Support Provided ByLearn More

How Social Media Can Support Science and Digital Literacy

Given the pervasive use of social media among youth, educators are leveraging social media for positive learning environments that support digital literacy.

NOVA EducationNOVA Education

Paul Darvasi’s high school English classroom in Toronto, Ontario is anything but ordinary – it is blurring the lines between formal and informal education.

Receive emails about upcoming NOVA programs and related content, as well as featured reporting about current events through a science lens.

A lifelong gamer and PhD candidate in York University’s Language, Culture and Teaching program, Paul designed a multimedia, alternative reality experience called The Ward Game to teach One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest to his senior English class. Darvasi uses social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter to provide game instructions from the fictional totalitarian character “The Big Nurse,” played by Darvasi himself.  He did not use social media the first year he implemented the 30-day game, but it vastly improved the student experience in the second. “It allowed for the game to spill outside of the classroom and immerse them in play day and night, weekday and weekend,” says Darvasi who saw levels of engagement from his students he had rarely seen before.

Support Provided ByLearn More

Paul Darvasi as “The Big Nurse” in The Ward Game

John Fallon, an English teacher in Fairfield, Connecticut also uses multimedia gaming and social media to teach Homer’s Odyssey . He has seen immense engagement and success, but also struggles to fully implement open networks like social media in the classroom due to parent concerns and network restrictions. School districts across the country continue to grapple with new technology and classroom limitations, and over 98% of schools filter content from students in some way. Some schools even ban social media sites or install

software to monitor social media accounts on campus. Many school leaders are concerned that social media can lead to cyberbullying and disruptions in the classroom, and bans aim to protect school districts from the legal liabilities associated with social media.

Yet in 2012, the Pew Research Center’s Internet Project found that 95% of youth ages 12-19 regularly use the Internet and 81% are using some form of social media. Given the pervasive use of social media among youth, educators like Darvasi and Fallon are considering how classrooms might leverage social media for positive personal and peer-to-peer learning environments that support digital literacy and safety.

Should Social Media be Used in Science Classrooms?

While not often the focus of the debate, the role of social media in science should be part of the conversation on digital literacy. New Common Core and Next Generation Science Standards emphasize science literacy. However, less guidance has been provided to educators on how to achieve these goals in a digital era. Many scientists and journalists are using social media to communicate from the frontlines of research. Some of the most creative and engaging science conversations are happening in informal, online forums. Case in point: Canadian astronaut and Commander of Expedition 35 Chris Hadfield live tweeted from space to over 1.1 million followers last year.

As forums like Twitter, YouTube, and Facebook become news generators, students need guidance on how to find accurate and reliable sources of scientific information. This does not replace the need for training on traditional forms of research; rather it is another layer of 21 st century competencies. The ability to sift through excess news stories, differentiate fact from opinion, and organize and synthesize data to communicate scientific ideas are not skills learned by being an everyday user of social media. For most students, it must be taught.

A report from the Joan Ganz Cooney Center moves the digital divide conversation forward by stating “…the framework of a participation divide is most relevant to the discussion because it is not as much a matter of who is or is not participating in Social Networking Forums (SNF), but rather what kinds of participation users engage in.” Decreasing the participation divide will take more than integrating science-based media into a lesson plan. Digital literacy means empowering students to interpret and make informed judgments as consumers of media, but also to be effective producers of media in their own right.

The Potential for Social Media in Your Science Classroom

How can social media be effectively integrated into a science classroom? With your school district or administration’s approval, here are eight tips to get your class social media savvy this school year. When possible, make sure to set all accounts to private settings to ensure students are safely sharing their information and their learning experience.

1. Twitter generates science news in the classroom.

Ask students to follow scientists , journalists, and Twitter chats that support the content you are currently teaching. Help students develop radars for quality scientific sources on Twitter, the ability to recognize opinion, and the need for the unabridged version of a tweet. Need help on how to integrate Twitter into your classroom? KQED has a “ Guide to Using Twitter in Your Teaching Practice ” as part of their Do NOW series that aims to get students safely engaged in current issues through social media.

2. Feedly is a news aggregator that is perfect for classrooms and research projects.

There is more information available today to students than in any point in history. Students can learn to filter and curate content based on their interests or research on Feedly . Create a class account to save and share daily science news stories with students. What is on NOVA Education’s Feedly? Scientific American , NPR’s Science Desk , Smithsonian Magazine and of course, NOVA Next !

3. Twitter reveals STEM diversity to students.

The beauty of Twitter is that students have front row access to academics and professionals in their fields of interest. Here at NOVA Education, we all love following Neil deGrasse Tyson , but there are even more scientists on Twitter who challenge the stereotype of what a scientist should look or act like. Here and here are two lists to get you started.

4. Vine allows students to document and share science happening in the classroom and their community.

Below is a video from KQED Education that explains how to use the app Vine , which creates looping six to seven-second videos that can be shared. Meteor shower tonight? Observing environmental pollution in your neighborhood? Cool physics experiment in class? Document and share video to support student engagement in science.

Make short social video loops With Vine

5. helps meet Common Core standards with infographics.

Common Core requires students be able to translate quantitative data into visual forms. Infographics help students create shareable visualizations that tell a story or communicate an idea. Below is another video from KQED Education that explains how to make an infographic with .

Make an Infographic with

6. Google Docs teaches data collaboration.

Encourage students to share class data through Excel documents on Google Docs. An easy and free collaborative feature alerts you when others are online and editing information. Teaching students how to use Google docs is an important professional skill, as many college classrooms and work environments are utilizing this tool too.

7. Pinterest allows students to curate visuals related to science.

Set up a classroom Pinterest account for students to share images they find for research projects or writing prompts. The NOVA Education team loves the Women in STEM and Science and Nature boards!


Pinterest boards can support classroom research and writing prompts

8. WordPress blogging can aid in peer-to-peer learning.

Set up a WordPress class account for the year and pose daily questions or writing prompts based on readings. NGSS encourages more writing in science classrooms and collaborative, peer-to-peer feedback is the main ingredient in college writing courses. Why not start now?

John Fallon believes the concerns around social media in the classroom are legitimate and “that social norm is going to be in flux for the foreseeable future.” But as an educator he has found safe alternatives around these challenges, like using email addresses within the school system or closing video sharing to only his students. Fallon and Paul Darvasi’s experiences echo that there is no one size fits all digital literacy plan. Start small with one lesson plan and expand from there.  Experimentation is key.

Do you have ideas or stories to share about digital media and learning in your classroom? Please email us at .

Photo credit: Paul Darvasi

Major funding for NOVA is provided by the David H. Koch Fund for Science, the Corporation for Public Broadcasting, and PBS viewers. Additional funding is provided by the NOVA Science Trust.