Wednesday May 29, 2013

The role of social media is to allow people to network with others, and to create, share, and collaborate on information and ideas.

As an educator, I see that when students are creating something that is shared via social media, and someone other than their teachers see it, it can be very motivating. The idea of collaborating with others, writing blogs to reflect on learning, and being motivated to do your best to share your best work on social media, are all amazing tasks to help our students become better critical thinkers and more digitally literate. However, joining our digital world with literacy skills takes a great deal of practice. Often times, we teachers are but one step, if any, ahead of our students.

There are both benefits and risks to using social media, both at home and in the classroom.  Social media and technologies continue to grow, and I have to admit that I wonder if we are in such a race to learn new technologies that we simply do not understand what the ramifications are going to be in the future.

It is important for our children to understand what social media is all about, and to know how to engage in safe ways. But the truth is that with social media, nothing is ever fully erased, and anything posted will always exist somewhere. For instance with Facebook, even if you de-authorize your account, you cannot ever delete what you had. It always exists.

We simply have no idea where this data we have ‘put out there’ will end up one day. Our students need to know this.

As a teacher, I appreciate the idea of using password protected spaces, and the ‘walled garden’ so to speak, to serve as a template of how to safely engage in social media. I appreciate blogging in Learning Management Systems to keep our kids identities protected, and to let them take risks in a safe environment. I do, in fact, use Twitter from time to time with my students, to tweet our learning. However, I am careful not to advertise the school and community we live in, or display any pictures or names. It is not just about who might be following us, but also how this may follow students into the future.  I want to honour and respect the privacy of our students, both now, and in the future.

Digital citizenship, and being good ‘citizens’ online is truly of utmost importance. The truth is that our children are on social media, and we don’t want to leave them alone ‘out there.’ Schools can go a long way to providing safe structures and frameworks for students to navigate this big place called ‘cyberspace’ .

But kids also need to learn to think critically about what they do with the technology.  Are they aware of not just the social, but also the emotional aspects of being online?

As a teacher, I want to know that my students are able to think critically about how they are connecting and communicating with others online, and what activities they are choosing to participate in -  I want them to learn how to build positive digital footprints.

As a parent, I have all kinds of questions and concerns. I wonder, what will happen if other students are using their iPods in the school yard and taking pictures, and the pictures end up online? Do I know that my child’s safety and need for privacy will always be honoured, even years down the line when school is long over? I also wonder about pictures taken of my child at school for sharing purposes within the school, on the website, or through Dropbox and other communications with home. How will these pictures eventually be shared? Or disposed of? What are the policies surrounding this? Are pictures of my child being taken with school authorized devices, or teachers personal devices? Will pictures of my children be tagged on Facebook in 10 years?  What if those pictures innocently make their way to a friend’s Instagram account, and in the future, do those pictures of my child become property of companies such as Instagram? I often think of the following phrase that I heard somewhere: ‘Forgotten until it is not’.

Our children need to be digitally literate, but it’s not good enough to teach them how to use specific tools – those will keep changing. It’s our job as educators to teach them about privacy, ethics, social responsibility, critical thinking, and to try to stay at least one step ahead of them, if we can.

  • Deborah McCallum is an educator, AQ instructor, and a writer/blogger, with a special interest in curriculum, social media, and First Nations, Metis, & Inuit perspectives in education. Visit Deborah’s blog or find her on Twitter @eLearningDee.