadgets distracting the students and preventing them from learning, I say to these teachers that it is time for them to put aside their prejudices. First of all, they are going to use them anyway, so they might as well use them for the good of the class. If we manage to teach students to be curtious, polite and respectful on-line, it will not only be a great accomplishment in and of itself, it will also be the first step to teaching them to be polite, curtious and respectful face to face with one another, and that, needless to say, needs to be done urgently for the sake of saving lives and preventing school shootings.

    I’m looking forward to reading other opinions which I am sure will be many.

    Have a great one, all!


  3. Danielle on 13.05.2011 at 08:21 (Reply)

    Sorry for the grammar mistake in my previous post. I should have written “Courteous”. My humble apologies.


    1. L.H. on 13.05.2011 at 13:33 (Reply)

      So well said. I agree with you completely!

  4. Tracy on 13.05.2011 at 08:33 (Reply)

    AWESOME! I hope to refer to this practice/article, since this fall I’ll be starting a masters program in Educational Psychology. Way to make room for other learning styles and accommodating both introverts and extroverts. This could work extremely well for kids on the spectrum or with other learning disabilities. Whoo hoo!

  5. Julie on 13.05.2011 at 08:51 (Reply)

    Good lord. It already seems like young people these days can barely tear themselves away from their cell phones long enough to even take notice of their surroundings. I can’t believe schools would encourage this. How can students even pay attention to what’s going on if they’re glued to a keyboard?

    Obviously, I am an introvert, so I sympathize with students who are anxious about participating in class. However, teachers should work to create a comfortable environment for students and then let the class play out naturally. In my opinion it’s much better for an introverted student to listen and take it all in, rather than be glued to social networking in class.

  6. Rob Wright on 13.05.2011 at 09:05 (Reply)

    As much as I could have used this in school, surely this idea is a poor compromise. The goal of social media is to help folk make connections. And now suddenly, we want to put the ‘media’ before the ‘social’ & encourage students to withdraw behind technology instead of finding their voice in the skin they’re in.

    C’mon people, we have to learn how to engage one another with the light behind our eyes, not just our devices…

    Let’s shelve this now, otherwise we’ll lose an entire generation to their avatars, with little idea how to build vibrant communities without the help of a silicon chip…

    My preference? Teaching teachers how to draw students out by helping them spot & draw from their spectrum of talents that can lend strength to any conversational weaknesses they may be laboring under.

    Having said that, the solution – if one’s truly needed – has to be to create a proprietary social media channel, exclusive to the lesson/school. Otherwise, the elephant in the room will most certainly leave our next generation chasing the latest hot topic trending & miss the lesson.

    Hmmm… An exclusive, proprietary social media channel education institutions can brand & self-police, which they can buy off the shelf… Sounds like a business opportunity for someone…

  7. Erica on 13.05.2011 at 18:51 (Reply)

    As a public high school English teacher, and an introvert, I read this article yesterday with curiousity. I then followed the link to the social media site, TodaysMeet, to try to figure out how to use it in class next week.

    Unfortunatly, each kid needs to have their own computer on their desk to be able to participate; TodaysMeet dosen’t work from cell phones. I teach in a rural, high-poverty area. My school simply dosen’t have computers for each kid on their desk in my classroom and most kids don’t have a computer or the internet at home. I could take the kids to the lab, but there isn’t a projector or screen in the lab, and the lab’s not set up for oral discussion. Even though I want to, I can’t figure out the logistics behind making this work.

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