Social Media as Challenge Based Learning Prompt

“A democracy is nothing more than mob rule, where fifty-one percent of the people may take away the rights of the other forty-nine.” – Thomas Jefferson

Half of our district received training from Apple this summer on the concept of Challenge Based Learning. While many educators are quickly overwhelmed by Apple’s take on the latest instructional trend of student-centered learning sweeping the United States, many teachers in my district understand the need to introduce more inquiry and real world based education into our curriculum. The problem is, many educators question how and where such necessary learning fits into an increasingly cramped and compacted curriculum, especially with more high-stakes testing coming down the road.

Most, if not all educators, understand why we need to change education, we just have a difficult time seeing how we’re going to do it under ever-increasing mandates. My rather snarky reply is….”bring the real world into class discussion using social media!” If we are to take Jefferson at his word, and acknowledge that a great deal of our democracy is indeed mob rule at its most basic level, then why not help students better understand the mob, and perhaps help cultivate a more critical thinking mob for the future?

I found the image above from an Occupy Wall Street protester via Facebook this morning, and while I’m not trying to advocate for one side of the debate over the other, what value could you have in using this image for an impromptu conversation in an economics or political science course? As an educator, I know that fantastic unplanned conversations still happen in the classroom, pushing back important curriculum. The challenge then is to create a “planned” unplanned conversation using “in-the-moment” images, videos, and other resources shared via social platforms like Twitter, Facebook, and other sites. You don’t need to have the entire platform unblocked for students, and it certainly doesn’t take much to follow a few interesting resources on the social networking platform of your choosing to get this kind of great “real world” content. And best yet, it opens up some of the more sanitized black and white conversations in the classroom to a little bit of the real world “blurriness”. Storify is an excellent tool to bring such details, opinions, and resources together:

You can frame the entire challenge in a 30 or 40 minute conversation; The essential question has already been posed, and it would be quite simple to add the challenge of “how do we get people to communicate?” by asking your students some guiding questions such as “do you see any differences, or commonalities between following the rules in the real world and in the school building?”. You could even make this challenge homework, and ask the students to come up with half a dozen more questions each, helping reinforce that learning is questioning in a meticulous fashion. Who knows, they might even hop on their social network of choice in the evening to dig around for more examples of the debate and controversy surrounding the topic you choose.

It would then only be a matter of selecting the proper learning activities, resources, and guiding discussions that would help answer the common questions your students come up with; almost like a contractor selecting the right tools to add a new addition to a house after consulting with the home owner on what’s needed. Or am I being a little too “ivory tower” on this one? As an educator that always strove to integrate some aspect of social studies or civics in my lessons (where appropriate), I’m thinking this would be an effective, and practical, way to kick off a challenge or inquiry based learning experience.


  1. This is a really great way to engage students and scaffold an inquiry-based learning activity. Storify is an interesting site that I have managed to spend a semester in a Technology Education course without finding; thank you for sharing it. I am curious if teachers currently in the classroom find that students are receptive to the introduction of social media as a conduit for inquiry-based conversations. As a grad student, I find that I enjoy the lessons which integrate real-life experience, and would hope that younger students would feel the same.

    1. *PHEW*

      I was questioning just how much legitimacy something like this might have, as I know many school districts shun the idea of bringing social media into the classroom, and many more teachers are still only comfortable with pre-planned, well though out lesson and unit plans.

      Taking on a challenge like this would certainly require a skilled educator capable of manipulating learning activities, goals, and experiences in a very short time frame.

      1. As a middle school teacher, I often overhear my students talking about Facebook and different comments that were on there (in addition to a few Friend Requests from them). So the idea of social media being incorporated into the classroom and an online class I’m currently taking motivated me to find a way to do so. I’m using the website to poll my students, make comments about the unit/class and have resources to look up all with the look and navigation that is similar to Facebook. Even though, I’ve gone through a few “technical difficulties” so far the students have been interested in the capabilities. I agree that it does take a skilled educator to manipulate the social media in order to make it successful and I believe I am one of them!

    2. Social media is very engaging for students. It is the way of the future. Critical thinking seems to be losing its purpose in the classroom for the many young ones. Technology, media, current events facilitate dialogue and discussion among these students and their teachers. It is a great motivator.

      While I agree with the challenging part of the implementation of such learning activities, it is a matter of time until this approach to learning becomes routine in our classrooms.

      1. I think you’ll see critical thinking skills come back in a big way once the Common Core kicks in and the assessments built around them start popping up in districts. That’s just my two cents though, from observation of administrators in my district, and how they’re looking as the drafts of the assessments.

      2. I agree with you Ben, there is a great push to encourage critical thinking skills in our school system. I think that multiple choices will gradually fade in certain subjects to be replaced by extended responses.

Comments are closed.