Students of younger and younger ages students are becoming increasingly involved with the internet and social media.
It is important for educators to help students navigate this world. However, it is also essential for educators to BE that good example for our students for the future. This could include setting up educational social media accounts for our classes, however also not making all of the details, always public.
The fact is, whether we agree with this fact or not, many children and students have access, and these numbers will only continue to grow.
Children are not developmentally aware of the world at large, and the truth is, that even adults can have difficulty understanding in abstract terms of the reach of social media. In real life, students have parents, teachers, other educators who may or may not understand how to help appropriately guide them through effective digital citizenship practices. However, online, it is detrimental that students not to be left to their own ‘devices’ so to speak, to navigate the world of social media.
Educators are implicitly, if not yet explicitly faced with the new tasks of teaching students digital citizenship and digital literacy skills. We are also faced with the tasks of educating our students, parents, and communities about how to manage the ‘online presence’. This is regardless of a) whether or not teachers own personal philosophies include children having their own devices and using them; or b) educators feel personally comfortable or uncomfortable using social media.
Digital Citizenship Considerations
1. The Internet is Forever. Everything posted on the Internet will always exist somewhere. Sending out a public ‘tweet’ about your students, for example, is a lot like standing on top of a building and shouting that information out for the world to know.
2. Children’s Rights to Safety and Privacy. We are the examples for our children. We provide explicit reasons to our students about why we do not share information about their daily lives publicly online, and we teach them to do the same. The usage of hashtags, ‘friend’ connections, and other identifying information that innocently goes out in posts can inadvertently put children in harms way. Further, tweeting about locations and the whereabouts of classes on field trips (for instance) can alert predators, and cause problems in terms of potential custody issues. This is very serious for our students, and we need to balance the desire to use technology with the need for privacy for our students both now and in the future. Further, the metadata of everything that gets shared publicly about the lives of our students can paint a very detailed picture of everything we are doing, and the lives of our students.
3. Security and Privacy Settings. We need to be aware of the fact that many social media platforms are continually updating and revising their privacy options. Further, even if a student is not ‘friends’ with someone on Facebook, they can still be tagged in others photos. Students with a Social Media account, can stay safer if their privacy settings are such that no one is allowed to tag them in photos.
4. Perception. A students’ perceived and real social status greatly affects behaviour and self-esteem. It is often measured by how many ‘friends’ one has, but other factors also come into play. This is a very important reality for Educators to understand, and embed Character Education Initiatives and growth mindsets to improve how students perceive themselves, and improve learning.
5. Critical Thinking. Different forms of Social Media are used for different purposes. Educators can strive to understand the different uses of different social media applications. For instance, Facebook is often used as a way to share pictures and information about one’s family and friends; Pinterest is a way to curate pictures of things that students may find interesting. Twitter is generally for posting quick messages in 140 characters or less, and can be valuable in getting important messages out to many people via hashtags. However, publicly using hashtags and personal details and information about the daily workings of your students can paint a very clear picture to other people about what is going on. There is a key difference between what an adult may feel comfortable doing, and how we need to change those online behaviours to respect our students.
6. Privacy and Safety. More and more students are bringing their handheld devices to school, and are also allowed to as more and more educators are allowing such devices as part of BYOD programs, and in teaching students to use them effectively in the curriculum to document their own learning. However, we must be aware of how these devices are being used when students are out of the classroom, but still on school grounds. Are our all of our students ‘safe’ to take personal learning risks and be themselves at school without the risk of being recorded or exploited.
7. Managing negative behaviours and images. Even bullying and blackmail can be difficult situations our students can find themselves facing. Learn about who you need to contact, and how you can help students engage in positive ways online, or turn off the social media when they need to. Growth mindsets can help here too.
8. Character Education, & Growth Mindsets. Students need to understand that what goes out on the internet, stays on the internet forever. Mistakes happen, and we learn how to manage them and move on with a Growth Mindset. It is easy for students to create false identities and false realities. It is also easy for students to not understand that what others are saying may not be true, or embellished. A lack of understanding surrounding what is real and what is not can also perpetuate an illusion of feeling ‘safe’ or ‘anonymous’ while online.
9. Online tracking. Beyond the use of ‘Cookies’ in your browser, many places on the internet are following you and collecting information about your behaviours, likes and interests online. With Facebook, even advertisers and data aggregators are secretly following you to target their advertisements appropriately and make more money from you. Students information is also now being used in Facebook’s new ‘Graph’ search. It is unimaginable about what will be able to be tracked in the future.
10. So-called ‘Friends’. Research has pointed to the act of obtaining ‘friends’ on Facebook as lighting up the same areas of the brain that sugar and other drugs target to make people feel better. Educators can help students to be critical thinkers, make wiser decisions, and provide positive educational avenues for using social media appropriately. Further, assuming all of your online ‘Friends’ are real friends can cause problems, especially when publicly announcing where students will be and what they are doing, including custody issues.
11. Digital Footprint: Educators need to be conscious that we are not inadvertently sharing faces and personal information about students online. Let’s work together to be very clear about the digital footprint we are creating for our students. What if, when they grow up, they decide that they did not appreciate having their picture shared online? Facial recognition will be state of the art. Are we allowed to make certain choices for our students before they are ready?
12. Looking to the Future: 10 years of unmanaged social networking will most definitely have an impact when our students enter adulthood. Educators can start integrating this into their work throughout the curriculum that helps students to think ahead to their futures and become good citizens online, and off.
Social Media and the internet are affecting our students of younger and younger ages. We have the tasks now of not just educating our students to have good character and growth mindsets at school and in our community, but also understanding the worlds they belong to in cyberspace. Schools can help our students greatly by also using Social Media to educate the entire community and provide safe and reliable information outside of school. After all, there are many young students who are already on their way to building their online presences that will help shape who they are, and may even last a lifetime.
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