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Social media presence is modern-day rsum

By Patrick Larkin
April 1, 2015
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Mention the topic of social media in an educational setting and you're sure to get some strong feelings. There is typically no middle ground when it comes to educators' feelings on the use of Twitter, Facebook and Instagram.

In fact, I would venture a guess that the naysayers still vastly outnumber those in the positive column. The one fact that seems clear is that our students will be judged on their ability to use these tools proficiently enough to leave a mark that will allow others to find them, see who they are and determine what they are capable of doing.

Unfortunately, our stance in most places is to fill the heads of students and their parents with fears surrounding " "stranger danger" " on the internet, or the fact that an inappropriate post will cost them acceptance into the university of their choice or a potential job. While these situations need to be acknowledged, we must look at a higher level of conversation in regard to the social media use of our students.

Teaching students to put their best digital foot forward

The fact is that a student's social media activity is rapidly becoming a modern-day version of a rsum. Many employers and institutions of higher learning are spending more and more time uncovering the history of their applicants' online activities. So my big question is whether we are adequately preparing our students for their upcoming digital dissections. Are our students receiving the support they need to put their best digital foot forward? Are they surrounded by adults who understand the manner in which one constructs an impressive online presence?

More than six years ago, the National Council of Teachers of English (NCTE) adopted a 21st Century Literacies Framework that includes the skills that productive members of the 21st century must be able to do: Develop proficiency and fluency with the tools of technology; build intentional cross-cultural connections and relationships with others so to pose and solve problems collaboratively and strengthen independent thought; design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes; manage, analyze and synthesize multiple streams of simultaneous information; and attend to the ethical responsibilities required by these complex environments.

The NCTE framework is similar to the ISTE Standards for Students, which establish standards for evaluating the skills and knowledge students need to learn effectively and live productively in an increasingly global and digital world.

We need to model the change we want to see in our students

My experience as someone who works with educators routinely on improving their grasp of technological tools tells me that we have a long way to go. Furthermore, our lack of progress in this area is hindering our students as their online presence continues to be heavy on the social and light on the substantive examples of their capabilities in the form of comprehensive portfolios.

Our inability to model the types of materials that our students should be creating is hurting their ability to effectively compete. It is our job as educators to ensure that when potential suitors start looking for background information online about our students, they find impressive creations. We need to change our outdated perspective drastically and move beyond statements that culminate with messages like, " "Be careful what you post!" "

Instead, it is time for a new conversation that encourages students to share their amazing work and talents so that when they are Googled or searched for through some other mechanism, those on the other end of the keyboard are blown away by what they find.

The day when your social media account will substitute for your rsum is coming fast. As a matter of fact, with the news that Cornell University now allows applicants to its MBA program to use portions of their LinkedIn profile in the application process, it may actually be here. This is a sign of things to come that should serve as a call to action for educators to add new tools to their digital toolboxes so they can help students build a digital presence that will put them on whatever path they choose to follow.

When all is said and done, social media is learning media. What can someone who looks at your social media presence learn about you?

Patrick Larkin is the assistant superintendent for learning at Burlington Public Schools in Massachusetts and an ISTE member. In 2012, in recognition of his exemplary use of digital tools as a school leader, he was recognized as one of three national Digital Principal Award winners by the National Association of Secondary School Principals (NASSP).