Yesterday, my family and I experienced a loss we had never ever felt (thankfully) before, but I am sure we will experience again. We had to put our dog, Ginger down.
I anticipated it would be awful, but was not quite prepared for the sorrow of watching my family be so emotional or how I would feel when our beautiful pup lay there motionless as she breathed her last breath.
We wondered whether we should post anything on social media or whether we should keep our grief private. We put the idea away for a while as we gathered all of Ginger’s belongings: her food, her favourite toys, her bed.
We were all exhausted from the sheer emotion of it. We didn’t answer the phone when it rang or pick up our phones at all.
Everywhere we looked, there were reminders. The silence was and is perhaps the hardest. By the end of the afternoon, we thought it might be easier to post what happened, so we could avoid that awkward question when someone asked how Ginger was doing.
The resulting outpouring of support and condolences was so overwhelming and touching and it helped me. And you may say, sure, it’s that dopamine high from getting likes on social media, but it was more than that. You see people took the time to send a message or a separate DM, or a text. A friend even shared a poem.
I take away two thoughts.
- For as much as people blame social media for the ills of the world, this was yet another reminder to me that it can be an incredibly beautiful and supportive space too.
- We will all be in school tomorrow still grieving in our own ways. I am reminded that we need to reach out to people in kindness every day because we don’t know what inner struggles they are facing or the heaviness of their hearts.
Thank you to all of you who made a positive difference in my world this weekend.
Have you ever had a summer cold? Happens to me every year! This year, it seems particularly awful! I’ve been feeling miserable for days and even more so because I had to cancel plans with my Book Club on Friday AND give up the opportunity to go see Ed Sheeran on Saturday! We also had tentative family plans to go to an Escape room today which everyone convinced me was not a good idea because I’d be sneezing and coughing on everything.
So to say that I have not been in the best mood the past few days is a bit of an understatement. And yet now, at this moment. My heart is bursting with love and joy.
Why you ask? Because of a 9-year girl and her messages (both public and private) on Twitter.
Now granted, Olivia Van Ledtje is not your average 9 year old. She is a force of positivity and all that is good in the world (the analogue AND online world). She is inspiring and hopeful and one of the students I feature in my book, Social LEADia. She calls me her #CanadianTeacher 🙂 Olivia is proof of how students are not waiting until they grow up to lead and certainly how positively they can impact others! And her voice, among the other powerful student voices in the book epitomize the importance of student voice–not just as an idea we talk about in education, but as essential and valuable to teaching and learning.
It may have taken her all of 10 minutes to actually create a video and share it with me, but she didn’t have to. However, in so doing, Olivia made such a positive impact on me today!
This is in fact the core of the book based on George Couros’ definition of Digital Leadership: to use social media to improve the lives, well-being and circumstances of others (2015).
One of my favourite quotes by Leo Buscaglia goes like this:
“Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, and honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.”
I think that it is essential that we apply this to our face to face dealings with people, but I think we underestimate the extent to which we might do this virtually as well. It does us well to remember that behind our screens are vibrant, complicated, wounded and/or wonderful people. Everyone could use a kind gesture.
Here is Liv’s video:
— Olivia Van Ledtje (@thelivbits) July 9, 2017
How might you make someone’s world brighter today?
The other day I was honoured to be on set of Family in Focus, a local television program hosted by my friend, Gillian Barker on Rogers television (Georgina). The topic: parenting out of fear.
During the conversation I shared how parenting out of fear and control when it came to social media really stifled my children and their passion and how my relationship with them and our conversations have changed as a result. My learning from this resulted in my writing Social LEADia,which will be published this week, which highlights the voices of kids who are using social media in creative and positive ways for digital leadership.
Here are a few excerpts:
Don’t underestimate social media and the internet. If you just took a minute, and looked at the things that students do online that do change the world, you would be SO blown away. It’s actually really cool. Social media allows us to share our voice and issues that we care about and let our voice be heard by people in different cities, provinces and countries. Yes, we can do bad things online, such as cyberbullying, but we can also prevent the bad things, reverse it and do things on the internet that will help us change the world for the better. Social media is also a place where we connect with other like-minded young people and organizations. When we are able to connect, we can get and give support and encouragement, share ideas and information with others who share our passion and drive to create change.
—Hannah Alper, 13 yr old
When I say social media most people, especially parents scream in fear, “Ah, social media” that’s where my kids go and write bad comments about their teachers or post pictures from that party they were at. This is where malicious behaviour takes place. But that doesn’t have to be the case. I recently wrote a blogpost called, “Why is the conversation surrounding social media so negative? And in it I document that my experience with social media is unusual, but it doesn’t have to be. So why is social media abused? What I found is that the conversation is always negative. Social media is abused by young people is the rhetoric that older people are using. So adults come and lecture students by saying “Don’t use social media.” “Social media is bad” “Don’t do this” and students start to identify social media as a negative place. Once you start lecturing to someone that they can’t do something it motivates them to do that thing and then they start developing these negative schemas of social media. I have a radical concept for you–especially those of you who talk negatively about social media.
If you present social media as a positive space, as a place for students to go to express themselves, to connect with professionals with other students, then that’s the type of learning you are going to see there.
—Timmy Sullivan, 18 yr old
I think we really owe it to our students to put our fear asides and see what the connected world has to offer: to understand it better.
This quotation shared by George Couros in a recent post really resonates:
I noticed that I had a blog post in draft form from the summer. Do you do this as a blogger? I’m not sure why I didn’t post it then; maybe it didn’t feel complete or I wasn’t happy with it. Nonetheless, I pushed myself way too hard yesterday and have to be gentle with myself, so this is my 3/10 post.
When I was researching for my Social Media in Education course, I put out an informal survey on Twitter. It was by no means a scientific survey: I didn’t have a control group and the fact is, because I used Twitter to administer the survey, many of the kids who responded had teachers who already use social media in their classrooms. So though so this is not hard data by any means, it is interesting.
The respondents were from grade 6-8 (so ages 11-14 years old) and this what they said when I asked whether or not social media should be used in school:
And here’s the interesting thing I noticed when students responded to the question, “Why” or “Why not”. Students who had used social media in their classroom for the purposes of learning (three times or more) had a positive attitude towards the potential of social media verses the students who never did.
Look at these extremes:
Here are the responses from kids who said yes. Most of these students had indicated that they had had the opportunity to use social media in their classes:
- because it is a good way to share how you are learning with people around the world
- because you will learn about thing all the time and the world is coming to the point where you will need to use social media
- because it can be educational and fun.
- because it helps with learning and it gives us an experience.
- Yes, because it is a great resource for learning, if you go on certain accounts, it can actually help you learn something, all the major companies use social media.
- it can help you get comfortable with talking to people
And there was a group of students who did not actually use social media in school, but indicated that wished they could be:
- some social media can help you learn about whats going on in the world right now. Also, some kids enjoy using social media, so maybe kids would be more interested in learning if they could use social media to learn and connect with and about the world
- I think it should because it could potentially be a resource, and it could help with the understanding of the online life
- Social media should be used in school as it helps children learn something that they are used to using. Today, almost all children use social media.
There were many students (32 out of 102 respondents) who were not sure, but could not exactly articulate why. There were many, “I don’t know” responses and “I’m not sure” and one student articulated it this way: I’m not sure because I don’t really understand how using social media would help students learn in class.
Of the students who said no (13 out of 102 respondents) to using social media in school, it seemed to focus on hypotheticals and the fear narrative:
- Because too much social media is bad and could strain our eyes if we’re on it to long.
- If students were allowed to use social media at school today it would have been a problem because there could be a cyberbully.
- We shouldn’t because the kids might not be using it appropriately
What stood out most to me from the survey results was the stark difference between the attitudes of the students who used social media daily and were given the opportunity to use social media in the classroom more than 5 times in a school year, versus what students who use social media daily, but who had never been given the opportunity to use it in class had to say. You see, those students only look that their own social use, their tendency to be distracted by their friends’ posts. They are also likely the students who have been taught nothing about social media beyond how bad it is, so it is no wonder that they could not see any educational value.
And yet, I continue to talk to teachers from across the globe who cannot use social media in their classrooms because it is blocked or banned.
Do we invite students to District-level tables? Do we have a student school advisory team at the school level?
Will anything ever change if we don’t change the path we are currently taking when it comes to using social media in the classroom?
Would love to hear your thoughts!
I want to live in a world dominated by peace, love, empathy, and mutual understanding of differences. I want my own kids and students to grow up in that kind of world.
And yet it seems that everywhere I turn on social media or the news lately, there is another instance of hate resulting in the loss of life. I am so grateful that I belong to a Voxer group made up of so many races and religions which truly allows for multiple perspectives and courageous conversations. Just listening to everyone talk about their own experiences has helped me to grow in my understanding of the complexity of it all. My buddy, Justin Schleider said it best when he said that we are forever changed as a result of our group, because we notice inequality more frequently as a result of having participated in these discussions and having our ideas pushed and challenged.
Throughout our discussions, I always bring it back to the classroom. How do we address important issues of inequality and injustice with other teachers and students? Do we? How do we help students to see alternative perspectives in the media? Can social media be a vehicle for positive social action and change?
Some would answer no. The term “slacktivism,” which is made up of a combination of the words “slacker” and “activism,” has increasingly been used to describe the disconnect between awareness and action through the use of social media (Glen, 2015).
Slacktivism can be defined as “a willingness to perform a relatively costless, token display of support for a social cause, with an accompanying lack of willingness to devote significant effort to enact meaningful change” (Kristofferson et al., 2014) and thus has a negative connotation.
And yet, isn’t awareness a goal of education? If a young person learns about deforestation, reads about organizations doing something about it, and “likes” their page, or demonstrates a positive response, isn’t that exactly what we want? Might that eventually lead to a more active stance as the child grows older?
I think of the Ice Bucket Challenge craze of last year as an example of how awareness can be spread through something going viral on the internet. If you don’t remember, the movement required that you video-tape yourself throwing ice water over yourself & challenging others to do so as well. You were also supposed to donate to ALS (Lou Gherig’s disease). At the time, it was criticized because many people were just interested in the fun of the challenge. This is in line with typical criticism of slacktivism which is more about “‘feel-good back patting’ through watching or ‘liking’ commentary of social issues without any action.” and the fact that oftentimes there is minimal time and effort, without mobilization and/or demonstrable effect in solving a social issue (Glen, 2015). And yet, there is no way that people would have had known about the disease without this movement becoming popular on social media. Just recently, there was a breakthrough in ALS as a result of the money raised during that craze. So slacktivism, in this case, despite its negative connotation and criticism turned out to be very positive.
Much has been written also about the Kony movement of 2012 (Jenkins, et al, 2015) (Glen, 2015) as an example of social activism on the internet. I remember this campaign vividly because at the time, a friend of the family, who is a non-reader, not interested in school, and generally apathetic when it comes to any sort of causes became very interested in learning about Kony and child soldiers. I directed her to sources and she voraciously read them to learn about the cause. We often talk about students not coming into our classes with prior knowledge, but I wonder whether or not if we meet them where they are and bring in cultural references from social media, that we might have greater success helping them to build an understanding of politics and culture.
I love this tweet by Curran Dee (a mother/son account) which really does emphasize the difference between activism & slacktivism:
I really appreciate this framework for Citizenship Education in the new revised Canadian World Studies (and other revised Ontario Curriculum) as it reminds us that active participation in society are a necessary end goal. Today, this means that technology and social media can help students develop a voice and become actively involved in causes about which they are passionate. But it also suggests that teaching citizenship is an important goal to the development of the whole child.
When we provide students the opportunity to learn about other cultures in the world, by connecting our classrooms, we are helping them to see other races and cultures as human beings. This can only be a good thing. This can ideally be accomplished via technology and/or social media. Students, can for example engage in a Google Hangout or a Blab with other classes to discuss an issue. They can engage in a Twitter exchange. I have heard so many powerful stories and have personally experienced transformation of student points’ of view as a result of virtually meeting kids from other countries or communities. In one case, where one of our local schools connected with Julie Balen’s class, our students admitted that they really had no idea that the students of FNMI backgrounds were “16 year olds just like us”, and a student from Wikwemikong school admitted to thinking that everyone outside of her reserve was white and that she was surprised to see the class had so many “colours”. One of my friends, Shervette Miller-Peyton spoke about how interesting it was for her class to connect with a class from Brazil because they had made so many assumptions about what students outside of the States would be like. They were shocked to hear that the students knew about their own culture. Connecting students allows them to really get to know and understand others.
I would suggest a four-pronged approach to any issue so as to minimize bias and radical responses BEFORE they actually go online. Something like this which would obviously need to be modified based on the grade:
|I am ___________and this is my perspective…:
Respond as the perpetrator’s son (daugher, sister, brother, mother)
|I am ______________and this my perspective…
Respond as the perpetrator’s victim’s (daugher, sister, brother, mother)
|I am ___________and this my perspective:
Respond as a community leader
|I am ___________and this my perspective:
Respond as a bystander
|Reflect: I used to think, and now I think…|
Student Digital Leadership
We have always included opportunities for learning about social justice issues in the classroom. Today, we are able to empower our students to use their own voices to advocate for change. These are just a few examples of kids leveraging social media and technology to spread good in the world.
The other day I read about Two fourth graders who started a plastic bag petition in Houston. It was shared on Twitter by fourth grader, Curran Dee.
Joshua Williams, founder of Joshua’s Heart an organization dedicated to feeding the hungry, promotes a positive stance on the issue of gun violence.
Harry Potter Alliance
I learned about the Harry Potter Alliance from the book, Participatory Cultures in a Networked Era. It’s a really interesting resource where social activism and different fandoms (primarily Harry Potter) collide. The website says its goal is to make “activism accessible through the power of story.” The toolkits focus on different issues and provide background as well as concrete ideas of how to build awareness about those issues. It would be a great resource for teachers and students alike.
A great way to promote activism in the classroom is to check out the hashtags for current events on Twitter or Instagram and contribute positively. I reflect on the power of hashtagshere.
These are a few hashtags shared with me by Alec Couros which he uses in his courses to demonstrate some major online campaigns.
I always check what’s trending on Twitter or Instagram to see if any topical hashtags might be relevant to a unit or theme being studied (or could replace what I had in mind).
Keep it Positive
I would also recommend that you take George Couros’ advice to Err on the Side of Positive and beyond that respond with empathy, positivity, openness, sensitivity, and love. Keeping interactions on social media positive will prevent misunderstandings and negativity.
Consider this: My friend, Rola Tibshirani shared this post by Stephen Downes, called Hey Snapchat Enough is Enough. It criticizes Snapchat for its filters which stereotype and border on racist. I look at something like that as a great opportunity to discuss portrayals of diversity in media and social media. It would also provide an excellent starting point for action: kids can contact the company and share their opinions so they know that they don’t have to passively stand by when they recognize injustice. To keep it positive, they can suggest some alternative filters that would be more inclusive too!
What do you think of taking action using social media?
Couros, G. (2016, June). Err on the Side of Positive. iPadPalooza. June, 2016. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=zoMn4063yc4
Glenn, C. L. (2015). Activism or “slacktivism?”: Digital media and organizing for social change.Communication Teacher, 29(2), 81-85. doi:10.1080/17404622.2014.1003310
Groetzinger, K. (2015, December 10). Slacktivism is having a powerful real-world impact, new research shows. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from http://qz.com/570009/slacktivism-is-having-a-powerful-real-world-impact-new-research-shows/
Kristofferson, K., White, K., & Peloza, J. (2014). The nature of slacktivism: How the social observability of an initial act of token support affects subsequent prosocial action.Journal of Consumer Research, 40(6), 1149-1166. doi:10.1086/674137
Robinson, Matthew (2016) Department of Government and Justice Studies. Appalachian State University. Retrieved July 31, 2016, from http://gjs.appstate.edu/social-justice-and-human-rights/what-social-justice
Vanwynsberghe, Hadewijch, and Pieter Verdegem. “Integrating social media in education.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.3 (2013). Academic OneFile
Vanwynsberghe, Hadewijch, and Pieter Verdegem. “Integrating social media in education.” CLCWeb: Comparative Literature and Culture 15.3 (2013). Academic OneFile
- Glenn, C. L. (2015). Activism or “slacktivism?”: Digital media and organizing for social change. Communication Teacher, 29(2), 81-85. doi:10.1080/17404622.2014.1003310
Music.ly is an app that allows for the creation and sharing of music videos. Like any app that allows for public sharing, there are definitely pros & cons. I have heard educators talk about this app as the worst app for kids to be on, and yet when you play with it, you can definitely see why kids (and adults) would be drawn to it! It allows for the creation of professional-looking videos which are easy to share with friends. Here’s one that Sylvia Duckworth created during a Pub PD–just for fun!
I just “followed” my 8 year-old niece’s account and my sister is so proud of how very creative Ashlin is when using the Music.ly app. She doesn’t just use it for music videos, but also to create skits. Just the other day, a little girl with whom I was speaking, told me that she loves the app and that it is the one she uses most on her iPod.
The app itself offers unique features which is why users would be drawn to it. It is fun and easy to use. Within minutes you can create professional looking music videos (lip sync or original). Check out an overview Here.
There are teachers and parents who are concerned due to content that may be sexually provocative and issues around privacy. Despite the fact that the app suggests 12 as a minimum age, parents are saying it’s more appropriate for older kids. This is what parents had to say via Common Sense Media, despite the fact that kids themselves rated it much lower.
One of the main ideas of my upcoming book, Social LEADia is that any social media app or tool can be used for good or for nefarious reasons. I firmly believe that rather than shut it down, or ignore its existence, it is important to have conversations around privacy and appropriate content in the context of using the tool
Better yet, we need to listen and ask about how your students are using this app. This not only helps us strengthen relationships with them, but it may lead to surprising opportunities to allow the curriculum to come alive for some students.
I LOVE this video example:
I love it because it shows how very creative people can be and how some tools may be made for one purpose but offer incredible opportunities for other applications.
The most important conversations involve privacy and appropriate content. You do need an email to sign up and you need to create a username. Some people don’t feel comfortable using their full name and so a crucial conversation involve pros and cons around real vs user name.
The default is set to public. This means that anyone can download your music.ly. For example, I downloaded the above video to my Youtube channel. You absolutely need to know that someone may possibly download your Music.ly. That is not necessarily a bad thing if students are using the tool for digital leadership.
Like any app that allows a user to create content and other users to comment, necessary conversations need to be had around how to comment positively and how to react when there are negative comments made on your video. This is SO important because it provides an in-the-moment and authentic opportunity to teach Digital Citizenship.
Use in the classroom
When a tool is used authentically and with the guidance of a classroom teacher, there is an opportunity to have those crucial conversations and explore some of the concerns together. Music.ly might be a good choice for any extension activity in which students create their own rap or dance or as in the example above for the creation of art with a music background.
The infographic below gives you an overview of the app.
Link to infographic with hyperlinks here
What are your thoughts on this app? How can we create Music.ly apps with our students to be a more positive influence on others?
I have been and continue to be a strong advocate for using social media in the classroom to empower students. I have been an active user of social media since 2011 and have never encountered any of the negativity I have heard people associate with it. I mean, not ever in the 12, 696 Tweets and various Google +, Instagram, Facebook, or LinkedIn posts! I always put out positive and it always seems to come back to find me.
Early this morning, I wavered slightly when I was the target of online threats.
It happened on Blab at 2:30 a.m. I had only recently explored Blab as a tool for possible integration in the classroom a couple of weeks ago. I was a guest panelist for, Good Brings Good: Harnessing the Power of Connections for Social Change, as part of EdCamp Global, featuring Matone de Chiwit and Calliope’s Fran Siracusa. Also on air were Sean Robinson and Tracy Brady along with Manel Trenchs and Fabiana Cassella as well as others who joined. We all stayed up for the time slot to share our enthusiasm for the powerful connections made with our classes and the young inventor Karishma Baghani around the topic of water scarcity.
And then the harassment started. It began with negative comments put forward by “Dawn” who we later realized was not a real person, but a fake account created by someone on Twitter for the purpose of joining Blab to be negative and anonymous. There were extremely anti-male sentiments and harassing statements directed at Sean. I proceeded to say in the chat box how disappointed I was that such an important topic was being sabotaged by negativity. Fran was able to remove “her” and we continued.
Shortly thereafter, another “user” entered the Blab and spewed hateful anti-male sentiments towards both Sean and Manel Trenchis i Mola, who joined us from Barcelona. I firmly believe it was the same person under the guise of a different username. The abuse was along similar lines. Fran tried to remove the user once again, but this time, it wasn’t working. I tried to post positive comments but as I continued to do so, the user sent me threatening messages–directed not just at me, but clearly the person had looked at my Twitter profile and realized that I had two daughters and threatened them.
Fran and the panel of guests addressed the issue but also continued on with the presentation remarkably well. Because Blab does not record the chat, a viewer would find it difficult to tell when this all started.
In the subsequent hours, (between 3 & 4:30 am ET), we each set out to Report and Block both of the users. I emailed Blab, contacted Twitter. Fran meticulously deleted all of the negative comments so they couldn’t be seen in the replay. The group of amazing educators who had been in on the planning for the Good-Brings-Good Global Edcamp session got together on our group chat (Direct Message on Twitter) to talk about what happened and to support one another with words, Bitmojiis, and images. The conversation then extended to Voxer where we continued to support each other and where we talked about what we could have done differently next time.
In my case, even before I woke up, my husband had already talked to my 13 year-old about the incident. When I came down for breakfast, she told me that she had gone into all of her accounts and checked to make sure nothing was unusual. She had also checked my 16 year-old’s phone (as she is in Ecuador) and made sure nothing untoward was happening there either. She told me that she had also strengthened her passwords “just to be on the safe side”. Then she asked if I was ok. I just about sobbed. My biggest fear was that somehow the threats made could actually happen, despite knowing that it would be extremely unlikely that someone would harm my kids from afar.
I don’t tell this story because I want to frighten you. I don’t tell it because I think we should all swear off social media. I tell it because as distressed as I was, I am more convinced than ever that we need to help and guide kids to navigate these spaces together. This negative experience has probably pushed my thinking more than has been possible when I’ve only known the positive. Sean Guillard shared the image below on Instagram and it immediately resonated. What happens in the classroom when a wrong note is hit? Being thoughtful and proactive will ensure that the next note is good.
Anticipate that something may go wrong.
Do you have children? If you do, you will be familiar with this scenario. Your child falls and you react extremely negatively, you screech or cry out or gasp. What does your child do? Sobs and wails uncontrollably. But what happens when I purposefully suck in my breath, carry on, offer support in a very even keel voice as if nothing really frightening has happened? My children miraculously brushed themselves off and continued to play. The most important thing to do when something unexpected, unfamiliar, or negative happens when using social media (really apply this wisdom to anything) is to stay calm and think things through logically. If you watch the Replay of the Blab, you will see Fran as the model of composure even though she was panicking to block and eject the offender. You will see Sean continue to talk about the power of student voice even though he is being attacked in the chat box. Your calmness will in turn instill calm. Your panic will make everyone anxious and fearful.
When I presented at the GAFE Summit in Kitchener this past Spring, I decided it would be a good idea to do a live Google Hangout. As you can imagine, anything that could go wrong, did. Nothing was working, then I shared the wrong link and had to eject someone (not because he was being inappropriate, but there was audio interference). Even though I was shaking in front of a rather large audience, my literacy background must have kicked in because I engaged in a problem-solving-think-aloud. That is, I explained what I was doing to solve the problem in a methodical and practical way. Many people later shared how important that was and how much they appreciated me thinking through and problem-solving out loud as they saw what they would do if the same thing happened to them. As I was thinking about what I would do if a negative incident happened in the classroom, it would be important to say these kinds of things as you are doing them:
- “First I will look for a way to block this user because this is extremely inappropriate and uncomfortable. Blocking them will make sure we don’t see them anymore.
- “I will take a screenshot of the username and the negative things being said so I can have a record of it”
- “I will need to report this to the company and talk to the principal about this. I can send the screenshots I took.”
- “I think I need to change my password and make it stronger, just in case this person tries to get into my accounts.”
- “I wonder what we could do differently next time so this doesn’t happen again.”
Making this thinking visible will give them a frame for when this might happen to them as they personally engage in using social media (which we all know they are doing at younger and younger ages).
Plan that Something will go wrong
In an ensuing conversation with Marialice Curran, I spoke about overcoming the feeling helplessness with a proactive action plan. She made the analogy of a Fire Escape plan which makes so much sense.
We have kids engage in Fire Drills & Lock down drills. We don’t wish for these things to happen, but when we anticipate that something could go wrong, and talk about it as a class, we empower our students to act in the event that action is necessary. And we do this to keep them safe. A simple question like, “What might go wrong if we use this tool and what will we do about it?” may suffice. In the case of Blab, Fran reflected that having more than one moderator/host would have been helpful since only a moderator can remove participants. This can be true for other live-streaming tools as well.
It may also help to include the following elements in your action plan:
DO NOT ENGAGE
As much as I always give everyone the benefit of the doubt, someone who is being negative on social media is not likely going to turn around and be grateful to me for helping them to be more positive. Trying to reason with someone who is negative is futile. It definitely didn’t work for me–in fact in retrospect, standing up to the person is what prompted the threatening messages. It is important to continue as if nothing is happening and not engage in any way.
DROWN OUT THE NEGATIVE WITH POSITIVE
One of my favourite quotes by George Couros is this:
He coined it after he had a potentially negative situation arose in front of a live audience of students. I vividly remember him sharing his story with me and it was all I could think of during the Blab, but unfortunately, I was the only one who was putting in positive comments and because I was also trying to take screen shots, the effort was not enough. I keep thinking how different it would have been if we had talked about this beforehand, and how much more effective and powerful all of us would have been at drowning out that one hateful voice. This was a strategy kids came up with when we had a negative situation on Yik Yak as well. To me, this is the most important thing we can do to empower our kids in a negative situation.
Jennifer Williams, who also reached out, said this: “Breaks my heart to think that there are people out there that are hurting so badly that they intentionally try to cause harm to others. Just another reason to spread
#goodbringsgood in our world the best we can.”
MAKE THE COMPANY ACCOUNTABLE
Some apps really have no idea that educators are thinking of innovative ways to incorporate them; thus they are not being created with kids and safety in mind. If something negative happens, talk to the class about what action they’d like to take.
“Should we contact the company with our suggestions about how this tool could be safer?”
Again the intent is to empower. Kids need to know that if there is something that needs to be fixed that they can be part of the solution. It could very well be that the company had never even considered the suggestions that the kids might come up with. They often surprise us and learning should lead to action.
FORGE A POSITIVE CONNECTION WITH PARENTS
If an incident happens in class, it is important to communicate this with parents and families about how to help. It is also important to think about what and how you communicate. Parents need to know that something happened that made everyone uncomfortable, and what steps that could be taken at home, but it is also extremely helpful that the tone (or the words) reflect the fact that there are important lessons to be learned by engaging in the guided use of social media together as a class which their child will take with them when they navigate the tools on their own. If your tone wavers to suggest that you should not have been using this tool in the first place, you are just opening up yourself for trouble. Parents need to be assured that the choices you make in class are for the goal of learning. A summary of the learning goals and what the children have decided as a plan of action moving forward would also help parents feel that the teacher and the school are being thoughtful and diligent about the choices being made.
MAKE WISE CHOICES
Having said, that, using technology as well as social media always requires critical thinking on the part of the teacher. Once you establish your purpose, you (or the kids) select a tool which would most easily and effectively help you arrive at your learning goal. Blab is a great tool for discussion and debate. Periscope is a great live streaming tool. But both are public and anyone can jump in. The time of day probably matters too, during the school day, you may be less likely to have someone come in than if it’s in the evening (or at 2 am!) Though it’s never the tool, but the user(s) of the tool which make it negative, you may not necessarily want to engage in a public Blab with kids under the age of 13 or at least practice using it as unlisted first. If you choose to use a tool, awareness and collaborative conversations are necessary.
Here is an article with some tips for online abuse on Blab which may apply to other tools as well.
The topic and Blab itself was a demonstration of the positive! Despite what happened there was powerful sharing about how students were positively impacted by a project which allowed them to become passionate about a project that could helps make the lives of others better. Whatever else, getting involved in this project will provide. Sean’s blog is a great place to learn about this and other Connections-based learning projects. And check out the Our Blue Earth project in collaboration with Karishma which is still ongoing for the next school year.
I leave you with the sentiment expressed by Manel at the end of the Blab as he is being harassed in the chat:
“There is a lot of work to be done to help use social media in a good way”
Indeed there is. We can’t let negative experiences prevent us from engaging in these online spaces with kids. I shudder at the thought of a child or teen going through what I went through all alone because we just don’t feel comfortable going there. I am grateful to the community of friends that reached out to me and to Sean after this incident.
And I am ever mindful that it is a community of friends whom I know mostly only virtually: by way of social media.
School should be that safe community for kids and so should their online spaces.
As a former English teacher, I am acutely aware of media messages and the fact that they are a construct of reality. When I first started teaching (just a few years ago), I taught my students the Media Triangle which we then used as a frame of reference whenever we viewed media:
So even before the internet was a thing and social media came to be, those of us teaching English and Media studies have been teaching kids that media is not real: that the audience, the text, and the production (techniques & conventions) are purposefully chosen and represent a construct of reality. This applies to everything: “reality” tv, magazine covers, film, news articles, posters, and now that list includes social media. Most especially, I taught students that we need to ask critical questions when they are confronted with a media text and and we should always be a little skeptical of what is being portrayed. And so traditionally, media has been the culprit of many negative outcomes including,
“exposure to unrealistic body images; modelling; pressure to conform; gender-typed socialization; objectification of the body; internalization of appearance ideals; increased negative affect that results from viewing unrealistic images of the body; social comparisons; interactions with peers and other normative influences; the adoption of appearance management behaviors and body change strategies to improve oneself; and compensatory motivations such as disordered eating as a way to validate one’s self-concepts” (Williams, 2014, pg 390)
Blame Social Media
Now, many posts, articles, studies, and musings are about the extent to which social media is to blame for these same issues which I tackled 20 years ago in my Media Studies class. And yet…
Perhaps the reason why there is a more pressing concern is likely because social media amplifies the access to some of these messages. Richard Perloff, in a study examining how social media effects young women’s body image, states that “social media, in Western countries such as the U.S., U.K., and Australia, have infiltrated individuals’ lives in ways that was not possible with previous mass media” (Williams, 2014, pg 389). This is actually scary when I consider the Dove campaign video which was created in 2008.
In a recent post by George Couros, he references an article about a young woman whose Instagram feed painted a picture of happiness while in actual fact she was struggling with depression and ultimately committed suicide. The commentary about Instagram is an interesting one:
“With Instagram, one thing has changed: the amount we consume of one another’s edited lives. Young women growing up on Instagram are spending a significant chunk of each day absorbing others’ filtered images while they walk through their own realities, unfiltered. In a recent survey conducted by the Girl Scouts, nearly 74 percent of girls agreed that other girls tried to make themselves look “cooler than they are” on social networking sites.”
I remember reading a post on my Twitter feed a few months ago about an Australian Instagram celebrity, Essena O’Neill, who apparently “blew up the internet” when she swore off social media admitting that every picture, every post was completely contrived and that she was never truly happy. This line really resonated:
The concept of faking a “perfect” life on social media has been around almost as long as social media itself”
A proactive approach: Use social media in media literacy lessons
We can limit the exposure kids have on social media (and I’m not saying we shouldn’t), but we may have to take a look at other proactive ways to address the multi-layered issue which arises here. Research suggests that media literacy is effective in combating body-image perceptions in women and that a multi-system approach is necessary to empower youth and adults” to start to challenge media-propagated images of narrow and harmful idealized bodies. This approach should include social media which “are capable of dramatically expanding the reach of media literacy programs on body image” (Andsager, 2014). (emphasis added)
Looking back at the media triangle, whether we are talking about an advertisement, a Facebook post, or an Instagram post, we can isolate all of the elements within it very effectively in our classrooms with students. And so when we include social media examples, we are helping students who may not readily recognize the contrived nature of posts (be it those of celebrities or friends), have a clearer sense of real vs fake.
But as Andsager suggests, social media shouldn’t just be a part of the conversation, it can be a part of the solution not just because of the potential of widespread messaging, but because when students actually create using technology and social media, they are learning about the interplay of text, production, and audience which may serve to help them to become critical of the media they consume.
I love how Mimi Ito says it in the book, Participatory Culture in a networked age:
Our mindset has to start moving beyond “How can I protect myself from media corporations?” and towards how can I contribute in an effective and responsible way?”
(Jenkins et all, 2016, pp 108).
- Andsager, J. L. (2014). Research directions in social media and body image. Sex Roles, 71(11), 407-413. doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0430-4
- Fagan, Kate. “Split Image.” Weblog post. ESPN. N.p., 17 May 2015. Web. 6 July 2016.
- Jenkins, H., Itō, M., & boyd, d. (2015). Participatory culture in a networked era: A conversation on youth, learning, commerce, and politics. Wiley.
- Perloff, R. M. (2014). Social media effects on young women’s body image concerns: Theoretical perspectives and an agenda for research. Sex Roles, this issue. doi: 10.1007/s11199-014-0384-6.
- Williams, R., & Ricciardelli, L. (2014). Social media and body image concerns: Further considerations and broader perspectives. Sex Roles, 71(11-12), 389-392. doi:10.1007/s11199-014-0429-x
In the Twitterverse (just like in some other social media platforms), a hashtag unites people, for better or for worse. So regardless of whether or not you follow a person, by searching a hashtag, you can get the perspective, in 140 characters or less, of anyone in the entire world using that hashtag to post their thoughts.
As I peruse through #PrayForOrlando just now, I am simultaneously heartened and disheartened. Often, a tragedy brings a critical lens on an issue, in this case the senseless murder of people based on discrimination. A hashtag created in response to such a tragedy, can serve as a collective response in the form of mourning, of prayer, of condolences, of reflection. But it can also bring to light further hatred.
So how do we deal with this in school?
Do we, as educators peruse the hashtag with students and have authentic conversations about the discrimination that exists in a real-world situation? Ask how social media can work to comfort and/or further instigate?
Do we contribute our positive remarks to a hashtag to drown out the hatred, without looking together or acknowledging the negative comments?
Or do we avoid it because to bring attention to it may mean discomfort and possible repercussion?
Does what we do depend on whether a student is 13 or 16 or 18? Whether we perceive them to be “mature enough” to handle the conversation?
I would love to hear your thoughts.
Warning: the Twitter moment embedded below contains inappropriate language (which is one of the reasons why I started to wonder about this topic).