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Objectives & Affordances: A Framework for Using Social Media in the Classroom

Updated: Oct 13, 2022

Open your phone, navigate to your settings, and find the area that tracks your phone usage. How much time did you use on social media today? Which social apps did you spend the most time on? Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, TikTok, WhatsApp…? Social media are ever-present in our lives, even more so, possibly, in our students’ lives, depending on the teaching context.

From this ubiquity, we may be tempted to use social media for teaching—and that’s great! Social media allow for authentic language use and are generally user-friendly, not to mention our students are already using them. We should be tapping into their potential! But not without careful consideration. It’s easy to get wrapped up in using technology for the sake of technology, without thinking about why we are using it. So how do we make social media an effective pedagogical tool?

Image of a funnel with objectives at the top, affordances in the middle, and the activity at the bottom, as a result of applying affordances to meet objectives

Enter a Framework for Using Social Media in the Language Classroom, which Anna first developed in 2019 when building a curriculum titled Writing for Social Media at Yerevan State University. This framework is based on the simple premise that the use of social media in the language classroom should be driven by the fusion of task objectives and affordances.

Image of person's hand gripping car door handle
Photo retrieved from Unsplash

We’re all familiar with the term “objectives,” of course. “Affordance,” on the other hand, may be new. This term is borrowed from the field of product design to indicate an object's properties that show how users may interact with that object. For example, the way a door handle is designed suggests to us that we should put our hand there and pull.

In the same way as an object, social media platforms are designed in a way that offers certain affordances. The little textbox on Facebook encourages you to type in it. The cyclical arrows on Twitter prompt a retweet. The ability to reuse clips of trending audio to lipsych on TikTok leads to short, pithy video memes. The UI (user interface) guides the ways in which these tools are used. And since social media sites are designed by experts in using affordances to direct user interaction (and to spark addiction), these sites are often well suited to get our students to do the things we want them to do in an easy, straightforward way. In other words, they can help seamlessly steer students to the learning outcomes we’ve set out for them.

So when thinking about how to employ social media for language learning, it’s a matter of matching objectives to affordances. First, think of the end goal. What is it that you are trying to achieve? Second, consider the features of different platforms. How can you make social media work for you? Then, reverse engineer the task. What exactly will students do? And finally, unleash it on your students. It’s as simple (and complex) as that.

To get started designing and implementing your own tasks on social media, we invite you to download Anna’s accompanying framework handout, which includes a handy list of platforms and their affordances and a template for planning the task from start to finish. And, to get your creative juices flowing and hear some examples of ways we’ve used social media to reach objectives, check out Episode 24 – Like. Share. Post.

Thanks for reading!

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