Think nothing good can come from encouraging students to use social media? Consider what these former students from Minarets and Design Science high schools in Central California are doing. I asked these students how they use social media as an academic tool and how that shaped both their high school and post-secondary success. Here's what I learned.
When Destiny Anger was a high school senior, social media altered the trajectory of her career.
As part of her senior project, Anger partnered with Helping Orphans Worldwide on a local awareness project. She was eventually connected to key organizational leaders in New York through a video she posted on her personal Facebook page. The video spread to her school's Facebook page, and then onto Helping Orphans Worldwide Facebook page.
Anger's project included multiple fundraising, educational and advocacy events throughout her senior year both on campus and in the community.
"The communication was so easy and so widespread with the help of social media," said Anger. "It took the entire project to a new level and left me feeling confident and ultimately more important."
Destiny's story is not unique. Students around the globe are tapping into social media to get involved with world-changing projects and share their passions. Here are just some of the ways they are using these tools for good.
1. Sharing tools and resources.
When David Broyles was a senior at Minarets High school, he appreciated that his AP Economics and government class used Twitter to share summaries of projects and to track political issues. "Using social media resources for class made me realize that they offer very efficient ways to do better work," Broyles said.
2. Gathering survey data.
When community college student Clay Allen was a sophomore at Minarets High School, he learned to use Facebook at school and at home to expand his audience for survey data.
"I got incredibly responsive data from surveys that I shared on social media," Allen said. "Seems like gathering survey data would have been a slow process before things like Facebook."
Getting feedback on projects and other schoolwork has been another academic application and advantage, according to Minarets High School grad Savie Luce.
"I would regularly post presentations from research projects online and on social media," Luce said. "I was always amazed at the number of people who would look at my work."
3. Collaborating with peers.
Just like adults in the professional world, students are discovering the power of connecting and collaborating with peers to get bigger and better ideas and work.
Design Science High School student Sai Her said she likes problem solving with friends and classmates on social media.
"If I need assistance with my homework, I reach out on social media," she said. "And when they need help, I can often pay back the favor."
Social media allows her to get immediate help and support. "I like that I don't have to wait until school the next day to get support," Her said.
Design Science High School classmate Alexis Yrigollen believes that social media is helping with the new challenges and academic pressures related to new standards and digital age skill development.
"My school work now requires me to have more options and places to go," Yrigollen said. "Although the work is more challenging now, I have a larger group of friends than ever before who can help me."
4. Participating in group work.
As educators assign more group projects, students are turning to social media to collaborate, said Design Science High School grad Samuel Campos.
"I believe that social media is very helpful when it comes to communicating with my group partners," Campos said.
Campos said he has created group chats using the messaging functions on Facebook and other platforms for advanced science projects and other group work.
"It's great to be able to check on each other's progress and work in real time."
5. Communicating with teachers.
Social media communication and collaboration is extending beyond student-to-student to student-to-teacher.
Jublie Yang, a student at Design Science High School, said her history teacher has a class Facebook page and encourages his students to use it to discuss class work and ask questions.
"I have asked him questions about homework and projects on multiple occasions," Yang said. "I love how easy it is. I get my questions answered quickly and personally."
It's this immediacy and personal attention that seems to be working for many students as they connect to teachers via social media.
"Last summer, I had to get a hold of a teacher whom I hadn't even met yet," said Design Science student Lily Lopez. "I found him on Twitter and messaged him," said Lopez. "We began working together before class even started."
6. Researching careers.
Connecting students to career information for project-based work is easy with social media, said Nairely Lopez, a former Design Science High School student, who uses Instagram to learn more about medicine.
"I follow pages that show surgeries," said Lopez. "I'm interested in a medical career and I'm learning by seeing pictures of before and after surgeries."
7. Meeting with mentors and experts.
In addition to career research and project work, many are using these tools to connect with actual employers and mentors.
"I used Facebook to message a volunteer shelter for animals to see if I could volunteer there," said former Design Science student Alexia Alvarado.
There is a real professional and career application going on here, according to Minarets High School alum Kaylynne Moglia. She secured a job while in high school through social media.
"I used both my Facebook and LinkedIn accounts to give more information and share my profile with my boss," Moglia said.
8. Showcasing student work.
As students become more tuned into the skills that will be important in the future, many are also realizing that social media provides great platforms for their digital portfolios.
Design Science student Cirilo Ordaz say she routinely posts her report cards, grades and successful competitions on all of her social media sites.
"I'm proud of my accomplishments and how competitive I am at school," said Ordaz. "I would like colleges and future employers to see that."
In addition to grades and report cards, Design Science student Samantha D'Alessio says she and her friends share sample work and projects on Instagram and Snapchat.
"In art class, I would share almost every completed canvas," D'Alessio said. "I got great comments and compliments from so many people."
9. Creating digital portfolios.
Many educators argue that social media is one of the new literacies and that students could, and maybe should, see these tools as all part of their digital footprint.
Minarets High School alum Lilian Flores agreed.
"I posted pictures on Instagram trying to show who I am and that I have interest in my future career," she said. "We need to show adults and the world that we're serious. I think social media can do that." "
The Digital Citizen standard, one component of the ISTE Standards, expects students to do more than merely know the dangers and risks of technology tools; students are called on to understand the opportunities the digital world presents and to use these tools to do good in the world. It appears that many students have already accepted that challenge.
Michael Niehoff has been an educator for over 30 years. He is the founding principal of the award-winning project-based Minarets High School. He is a regular blogger, a Google Certified Innovator, a CUE Lead Learner and a Buck Institute National Faculty Member. Follow him on Twitter @mwniehoff. This is an updated version of a post that originally published on August 3, 2017.