How Malaysian Teachers Use Social Media to Capture Students' Attention

What happens when you add salt to ice?

It was a question posed by Science teacher Norhailmi Abdul Mutalib to his students at SMK Jerlun in Alor Setar, Kedah. He could have easily made his students search for the answer in their textbooks (spoiler alert: the freezing point decreases).

Instead, Norhailmi recorded a simple experiment, soundtracked the video to Frozen’s Do You Want to Build a Snowman and Olivia Rodrigo’s Traitor – and posted it on social media.

That video has been viewed almost half a million times at press time.

Norhailmi is a prime example of teachers who have turned to digitalisation to keep students engaged in schooling and learning.

“I always believe the need for a teacher to be as creative as possible to cater to students’ needs today. The way they learn and interact with their friends is really different compared to the older generations,” he told StarEdu.

Teachers today, he said, need to expand their methods and approaches to increase students’ interest in learning.

“We should make full use of digital and technology tools to support education. Hands-on and project-based learning will attract students to learn more too,” he said.

Norhailmi has been using various online platforms – blog, YouTube, Twitter and TikTok, just to name a few – to teach since 2012.

“I believe in one principle in sharing educational content: bring your content to where most people can benefit from it. By using online platforms like social media, there’s the potential to attract my students to learn more about science.

“Good educational content on social media will engage students more in learning while spending time online,” he explained.

He also stressed that teachers can future-proof students by adopting digitalisation in their lessons.

“This generation is exposed to tons of content and knowledge available online. They can get easy access to anything via the Internet. So, teachers need to decide how to deliver the content and pick the right approaches and methods for students.

“It’s not only about the pursuit of knowledge, but also making sure students are empowered with 21st century skills like critical thinking, creativity, communication and collaboration to prepare them for the future,” he said.

Claudius Upin Lonsiong Jr has also expanded his lessons through virtual means.

The motivation of the English teacher from SMK Rancha-Rancha in Labuan, however, stemmed from sheer desperation when physical lessons were halted amid Covid-19.

“I almost gave up during the initial stage because I only knew to snap photos from textbooks and send written instructions to my students via WhatsApp. Their engagement in lessons was very low,” he said.

Claudius then decided to conduct live virtual lessons on social media. The tide began to turn.

“My students were suddenly more engaged in lessons. They wanted to learn more, especially in terms of speaking. They were encouraged to showcase their speaking ability when they saw words of encouragement in the comments section,” he said.

According to Claudius, teachers have many tools at their disposal to grab students’ attention.

“With the growth of artificial intelligence, we have various apps to make our lessons more interesting. By using these apps, we can also keep our students up to date with the current trends,” he said.

Use with caution

While digitalisation in teaching is certainly commendable, it’s also rightfully contentious. The usage of social media among teachers has drawn ire in recent times.

Commenting on a teacher who was accused of uploading a sexually suggestive video on TikTok recently, Deputy Education Minister Datuk Dr Mah Hang Soon said the matter was being investigated.

The teacher is believed to have deleted the video and issued an apology on the social media platform, clarifying that he had no ill intent.

Speaking at a press conference after attending Universiti Tunku Abdul Rahman’s 20th anniversary celebration on Aug 12, Dr Mah advised teachers to be good role models for students and to use social media wisely when imparting knowledge.

Deputy Education Minister Datuk Mohamad Alamin recognised that social media is an effective education tool. He, however, stressed that it must be used appropriately, especially among educators.

Speaking at the Certified Integrity Officer (CeIO) Programme closing ceremony in Putrajaya on Aug 9, he said teachers should use social media wisely to retain the integrity of the profession.

“Teachers must use social media appropriately as their actions indirectly portray the image of the ministry to the public,” he said.Mohamad added that the ministry had created a guideline in 2017 on social media usage among teachers and students.

“This document clearly states the things that teachers and students are prohibited from doing when using social media, including making any statement that touches on matters that may affect the image and policies of the government,” he said.

 

Balancing act

The few bad apples shouldn’t negate the good of digitalisation in education though, said academics.

Universiti Malaya educational foundation and humanities head Dr Azni Yati Kamaruddin said social media is an effective teaching tool when used conscientiously.

“Many social media applications nowadays can attract students’ attention. Most students have their own smartphones and they also have their own social media accounts. In fact, some students could understand well using these platforms. So, if teachers or instructors use this social media platform as a tool to attract students, it is appropriate,” she said.

At the same time, Azni said teachers need to maintain the balance of power in their lessons.

“Teachers need to remind students that they are still a source for students to gain knowledge. This is to maintain the role and respect for teachers among students,” she said.

A more serious problem only arises when these platforms are used for less virtuous intentions, Azni warned.

“When social media is misused by teachers to gain popularity and viewers, it is wrong in terms of teaching ethics. Teachers need to be sincere in carrying out their responsibilities as educators, instead of trying to gain popularity or virality,” she said.

Azni added that teachers shouldn’t reveal the faces of students – or expose their behaviours, for that matter – on social media postings.

Another challenge with digital teaching is in infrastructural limitations, she said.

“Lack of infrastructure and constraints to access the Internet in rural areas are usually the common complaints and grievances from teachers, students and parents,” Azni said.

Sunway University Assoc Prof Dr Daniel Chong Ka Leong said going virtual would be enriching for students in the long term but shouldn’t be the primary method of teaching and learning.

“Social media is a good supplementary teaching tool and should not be the primary teaching tool. Besides, social media is largely driven by community-based input, making it susceptible to fake news and misleading information,” he said, echoing a view raised earlier by Norhailmi.

Teachers, Chong stressed, should always prioritise their students’ pursuit of knowledge -- regardless of whatever teaching method they use.

“If students struggle to learn in a traditional classroom setting, reaching out to them via social media can be a good approach.

“If teachers use social media to increase their popularity, I see a risk in diluting or modifying the body of knowledge in order to gain more acceptance – in other words, creating content that is pleasing rather than educating,” he said.

For innovative teachers like Norhailmi and Claudius, it isn’t fame that they are after. Rather, it’s about finding ways to make education more accessible and enjoyable.

“Most of our students are connected through social media. It’s easier to access social media, even after school. The unique function in these platforms is that they give lots of space for creativity among teachers not only to use it for learning, but also for sharing the best practices with other teachers,” said Norhailmi.

At the end of the day, it’s about exploring new avenues in the teaching profession.

“Teachers must be open to the possibilities of using different approaches and methods in their classrooms. Never stop experimenting doing different activities and always find the best solution to solve learning issues in the classroom,” he said.

As for Claudius, it’s about finding that glimmer of hope in innovation.

“Nowadays, social media has gone beyond the purpose of socialising. It’s also a platform to spread information. So, why not use it as an educational medium to teach and educate students,” he concluded.

 

What students want...

Language-wise, perhaps watching a short documentary related to the topic being discussed in the textbook unit would be a good way to engage us in the lesson. This also provides ideas for speaking and writing activities. Above all, it helps students understand how their knowledge can serve themselves and the community. Part of the reason why learning becomes stressful for students and teachers is the time involved to cover the vast volume of content, specifically in Science and Maths subjects. As a result, teachers tend to rush through topics and students fall behind or lose interest in their classes. I would like to thank teachers who spare a few moments to show videos such as how differentiation is used in roller coasters or electromagnetism in drop tower systems to pique our interest in the topic and help us see its relevance in our lives. Hopefully, other teachers will follow suit and tap into infinite online learning resources to nurture young minds. – Rebecca Fernandez

For visual learners like me, hands-on activities are among the most interesting ways to learn. I think teachers should incorporate this method of learning in lessons, be it for the Biology or Maths subject. This method helps students like me understand what we’re learning instead of just forcing ourselves to memorise information. For example, it is better to conduct a science experiment rather than just memorising the procedure to answer exam questions. Hands-on learning puts students, instead of the teacher, in control, and it will most likely be the lesson we’ll remember most, hence helping us to absorb information easier. – Nieha Mitrallini

I would most definitely like it if more of my teachers introduced group projects and told us to present them before the class. I have enjoyed doing so despite being an introvert because it really helped me practise my speaking and presentation skills for the future, where I may be required to give presentations to my clients or boss. – Nasya Nazrul

I would like for teachers to teach as if they were having a casual conversation with students. Besides that, incorporating outdoor learning is fun too as it is healthier and more pleasing to learn surrounded by fresh air. – Sshakti Sundra

 

This article was first published in The Star, 11 September 2022.