Before social media, how often did you ever really use the hashtag symbol? Previously known as “pound” on our phones, its relevance to dialing was about as well used as the star (*), a symbol that is awaiting its rebranding for a comeback in the digital age. Widespread use of the # symbol — that was designed to search for topics of conversation in social media — has infiltrated our real lives for better and worse, and has the potential to impact education.
Sure, Justin Timberlake and Jimmy Fallon overused the symbol in their video to make fun of the prevalence of hashtags, but were they really that far off? Today’s high schoolers are seen walking around making the hashtag with their fingers, as they have in person conversations with their friends, and while we want to think they’re kidding, this comment on Fallon and Timberlake’s video suggest that maybe they aren’t.
Will abusive hashtagging ruin the English language the way today’s educators say texting has? Unless today’s students start speaking like Timberlake and Fallon in class, probably not — but we need to teach today’s students the relevance of hashtags and how to use them as a tool. As a former technology magnet coordinator in an elementary school in the Washington, D.C. suburbs, I used to teach kids about conducting keyword searches on Google — but maybe today I would be teaching them about hashtags and social media.
Educators use hashtag searches to find relevant conversations occurring around the globe about various topics. Parent, educator, and blogger Amy Mascott from TeachMama.com often uses hashtags in her own social updates to allow for them to appear in search, and also to connect with fellow educators interested in the same topics.
What are the hot hashtags in education? Education reform (#edreform), educational uses of technology (#edtech), and appropriate apps for the classroom (#edapps), but what if the use of hashtags extended to the classroom?
EducatorsTechnology.com sees many uses for Twitter in the classroom, making it a relevant part of digital literacy instruction for kids over the age of 13. Students need to know the advantages and disadvantages of searching a hashtag versus a Google search, while learning the importance of reliable sources on any platform. A Must Have Guide For Using Twitter in the Classroom includes additional ideas for using hashtags, such as remote office hours, a virtual bulletin board for a class, student collaboration on assignments, and instant feedback.
Learning the best ways to use hashtags is a hot topic that could motivate reluctant students, by incorporating tools and terminology they’re already familiar with — but will hashtags stick around? Just like with any technology tool or platform, it’s hard to say. The first hashtag originated from former Google employee Chris Messana in August 2007, about a year and a half after Twitter began, and now they’re part of the status quo.
Even though education is always slow to catch up to incorporating current technology into schools, hashtags do have a place, and it’s quite possible that a good ol’ hashtag lesson could be coming to a classroom near you soon.