Our school has been working on much policy over the last two years. This was identified as an area of need during our last accreditation, and we have made a major effort amongst the leadership team to collaboratively write policy. My role is new to the school this year and one of the tasks that I have been working on has been our school social media policy. The need for such policy at any educational institution goes without saying in these connected times.
For our final project, it was an easy decision to land on the creation of policy. To get the project underway, I emailed my classmates and simply explained my situation and asked if anyone else wanted to get involved. I heard back from three other classmates, Alex McMillan, David Higginson, and Liliana Bandini, who were all eager to get involved. In order to overcome the challenge of being spread around the world, I started a Slack Channel for us to communicate with, and to share our documents. I also started a Google Drive folder for us to work from, and linked this folder to our Slack channel. I have collaborated online before, but what made this project a particular challenge was the distance between us, mostly me, as I am in Brazil, and my three group mates were in Asia. So it typically meant being patient with responses from each other. What was very beneficial for all of us, was the fact that we were genuinely vested in this project and the policy. All of us were looking for something useful to bring back to our schools, which made it a pleasant work experience.
When we started the process, I was originally thinking that we would split the policy into two parts, one for employees, and one for the greater community. However, through discussion with the group, we landed on the creation of one single policy for our community as a whole. Once we were finished, I did make some changes for my community in particular. In the Brazilian context for example, WhatsApp is the messaging service of choice. People do not text message here, or use any other type of messaging service. These groups are used for friendships, family, work, sports, hobbies, you name it, people probably have a WhatsApp group for it. In our elementary school, every class has a WhatsApp group that is managed by a parent volunteer for that class, as well as a WhatsApp group for the grade. In MS and HS, there are groups per grade, and a variety of other things. These are not officially sanctioned by the school, but we know they are used to pass information along, and thus had to be addressed in the policy. One of the other sections that I was sure to include for our context was around “friending” students in social media. I am sure my group mates addressed this to some degree in their policy as well. Given that we are also enacting a child protection policy, having clear policy about online friendships is vital.
As I mentioned above, at our school we are writing several policy documents concurrently. Our process is to work in a small team to write the document, bring that document to the leadership team for feedback and revisions, take to the board for approval, then set a date to launch to staff. For this document in particular, it will be brought to staff in July 2019, during the full staff Orientation for review and sign off.
This weeks readings had me thinking about two important concepts for our youth today:
How did you learn to be empathetic?
How can we empower students and other stakeholders to use technology to positively impact the world?
When I look at empathy and building empathy, I see it as part of our emotional intelligence. Recently, there has been much written about EQ and the fact that building EQ in youth is just as important as IQ, if not more important. There is lots of great literature out there that speaks to this, but I want to highlight a couple of very quick resources. The first is entitled 10 Reasons Why Emotional Intelligence Is Critical for LeadersThis article nicely encapsulates the reasons as to why emotional intelligence is necessary for the success of anyone in leadership, without it, we cannot connect with those that we lead. Of course we see synonyms for empathy in this list such as “leading with the heart”, and “compassion”, but we also see other key traits, such as “respect”and “communication”.
The second article, entitled The Importance of Empathy in Leadership, does a nice job of explaining the why behind the importance of empathy, simply put: “I thought that my goal was to get my associates to follow the exact outline that we knew would bring them success, but in reality, my role was to enable them to be successful by taking barriers out of their way and supporting them. I needed to learn to be more of a coach than a manager. My job wasn’t to tell them what they need to do, because they already knew. Part of my role was to be a sounding board, an in-office therapist and the person that they could come to who would build up their ego. Someone who could push them to their goals and put them in a position to succeed.” It might seem odd to label oneself as a therapist when in a leadership position, but understanding the people that work for you or that you collaborate with, means listening to them, like a good therapist would. It also means empowering them to be the best version of themselves.
I find it interesting to note that the list in its entirety consists of what some would call soft skills, but I would rather label them as essential skills. I think the terminology of “soft skills” tends to detract from just how important they are. The below video from Edutopia does a nice job of capturing this argument.
So we know that empathy and emotional intelligence are key to being a successful leader, but how do we go about building empathy in our students? In my opinion there are three ways to do this, by bringing empathy building literature into the classroom, by engaging students in service learning trips, and by providing them with a variety of experiences in order to build empathy.
We know that what our students read, and what literature we bring into a classroom can have a profound impact on our students. Bringing in both fiction and non-fiction texts that have a social justice lens can open our students to a completely different world. Beyond just reading these texts in class, having students reflect and discuss what they read can take their learning a step further, and solidify the experience. In the journal article Preparing Students for Global Citizenship in the Twenty-First Century: Integrating Social Justice through Global Literature, this idea is summarized quite eloquently: “Through exposure to this type of literature, students gain multiple perspectives and learn about the social, political, and moral conditions under which people around the world live. They also develop respect and understanding of socially and politically oppressed peoples and learn why it is important to promote social justice”. Although this particular example takes place in a grade three classroom, it can be applied to other elementary classrooms, and really the whole school, using grade and stage appropriate texts.
Another way to build empathy with students is to take them out of the normal classroom and school environment and participate in service learning trips. These are called a variety of things from schools around the world: service learning, classroom without walls, experiential education, etc. A nice working definition comes from Vanderbilt University: “A form of experiential education where learning occurs through a cycle of action and reflection as students seek to achieve real objectives for the community and deeper understanding and skills for themselves.” This definition comes from the article What the Heck Is Service Learning?. Again, like the literature above these intense experiences can be solidified through reflection and discussion, both during and after the trip takes place. As is mentioned in Chapter 2 of How to Establish a High School Service Learning Program, “The rationale for service learning is that students learn best (1) by doing, (2) by serving, and (3) by reflecting on the experience”. What separates Service Learning from other types of trips or experiences is the time for students to reflect, and the deep ties to curriculum; this is what makes these experiences so powerful for students in terms of building empathy.
The third way to teach empathy is through experiences. I am using this third method as a catch all category for what the previous two do not cover. This could be volunteerism, charity work, fundraisers, guest speakers at the school, or documentaries, just to name a few examples. To me, these are not as powerful as the previous two, however, they can still be effective, especially when coupled with the previous two. Let me provide a working example here. One organization that has done a good job of this with students is MetoWe. What started as a 12 year old who was determined to help end child labor, had developed into a huge global charity that has a massive impact. They offer training sessions for teachers, students and parents, hold large conferences, support social justice clubs and charity work in schools, and support service learning trips for students and families around the world. When a school is able to partner with an organization like this, there are many experiences that teach empathy and emotional intelligence that they can tap into.
Knowing that these three methodologies can work, where does technology fit in? Technology can offer our students a broader voice to express themselves and reflect upon the experience that they have had. Whether it is about a social justice text, a charity event at school, a guest speaker from a local NGO, or a one week service learning trip, there are lots of great tech tools to provide students voice, and to help them amplify that voice in a broader space to allow for greater feedback and audience participation. The TedTalk this week from Scott McLeod is full of great examples. Entitled Extracurricular empowerment, Scott highlights several students that used blogs, Twitter, created documentaries, online zines, YouTube channels, and other methods to amplify their voice, share, and gain feedback. On Scott’s blog dangerously irrelevant, he offers some more great examples to look at of students amplifying their voice through technology. There are so many great tech tools that exist for a variety of grade levels. These allow students to truly have a voice and share with a broader community.
I am most interested in hearing from both parents and teachers this week. How do you build and teach empathy in the classroom, at school, and at home? What tech tools are you using to allow your students and children to amplify their voices?
This week was all about thinking. Taking the time to think before you post, think before you repost, think before you react, think before you judge, think before you emote, and to think about your thinking. There is so much information, misinformation, and disinformation coming at students these days, that the job of educators to teach critical thinking skills is far more important than ever before. The reading this week on the topic of deciphering and authenticating information spoke to me the most. Having spent years teaching high school students, I have seen first hand the need for students to be taught the appropriate research skills. Not only the appropriate research skills, but how to determine if a source is authentic, and to think critically about the media they are engaging with.
“Misinformation abounds online, but so do mechanisms for self correction. In such a world, we can only trust established institutions so far. We all must learn how to read one source of information against another; to understand the contexts within which information is produced and circulated; to identify the mechanisms that ensure the accuracy of information as well as realizing under which circumstances those mechanisms work best. Confronted with a world in which information is unreliable, many of us fall back on cynicism, distrusting everything we read. Rather, we should foster a climate of healthy skepticism, in which all truth claims are weighed carefully, but there is an ethical commitment to identifying and reporting the truth.” – page 46
This spoke to me for a variety of reasons. Beyond looking for reputable institutions, the report encourages a deeper dive into the “contexts” in which material is produced. What are the motivations for producing the article? Where might funding come from for the website? What affiliations might the source institution have? Are they a for profit or non-profit institution? These are just some of the ways to understand context. Furthermore, I found it refreshing that the report encourages educators to work with students to move beyond “cynicism”, which is easy for educators and students to slip into, but to move forward and be “healthy skeptics”, challenging what we read, and committing to research to find the truth.
There are many great resources that exist to help educators to teach students to become more critical of the media they consume. I want to highlight some of them here. However, before I dive into the first one, I want to comment on one of the articles from our additional reading. The Future of Truth and Misinformation Onlinefrom the Pew Research Center. The Pew Research Center interviewed over 100 scholars, technology professionals, and strategic thinkers about the future of fake news. This article is fascinating in that the results were split, half of the experts believe the situation around misinformation will improve and the other half believe that the situation will only worsen. To me this only proves the fact, that as educators, we must continue to teach critical literacy and critical thinking skills. With the amount of information only increasing, teaching our students to be healthy skeptics is a mandatory skill for their future success.
Now on to the resources for educators and parents. The first one that I would like to highlight is the media smarts website. This website is dedicated to digital and media literacy, and is a Canadian Non-Profit. As stated on their website: “Our vision is that children and youth have the critical thinking skills to engage with media as active and informed digital citizens.” There are great resources from how to authenticate information, to the impacts of misinformation, to verifying online news, to the ethics of sharing information.
The next website is the European Association for Viewer Interests. They are a non-profit organization that empowers individuals to be active, engaged citizens in today’s increasingly challenging media environment. Besides being a non-profit, they are also funded from a variety of well trusted sources. Two particular resources that I want to highlight for parents and educators are the Online News Verification Game and the 10 Types of Misleading News. The Online News Verification Game, is a game that students can play to determine the quality of an online resource. This one appealed to me because of its gamification approach to building critical analysis skills. Additionally, students play the game in groups which contributes to building collaboration and communication skills. The second resource is an infographic that highlights 10 types of misleading news. We all know that “fake news”can be damaging, but so can misleading news, and it can be damaging in a variety of ways. This infographic can easily be posted in the classroom, or shared through a LMS for ease of use.
I have been a fan of John Green and his YouTube channel Crash Course World History for many years. What started off as a a history based YouTube Channel has grown into a variety of subjects from English to Science to Philosophy and others. In January this year, a series entitled Navigating Digital Information was launched to help students, teachers and parents alike to navigate information on the internet. I like this series for several reasons. It is supported by the Poynter Institute, a non-profit journalism school, and Media Wise, whose curriculum is currently being developed by Stanford History Education Group. Additionally, throughout the series there are many research studies that are quoted and his commentary is grounded in good research. In the second episode, John Green recommends three questions when assessing the validity of a resource and fact checking:
Who is behind the information?
What is the evidence for their claim?
What do other sources say about the organization and its claims?
The final resource that I wish to comment on is the MediaWise website. This is a great source for articles on the topics of misinformation. Additionally, as mentioned above this is the source for finding curriculum for MS and HS students on fact checking and deciphering media. The curriculum is called Civic Online Reasoning, and will be available this fall.
I am interested in hearing from other educators this week on how they tackle this subject? What do you think of the resources listed above? And what resources do you use to teach your students to be critical in regards to online media?
Last week, my post concentrated on teens and their use of social media, but this week I would like to shift the focus to parents. This week the additional resources spoke to me greatly, in particular the topic of parents posting pictures online of their children, otherwise known as ‘sharenting’. As an educator, but more importantly, as a parent, there was a lot of food for thought, and material to challenge my current way of thinking. I have definitely seen my fair share of sharenting on social media, and even been a part of it. I have many social media accounts, used in a variety of ways, from personal to connecting with family to professional.
As an intro for those of you who are new to the concept, here is a quick two minute guide to the idea of sharenting, by Dr. Lisa Lazard
The article ‘Sharenting’: Can Parents Post Too Much About Their Kids Online? brought up some salient points. One of the things I liked about Stacey Steinberg’s approach was the fact that she focussed the conversation around individual families. Each family has to come to an agreement about what works for them. She states: “I think our kids need to be able to come of age in a way that they have control over their digital footprint,” she says. “So it’s really important that before we press ‘share’ on our digital devices, so to speak, that we really think about who they might become, who they might want to become and how can we best give them an opportunity to control this new digital identity that they’ll grow to be in charge of one day.” This point by Steinberg is so important because many of us think it might be a harmless picture, but our digital footprint can live forever, so we have to consider the fact that these photos could exist in cyberspace for a long time. We have to ask ourselves, “how will this impact my child?”
Another important consideration is to open up the dialogue with your kids. She states: “I actually talk to my kids before I post pictures of them, and I’m very protective of what information is out there and who the audience might be for the pictures. I don’t really think that my child would one day wake up and be surprised by it … . Now of course, that conversation is very different with a 5-year-old versus with an 8-year-old or a soon-to-be 13-year-old. But I do have that conversation regularly, and I think that parents who don’t have that conversation absolutely need to be prepared for one day, that their child may find this trail that’s been left from all the years that they have been growing up.” I could not agree with this more, especially as your child becomes older. We might have had a history of posting pictures of our children, but it is important to honour their voices and opinions on the matter. Without understanding what they want, and the young adult that they might be, it could really lead to a divide between you and them, or in extreme cases, as seen recently, to actual legal action:
Another article that highlights the importance of open dialogue is Can you stop your parents sharing photos of you online? This article reinforces the fact that keeping an open dialogue with your children is important and to take their opinion into consideration before you post. The opinions of the teenagers in the article vary drastically, from those that don’t mind at all if their children post, to those that don’t want their parents to post a single picture. Even Gwyneth Paltrow is not impervious to her child’s wrath, as she is called out by her daughter for posting a picture of the two of them on Instagram. Just because we are parents does not mean we always know best, especially when it comes to social media. As I, and many others, have stated before, social media is such a new phenomena that we are literally living a social experiment. We don’t really know what the long term effects of any of what we are using will have on us as individuals, as society, and how will impact our relationships long term. Sure there are a lot of experts and researchers, but at best they have short term research and no longitudinal data.
I found the above piece of media from Dad University quite comical, but he made some excellent points, especially this one: “Starting kids off young with the notion that views and likes matter is not a good idea”. He goes on to explain that this builds a false sense of self and leads to a perpetual vacuum of constantly seeking likes and views, something I can definitely agree with. I also loved his list of 4 questions that you should ask yourself before posting pictures of your children:
Did I get consent?
Why am I posting?
Will be child be upset or embarrassed about the post?
Do I want this to be part of my child’s digital archive?
These questions are a great starting point before hitting the ‘post’ button on any social media platform. This reading has given me a lot to think about. Now that my own children are getting older and have become pre-teens, I know it is important that I dialogue with them before I post anything. I am curious to hear from other parents this week about what drives their motivation to post and do they dialogue with their kids before doing so?
This week’s reading was some of the most fascinating so far for me. I definitely consider myself a heavy user of social media, with Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter, Snapchat, and Instagram accounts. Working in the world of tech, it is almost a requirement to be engaged with social media to some degree. My social media accounts are important for family, friendships, my professional learning network, news, and many other functions. What I found so engaging this week, were the eye opening experiences I read about, which really shifted my understanding of how teens engage with social media.
When I think about the way I communicated with my friends as a teenager, compared to how students communicate today, I would honestly say the only difference is that the speed of the communication has changed. Friendships are paramount to teens, just like they were to me, and maintaining those friendships just as important. Additionally, being in the know was part of the friendship experience for me; who was dating who, when was the next party, and many other topics as outlined in the articles that we read. With the addition of smartphones, teens are able to always be in touch, and I believe have more friendships that are far reaching. As an adult, growing into social media use, I have seen the way I interact with my friends change, and remain the same. Being able to connect with family and friends from afar is a huge benefit as an international teacher, but I also value being able to sit down, face to face, and catch up with family and friends, unplugged, unwired.
I would like to think that I was pretty up to speed on how students used social media. Having taught teenagers most of my career and having had good relationships with kids I could ask them questions about how they interact with social media and get a pretty honest response. However, when I read Like. Flirt Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens and 13 Right NowI definitely had my eyes opened even more. Some of the new learning for me was how dependent teens were on getting “likes” and “emojis” from their peers or crushes. Also, the fact that they combed through their social media profiles deleting pics if they were older, or if they did not garner enough attention. Additionally, I was surprised that there were so many unwritten rules about how one interacted with others through social media, or maintained their own account. I had the chance to talk to some junior and senior level students at my school, and in terms of Instagram, they were indeed able to confirm some of these unwritten rules. Although, these students did not spend so much time deleting posts that did not have a certain amount of likes, they definitely spent time “cleaning out” their Instagram accounts, so that only the best of the best photos survived. Specifically, in the article 13 Right Now, the father Dave, spoke about the fact that his daughter, Katherine, has never had some of her very best friends over to their home. I recall having friends over all the time as teenagers, in fact one of my best friends practically lived with us for a while. I could not imagine growing up and not visiting my friend’s houses. Part of me wants to question the authenticity of the friendships that form solely digitally, but another part of me thinks that I need to also understand that norms change, ways of human interaction change, and paradigm shifts happen.
The pace of communication has changed drastically, and so has access to information. This has affected the way in which social interactions take place. Teens can spend time nurturing those relationships that are important to them. While this is important, teens can literally be connected with their friends 24 hours a day, and they are in some cases. Statistics tell us that teens are indeed sleeping less, from 2012 to 2015 the number of teens sleeping less than 7 hours per night jumped 22 percent according to two US National Surveys (Analysis: Teens are sleeping less. Why? Smartphones). From the teens I spoke with at my school, all of them keep their smartphones with them at night, and only a few power down the device. This is why even older teens need guidance and support from parents when managing their social media and smartphone usage.
Recently, there was a great article from the Washington Post, entitled: New report: Most teens say social media makes them feel better, not worse, about themselves. This article has lots of informative statistics on teen use of social media, but the key takeaway is that, overall, teens are much happier on social media than we would expect. And I think this makes a lot of sense. As discussed above, their relationships have shifted to the digital space, and so, if there interactions are taking place in this space, then of course they are going to be much happier here. They have grown up in this space and with relationships in this space, so putting our adult lens on it does not make sense, because we cannot truly understand it, as our experiences were much different. The other point that I would like to comment on is that there are those segments of teens who are vulnerable and do experience cyber-bullying, or those that might come across inappropriate content. This is where parents still need to be involved and have conversations with their kids about what they are doing in a digital space, even when parents think their kids are old enough to manage, they still need to keep dialogue open.
One of my favourite YouTube channels has always been Crash Course, by John Green. His videos are quick paced, informative and very witty. I used many snippets when I taught World History. He recently had a 10 part series on Digital Information, with the final episode dedicated to social media. It is definitely worth the watch:
“When we’re this reliant on a media ecosystem full of pollution, we have to take responsibility for what we read, post and share. And to do that we should fully understand how social media networks really function including the good stuff, and also the terrible stuff.” This quote from John Green is powerful, and speaks to why dialogue with parents and a good digital citizenship program are essential for kids. Our teens are spending a great deal of time on social media and as such are seeing all sorts of ideology, advertisements, and news. Teaching them how to decipher what is real from fake, and how to search laterally for information is a vital skill.
This week more than any, I am really curious about what my peers and others experiences were like in speaking with students around the topic of social media? What were your new insights? How did your thinking shift from what you thought before?
Looking through my course one blog posts, I did indeed cite every photo that I used. I also made sure that the photos were pulled from websites that allowed for photo use. The three websites that I used for most photos were Creative Commons, labeled for reuse photos from Google Image Search, and my favorite source Unsplash. Since beginning this course I have thought a great deal about my school, and what further work we need to do around copyright education, and of course my role in all of it. Being the Director of IT and Innovation, part of my portfolio is to work with staff to set direction around educating our students about these issues. Just today, I happened to be in our Learning Center while elementary students were working in Google Slides. All of them were pulling images from Google, without selecting images for reuse, nor were they citing their photos. Again, it had me very reflective about the work we have to do with both staff and students. Two resources from this week’s reading that have given me a great place to start are You can use a picture if, which is a great infographic on the circumstances in which you can actually use a picture, and this infographic, created by Tanya LeClair, which contains links to many great websites where students can legally pull photos.
I enjoyed the reading this week and the TedTalks. What I appreciated the most was that they represented a variety of viewpoints on the issue of copyright infringement. The MIT sponsored document; Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century contains many great points to think about. Specifically, the paper points to three areas of concern when it comes to educating youth around media: The Participation Gap, The Transparency Problem, and The Ethics Challenge. I would like to speak to The Ethics Challenge, as this area of concern relates to our current discussion. What I found fascinating after reading this section of the paper, was that there was no specific mention of teaching copyright laws or proper citation to young people. There was much mention of young people entering the digital space, whether it be through gaming, blogs, or myspace (yes I said myspace!). The paper also had many great suggestions of how to engage youth in this burgeoning space, while at the same time honouring their need for authenticity. One quote that I believe encompasses this topic from a broad perspective, is as follows:
“One important goal of media education should be to encourage young people to become more reflective about the ethical choices they make as participants and communicators and the impact they have on others.We may, in the short run, have to accept that cyberspace’s ethical norms are in flux: we are taking part in a prolonged experiment in what happens when one lowers the barriers of entry into a communication landscape. For the present moment, asking and working through questions of ethical practices may be more valuable than the answers produced because the process will help everyone to recognize and articulate the different assumptions that guide their behavior.” (pg 17) I believe that the last sentence is very true, many of the discussions around ethical practice will help to understand the variety of perspectives that exist, yet at the same time much work has been done recently (after this white paper) to protect artists and their work. But still, as the digital space continues to expand, and morph, there are many discussions to be had about copyright infringement, and this is why this topic needs to be part of a curriculum in schools.
The article entitled: Top Euro court: No, you can’t steal images from other websites (too bad a school had to be sued to confirm this little fact), provides a very poignant message for our schools today. What would seem like a straightforward situation, actually ended very poorly for the school involved. After reading the article I could logically see both sides of the argument. The picture was already out there in cyberspace, so why bother citing it. However, the artist should have say over what audience views the picture. Students need to be taught to properly cite information, and to always err on the side of caution. I believe that schools have the responsibility to not only teach about copyright laws and proper citations, but to have this learning as part of a broader context of learning, namely digital citizenship. I also believe that this curriculum needs to start early and happen on a recurring basis so that it is embedded deeply within our students; so that when they go looking for an image, it is without a second thought that they are looking for these images in places where they can legally use them. These days there are some great programs that exist, and teachers do not need to reinvent the wheel, one great starting place is Common Sense Media, where one can find resources from K-12. As I work towards building this type of curriculum and program at my school, I am wondering what others are doing at their schools, and if they have a program for teaching copyright laws and digital citizenship?