Photo by Zainul Yasni on Unsplash

This past week I had the opportunity to sit down with some middle school students to talk about their online behavior and social media. I was curious to get some honest feedback around their online habits, how much time they spend on social media, and their own thoughts and experiences with being online.   Prior to this conversation with the small group, I surveyed our middle school population on their social media use and screen time. The results of this survey can be seen below.

ISC Middle School Students Social Media Use
What Social Media do you use?

  • WhatsApp(91%)
  • YouTube(86%)
  • Instagram(71%)
  • Snapchat(32%)
  • Twitter(20%)
  • Facebook(6%)
  • Others – Reddit, TikTok, Pinterest

These survey results were also shown to parents at a recent presentation to middle school parents regarding online safety, social media, and screen time. Here is a copy of the presentation made to parents

MS Online Safety

After this initial survey and presentation with parents, I was able to sit down with a group of ten middle school students to dig into their experiences further.  Before I sat down with the students, I made sure to give them the questions ahead of time, and to set the rules for our discussion. At our school, we have recently adopted norms of collaboration, which were heavily influenced by the Thinking Collaborative. You can find our version here:

Norms of Collaboration

These were used to guide the discussion.  Additionally, the ISTE standards that I chose to frame the discussion are found here:

ISTE Standards for Students:

2a

Students cultivate and manage their digital identity and reputation and are aware of the permanence of their actions in the digital world.

2b 

Students engage in positive, safe, legal and ethical behavior when using technology, including social interactions online or when using networked devices.

Here were the discussion questions that I used:

  1. Where do you use your devices at home?
  2. What does it mean to balance technology in your life?
  3. Do you communicate about your devices with your family on a regular basis?
  4. What is the difference between using devices at school and at home?
  5. What does staying safe online mean to you?
  6. How do you stay safe with social media?
  7. Where do you charge your devices at night?

Due to confidentiality, I will not share the answers here, but what I can say, is that the discussion was extremely rich, and that one period was clearly not enough time, as the discussion could have gone on for hours. The second part of our discussion was a very quick design challenge in which I asked them to pair up and design a set of guidelines that they would use in their home around tech use and engaging in social media.

Some of their ideas are as follows:

  • No devices in bedrooms at night
  • Must be “friends” with a trusted adult if engaged on social media
  • Must have family face to face time on weekends
  • Limited use of devices at home during the week

What would be a great next step to this discussion, would be to bring the parents back to the school and meet with their kids around these suggestions.  I thought that many of the middle schoolers were tough on themselves around the suggestions, and it would be interesting to hear the parents react to their ideas.

Photo by Yeshi Kangrang on Unsplash

Some reflections on facilitating this collaborative experience.  In reading the Collaborative Learning article from Cornell University, I used some of these ideas in my facilitation. Setting the norms, providing enough time to engage in the task, and debriefing were all elements that I incorporated. Although these students knew each other, I also had an ice breaker at the beginning to get them warmed up. I used an online Survey to begin the process, but a post discussion survey would have been helpful as well. Providing some time for them to reflect individually would have been great. Additionally, the ideation process was fantastic. A follow up to this, to see how their “prototypes” were actually working out in the students homes would have been helpful. This might involve reflecting on their ideas and then re-working them for better use.

I am sure some great discussions took place with my classmates, and I am interested in hearing what topics were tackled by them.

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