Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert 2015 – Interview
April 14, 2015
“I wanted to meet my students half way.“ — Steffi Marita Miland Svendsen, Norway
For teachers fresh out of university, bridging the gap between theoretical pedagogy and the reality of their students’ world can often be a challenge. For Steffi Marita Miland Svendsen, who graduated in 2012 and has been teaching for two short years, it became her mission.
“Today children grow up in a digital world, socializing with mixed-media, having conversations daily with friends, family and others,” says Svendsen. “Smartphones seem to be a ‘must-have,’ even for younger children in order to stay connected. With social apps waiting to be explored, sooner rather than later the kids need to be introduced to them. Maybe it’s about time to include this aspect in education?”
Svendsen wanted to narrow the gap between her students’ private lives and school, while incorporating the use of technology to enhance learning, encourage students to share their work, and to ask for and receive help from peers outside of their own class. For Svendsen, Instagram was the answer.
“I finally took a leap and I created a private Instagram account (6bskjettenskole – now steffisteaching),” she says. “I usually take the pictures, edit and post them online, but occasionally the students have to take pictures of their own and others’ work, edit the pictures and send them to me for approval.” With the use of Instagram firmly in her classroom’s repertoire, Svendsen and her students have now started to use Snapchat as well.
While she is admittedly “fairly new to the game” of teaching, Svendsen was named a Microsoft Innovative Educator Expert in 2015, and as such, shares her experiences broadly on Twitter, LinkedIn, as well as the Microsoft Norway Blog.
“Technology makes it easy to implement all of the 21st century skills, and with OneNote as my secret weapon, I have more time to guide and foster my students,” she says. “We work together as a team rather than me sitting on a pedestal with all the correct answers. And it brings a smile to my face when I open a Snapchat from one of my pupils proudly showing how they are spending their Sunday afternoon.”
Enjoy today’s Daily Edventure with Steffi Marita Miland Svendsen.
What motivated you to create a project using Instagram?
My class had developed a culture, where it was OK to talk loudly with classmates rather than paying attention to the class, not to do their homework, to disrespect peers and to blame each other. So the first thing I had to change was their interaction with each other and to light their spark into a flame. I quickly turned to my leaders at school for guidance and support, where we together made a classroom management plan that reinforced good behavior.
This definitely took an enormous amount of time and energy, but it was a necessary measure in order to facilitate future learning (and teaching). Once this was in place, I wanted to show my students what they were capable of, if they just put their mind to it. I wanted each of them to be proud of their own work and achievements, to value their peers’ work, but equally important, I wanted to include their parents in our daily life. We were given 10 Surface RT devices to test out in class, which made it easy for pupils to take photos of their work and edit their photos using apps like Fotor and Phototastic. Everything was now in order for me to start social networking.
What would you consider are the advantages of using Instagram and social media in schools?
Living in the 21st century, the use of technology and social media plays an important role in education and beyond. I am a firm believer that it is important to use the tools and technology in the classroom to facilitate, motivate and aid learning. We all know that the majority of kids have social media accounts (even if they are under-aged).
So why not use it for educational advantages and learn how to use such tools in a correct manner to interact with parents and to prepare them for a life outside of school?
What skills have your students developed?
Even though most of my students know how to post and share on social media networks, I still think it is important for children to learn how to use them wisely, appropriately and in a safe environment. Whether it is Instagram, or any other technology, “safe” depends more on how it’s used rather than on the age of the user. But for this specific project, my students have learned to encourage motivation, to show their best work, to respect and acknowledge others’ work. They have developed photography and editing skills, and must pay attention to details.
What have been the biggest changes/challenges you had to face while using social media in the classroom?
There have not been major challenges using Instagram in my classroom. However, there are some important steps to take before using Instagram — or any other social media – in the classroom. I think it is important for teachers to think through the legal terms and necessary actions that would involve their pupils and their parents.
Our school also has its own Facebook and Twitter accounts, thus parents have to sign a form allowing us to post pictures of their children online. All the parents in my class have signed this document, approving me to post pictures of their children. This means that I can take pictures of every single pupil in my classroom, without having to think of whom I can include in a photo and whom to set aside (which could avoid a potential negative atmosphere in class).
This actually brings me to one challenge: not everyone in my class had Instagram accounts. Luckily, there were only three pupils in my class without an account. I decided not to pressure them to create an account. Every now and then I show our pictures and add comments on our Smartboard during lunch, so everyone feels included.
What have been the major changes you have noticed in the usage of Instagram?
When we first started our account, nearly 70 percent of the class had a public account. But after a few months, this number went down to approximately 10 percent (without the need for me as a teacher telling them to do so). The following of our classroom account is entirely optional, however they all read, like and sometimes comment on my posts on a regular basis. Which again might show that without pressure, students are by nature intrigued and willing to learn, if we as teachers are willing to meet them half-way and let them participate. As a result, they are likely to surprise us with their engagement.
The last couple of months I also started using Snapchat with my students, which again is just another way of socializing with each other. We use it to send pictures of their completed homework and spare time. I usually use it to send out positive comments such as, “Thank you for a super English lesson! Have a good night ,” or “Have a nice weekend,” etc. If one of my students is sick we send a “Get well” picture during lunch. So social media is used mainly to foster and maintain relationships, an important skill to have in life.
You mention that now parents have an easier way to follow their kids at what they do at school, what has made the difference?
I noticed that when it comes to school, the children are most concerned about their friends and social interaction. And I know for a fact that when they join their family around the dinner table in the evening and when the parents ask: “So, what did you do at school today?”, the children usually respond to this question by telling about new friends, broken friendships, and arguments with peers and friends. I do believe these are important things to share at home, but I also wanted to create a place where parents could easily be kept in the loop on what their children do and learn in school. I chose to use the children’s work and achievements as a prompt to facilitate academic conversations from an early age.
What advice would you share with any teacher that would consider adding social media in their class?
The 21st century has given us a variety of different social networks to choose from. With so many different forms of social media, it can be difficult to know which one to use. If you decide to use social media in class, your choice must rely on the type of class you have, what age they are, what they are using already, your goals, etc. Twitter, Facebook and Instagram are three of the most popular and there are clearly many similarities between the applications. They work similarly, allowing users to communicate simply and succinctly/concisely with their followers.
Since my main objective was to tell our story through pictures, it was an easy choice and I decided to create a user-friendly Instagram account, so I could effortlessly post pictures taken in class. It is simpler to expect colleagues to follow up this project when teaching classes. And since my idea was to bring my pupils’ personal lives and learning together, I had to meet them on their terms. It would be pointless to use a social network which the pupils didn’t use in the first place.