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Social distancing meet social media: digital tools for connecting students, teachers, and citizens in an emergency

Christine Greenhow (College of Education, Michigan State University, East Lansing, Michigan, USA)
Amy Chapman (College of Education, Columbia University, New York, New York, USA)

Information and Learning Sciences

ISSN: 2398-5348

Article publication date: 16 July 2020

Issue publication date: 27 July 2020




In a public health crisis where social distancing, or physical distancing while in public spaces, is the new normal, social media offer respite from being alone. Recent statistics show spikes in social media usage worldwide during the Covid-19 pandemic. More than just easing loneliness, such freely available digital tools offer affordances for education in an emergency.


This paper summarizes insights from literature reviews of over a decade of research and recent case studies on the benefits of teaching with social media in K-12 education.


The authors highlight three affordances of social media for fostering active learning, community building and civic participation and describe how social media can be used in conjunction with conventional learning management systems. Furthermore, the authors argue that the unprecedented health crisis that is faced today requires the participation of responsible citizens of all ages; K-12 public education is on the front lines of preparing informed and active citizens and the integration of social media as part of remote education plans can help.

Practical implications

The paper includes instructional guidelines for K-12 teachers and instructional designers in various settings who seek to integrate social media as part of their strategy for teaching students at a distance and facilitating their civic participation.


This paper fulfills an identified need for evidence-based and pragmatic approaches to K-12 online teaching and learning using technologies already widely in use (i.e. social media).



This article is part of the special issue, “A Response to Emergency Transitions to Remote Online Education in K-12 and Higher Education” which contains shorter, rapid-turnaround invited works, not subject to double blind peer review. The issue was called, managed and produced on short timeline in Summer 2020 toward pragmatic instructional application in the Fall 2020 semester.


Greenhow, C. and Chapman, A. (2020), "Social distancing meet social media: digital tools for connecting students, teachers, and citizens in an emergency", Information and Learning Sciences, Vol. 121 No. 5/6, pp. 341-352.



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