Social media is not about the exploitation of technology but service to community.
– Simon Mainwaring
The hashtag has become one of the most recognizable symbols of our time. Much like the peace sign, Apple, or Batman logo. When you see the hashtag you instantly know what it is and how it is being used. This only became clear to me as I stood in line for a crepe at my favorite mall in Nagasaki, Japan. While standing in that long line I began looking at all of the signs to the various boutiques. That’s where I saw it. The hashtag. Only what followed was not recognizable to me. What followed the hashtag was something written in Japanese. That’s when it hit me. The hashtag is a global phenomenon. And there’s power in using it in K12 academics.
The Power of a Hashtag
The five hashtags that begin this thought are, as you probably guessed, good morning in 5 different languages (Japanese, Spanish, Korean, French and English). If you search with any of the five hashtags on Twitter, or G+ you will see how others have tweeted, or posted using that hashtag. When I searched there are pictures of sunrises from various parts of the world, breakfast plates, clouds in the sky, a cat (of course) and a Japanese teenager’s selfie of her in her school uniform on her bed in a rather interesting position that I’m pretty sure her father would not approve of.
Commonly Used Hashtags for Academics
Educators already use commonly accepted hashtags when they tweet, or post to G+. An education conversationalist uses #edchat, an educational technology conversationalist uses #edtechchat, Google Apps enthusiasts use #gafe and educators in Iowa use #iaedchat. If we began using commonly accepted hashtags with our students the possibilities would be nearly endless.
If I were teaching 3rd multiplication I could use #3rdgrademultiplication to search for content, or even better to connect with other classes that are learning the same thing at the same time as my class. We could have challenges, either through Google Hangouts, or Skype. We could conduct projects and spin-off the hashtag for our own purposes. We could organize everything by using the hashtag and make it simple for our learners to search for and thus find later when they need it.
With older students learning more about #formsofgovernment they could organize content and resources around their hashtag. They could also use the hashtag to connect with other learners in their age group who are studying the same thing. Projects could be created, but even better students could offer peer feedback and assistance.
The best part about using the hashtag is that it is archived and future learners searching by using that hashtag can then tap into the content, resources, or peer assistance and feedback as well at later dates and times.
We Have to Start Students Early
Daily calendar is a widely used strategy for teaching the days of the week, basic counting, weather and using appropriate symbols in early childhood education classrooms. Imagine if early childhood teachers used #dailycalendar to organize their content around. We could begin to teach our young learners more about the world in which they live. World weather and thus graphing, or charting, could be added by teachers gathering the daily weather that other teachers from around the world are sharing through the use of the hashtag. Global connections could be made through this. Teachers could also search the archive of past uses of the hashtag and gather weather data to create charts, or graphs and have their young learners make predictions before they reveal the actual answer.
This is a lot more interesting that just searching weather.com. Because there is a teacher, and class for that matter, on the other end of that hashtag tweet, or post, the students can begin to form global bonds and thus begin the early stages of learning more about digital citizenship. The earlier we teach this the more likely our young learners are to become digital leaders by the time they hit middle, or upper levels of their education. Other benefits of this could include global pen pals and teacher connections. Imagine using other commonly accepted hashtags for your age group to connect on other projects, of if you are like me, build thematic inquiry-driven units around.
Hashtags for Experts
By developing a commonly accepted and thus used hashtag system educators in the K12 space could encourage experts and other scholars to engage with our students around the content that they specialize in. If I am having my students learn about #formsofgovernment politicians, or scholars of government could follow the hashtag and participate in the conversation, share their own resources, or content, or even better connect with the class/student(s) that are learning about the subject.
Hashtags for Inquiry-Driven Research
Future learners would also benefit by this by being able to search the hashtag for answers to their own questions. As with any learning that happens online, students would have to learn if the source is reputable, and reliable. Previous tweets, or posts from the expert could be examined as well as links in their Twitter masthead, or through Google searches of the person.
The hashtag also presents a way for learners to engage with primary sources. Hashtags are already being used around historic events. #ArabSpring, #syria, #japantsunami are just a few. Chances are if something major is happening in the world that there is a hashtag for it. Learners can search for the hashtag and begin to read first hand accounts, often in real-time as the event is happening. And again, all of this is archived and can be accessed at any point in the future. Search #japantsunamai and you’ll see photos from the scene of Japan’s March 2012 tsunami if you are willing to go back in time to view them.
Where Do We Begin?
At the beginning of course. Start by creating a hashtag for the content in which you are going to teach. If you blog post an article about your newly created hashtag. Tweet it, post it, do everything you can to spread the word. Encourage other educators that you know to use your hashtag for that specific content and to create their own new hashtags for other specific content. Have them blog it, or you can as well, tweet it, post it, pin it, share it, whatever. The goal is to get your hashtag out and used. The more people who know about it and begin to use it the more likely it is to stick and become a commonly accepted and used hashtag.
You will also have to use the hashtag to connect with other users of that hashtag. Think about the age group that you teach and are targeting. If younger this makes a great circle time teacher-lead activity. If older it makes for a fantastic inquiry-driven project. I suggest starting small, one concept, one hashtag. I also suggest paying attention to other educators sharing their hashtags and taking note. If you don’t have the time to write them down believe me there will be a rock star out there that will and they will share the academic hashtags that they encounter. Hey, what an awesome use for a collaborative Google Sheet.
As I mentioned earlier, the possibilities are truly endless. If K12 educators began to develop and then use a commonly accepted hashtag system you would essentially be cataloging the Internet. Not only would you be benefiting the current generation by creating an easier way to connect, gather and share, but you would be also giving future generations an easy way to look back and see how we learned and how we used social media to deepen our own understandings, connect globally and become responsible digital leaders