Social Media in the Classroom

A Reflection…

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“Those that cannot DO teach”  I hate…’wait strongly disagree’ that statement.  It is in a lot of ways indefensible, and in reality it is used to agitate and rile up those who read it… Yet being agitated about something does not change the reality if it is accurate.  This quote can be found commonly in discussion boards on education and the importance of a teacher…. it is a dropping from a pre-internet troll.

TrollA troll?  No, not the Scandinavian mountainside version, rather the internet denizen whose sole purpose in life, seemingly anyway, is to sow dissent and frustration in
inter-web travelers… sort of a ‘digital’ bully.  While educators are undoubtedly aware of the potential impact of negative online behaviours, it is less likely that they are well equipped to recognize negative internet behaviours, through sound bytes and news articles, I am less certain that they are aware of the role that they may play in the prevention of their formation, or at least in teaching our students haw to defend against those that seek to turn the internet into a less welcoming environment.

Headlines, and prominent cases abound: Amanda Todd, Arron Schwartz, to the story of  Justine Sacco, we are often aware of the repercussions, however unaware of the instigation.  Some would suggest that these three are unrelated and to suggest that they are, would be unjust.  However, These three individuals are all victims.  Two lost their lives and one lost her reputation by the direct pressure of an, at times, unrelenting digital frontier, the worst of the digital society.  Add to this that they represent a relatively diverse slice of society: a teen, an internet pioneer, and a digitally active world travelling professional, and the question arises how can this happen?

Undoubtedly these individuals, and the countless others who didn’t make the headlines, all heard the warnings of what could happen if…?   Most kids hear about the threat that Amanda Todd Faced, but who would have seen the government, or the entire Twitterverse as potential aggressors?

Headlines like these lead to knee-jerk reactions and isolated instructional units on internet safety.  Dont get me wrong there is a very valid need for strong character education both on and off the internet.  As Ohler points out, through character education we can facilitate protection but also prevention.  However, is focusing solely on the fact that there are pitfalls found on the internet going to actually change anything?  Students more than ever before need to embark upon their digital journey, not with their hands held, but rather their eyes open.  Additionally they will need the essential tools and abilities, or version therof, outlined in Ribble’s 9 Themes of Digital Citizenship.

It is here that I believe we as educators have an obligation to our students. More than internet safety we need to, ourselves,  be aware of what the internet is doing?  What is a cookie?  What is a bot? What is trending?  What are the limitations and dangers of the environments that our students are navigating.  Why is information valuable?  Perhaps above all:  why is it important to them, not only in the future…but right now.

Our digital presence should, however,  not be limited to words, its  our actions that students truly learn from.

We should present opportunities to represent written opinions in 140 characters or less in ELA.  Identify the danger of a loosely defined privacy policy in an image sharing app while representing learning on a classroom blog. Discuss what the powers of the internet, and how they differ according to political structures by engaging in chats with students from other parts of the world. Complete shared views on news features are as an environment of permanent presence, and thus also one of necessary  and active awareness.

Much as we do when interacting with traditional learning tools, we need our students to hear us say “When I go on Twitter I…” or “My Facebook profile is….” or even “When I post images online…”.  In doing this we can protect our students by identifying unsound digital behaviours and at the same time explore the idea of an active digital citizen as opposed to being a passive digital consumer.

Of course this cannot be achieved by solely allowing students to use an iPad to generate a movie, or a laptop to research political structures of South America.  We must integrate the technology as a tool to achieve a student defined goal, use technology rather than letting technology using us. Some would suggest that there are better apps, programs software than others,kid technology however, I would argue that value is dependent in the situation it is examined in.  The reality is we often don’t even realize the potential of tools or the versatility of connecting until someone looks at from a different angle.

This is a daunting proposal for a generation who did not grow up in this environment.  However, as professionals we do have an obligation to practice what we preach.  Lifelong and active learners does not solely apply to the printed word, anymore…if it ever really did.  Too often teachers assume digital native approach defined by Prensky represents the reality of our students, when a model of more intentional presence and awareness, as proposed by David White, should be the one we propose, and emulate for our students (and colleagues).

An important point arises here:  There is, at times, an air about people who are proficient in the implementation of technology.  There is a strange propensity for teachers to turn to their peers and become critical of practice, and ability, especially when it comes to technology.  I think this can be one of the greatest barriers to the implementation and familiarity with technology.  We are all on our own journey towards getting our digital passport, and professionally there should only be one term to define our colleagues and that is progressing.  Anything else could contribute to a condition introduced to me by Kelly Christopherson: Periphery Paralysis.  Throughout this process, it has been a challenge for me to START.  Yet we cannot compare ourselves to those with more skills than we have…it simply makes the task too daunting.  We would never refer to a student with undeveloped technology skills as a Luddite, why then our professional peers.  If we can tell stories of how the teacher down the hall still uses an overhead, maybe we play a role in ensuring that the story changes to one with a different plot line.

What will I do?  I will continue to develop the importance of a personal and professional identity online.  I see the value and importance of digital citizenship and awareness in the lives of my students.   I will use technology to enhance my practice.  Through apps, connecting internationally to students around the world, classroom blogging (now at over 17 000 views), #myclasschat, I will continue to learn alongside my students what the evolving reality of an digital identity will be.  I will share these learnings with other teachers in my school in a way that allows them to start their own journey into social media and its relevance, importance, and role in the classroom.

There will always be a dark side to the internet, however we cannot be safe by simply teaching about the dangers.  We need to DO something to help create a generation that does not buy into the worst of the web, but rather generates the best of what the web offers to our society, all while remembering that we are also an active part in the realization of what we want our increasingly digital world to truly be.


Troll image: Photo Credit: jpeepz via Compfight cc
Teacher/Student image: Photo Credit: Ars Electronica via Compfight cc



Author: 2014shaunhorsman

Teacher seeking to better implement and understand the role of technology in the classroom... and outside the classroom.

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