Using Social Media for Teaching English is something that I have had on my mind for some time. Unfortunately, as I am only teaching younger students, there is no way for me to effectively test any of the stuff that I hear. Additionally, living and working in China where half the internet is blocked, does not make it any easier. I am using a VPN service myself, but I cannot ask all of my students to pay for a service like this, just because I want to use social media to connect with them. But hey, there is one idea if I was ever to start a school of my own, provide a VPN service to my students, and let them access the outside world for information, knowledge, learning and connecting. “Note to self, get a partnership deal with Astrill … ”

According to an article written on USA Today by Jonathan Dame, especially more professors at college level and higher education institutions in America are starting to use social media more in their classrooms, everything from Facebook to Twitter and other social applications like them. The article especially emphasizes how Twitter can be used to bring outside sources into the classroom using Hash-tags (#), something that, in a similar fashion, could be interesting for the purpose of teaching English. What if you created an online twitter community where English learners could meet each other, and talk about their countries, cultures, hobbies etc?. I am sure someone has done this already, I just haven’t seen it, and if not, someone should!

Jess Fee, over on Mashable.com posted an article earlier about 7 ways Teachers use social media in the classroom. Inside the article is also a link to “The Teacher’s Guide to Social Media“, written by Eric Larson that gives a lot of good insight on useful ways to utilize social media, some of the do’s and dont’s. The main article tells you to

Encourage students to share work socially

something that may or may not be a good idea in terms of making sure that students do their own homework. But in today’s world where we focus increasingly on being able to work in groups, rather than as individuals, sharing your work socially with others could, at the same time, give you new perspectives on your work as well as give you a chance to provide constructive peer feedback to others. There is always the risk of one student copying another, but they were doing this long before social media came along.

Another good example is the use of the online software Edmodo. A cloud-based classroom solution that I have also been looking into myself. Again, not that I could use it for any of my classes, but I wish I could. Edmodo and Blackboard are the two top contenders for online classrooms that I have seen so far, that allow you to make sort of Social Media Site for Education and Learning, blending the social features we know from Facebook and Twitter with the elements of Grading and assigning homework and providing student-teacher-parent communication. A strong positive note on these, is that teachers and students can keep their personal Facebook and twitter profiles personal and private and have these accounts for school purposes only.

Because I live and teach in China, I have mostly made use of the country’s most prevailing social network QQ and Qzone. QQ is basically the Chinese version of the recently deceased MSN messenger and Qzone is the social media network attached to the QQ messenger. Based on your messenger profile, you also have an account where you can post, upload pictures and so on. I have created groups for some of my Middle School grade classes that I have used to keep in touch with students. Nothing too fancy though, just keeping in touch, being able to help them outside of class as well as remind them of homework and what to bring for classes. It worked reasonably well, but I have not had a chance to develop this, as most of my students now are between 6 and 8 years old.

The Chinese messenger QQ comes in English in an International version, making it an ideal tool for expats in China wanting to stay in touch with Chinese friends and since it is now in English it many people in the west have started to embrace this chat client too. While Qzone is still only in Chinese, using the International QQ version on your mobile device, most of Qzone’s basic features are translated into English.