Welcome to my journey in introducing social media to my students; or more accurately helping my students use social media safely and effectively. As my students rush towards their teenage years, it becomes more important that they develop these abilities before the tumble into the mistakes that so many of us have fallen victim to.
As the epitome of the cliche’d “life long learner.” I will be joining my students on this adventure as I explore social media as an educator, not just a digital citizen.
I was initially concerned with how my class would participate due to the slow submissions. Thankfully by the day after it was due I had most submitted. Having samples online made it easy to discuss what was successful and what they could implement into their own future blogs.
The first writing prompt was “What are the differences between public schools and faith based schools? ” I reminded students to be respectful, but encouraged honesty. In class we discussed the difference between observations and attacks on other schools. Like any assignment it was a mix of effort, however I had more submissions that showed some genuine effort than usual.
Student’s that were the most successful wrote in an informal style that had some engaging and interesting reflections. Others made lists of differences, which answered the prompt but lacked insight. What has impressed me the most is the amount of self awareness that has been brought up by giving students so much freedom. The following quote is from a student who discussed the typical answers; at public school you have to worry about harram food and activities, at an Islamic school you can be with more like minded people, etc. After this they brought something up that many of my students do not consider until they leave our school.
However, public school students get to experience how they are discriminated in society religious-wise often, meaning that in the future it won’t mind them that much because they grew up with that type of stereotype, but students in Islamic schools don’t get to experience Islamophobia which most likely causes them to adjust with society in a difficult way. For example, if you get stereotypes in a public school often about your religion, you will eventually know how to overcome that problem, but in Islamic schools, all the students are (M)uslims so there is a less chance that you will experience Islamophobia, so when you go out in public it will be unusual and it takes a hard time to adjust.
Student Blog referenced with permission of student and parents.
I was very impressed with how insightful this blog was, showing me how deeply they have thought through the topic. This is the type of response I had hoped for and I was grateful to see it appear in week one. The remaining blogs were largely successful, answering the prompt clearly. A few went for the simple list response, but at the very least everyone wrote a paragraph.
The comments were all short, but nearly everyone showed me that they had actually read the blog. All followed my requirements and provided constructive feedback or made their own connections to what was said. It does seem like my requirement for everyone to comment on different people has been effective. Some have enjoyed the ability to comment on each others work so much they have commented on most blogs. The engagement I have seen with some students that typically struggle has been encouraging.
Week Two has been a much slower start. I received far fewer entries on time, which lead to a number of students messaging me that they could not see everyone’s entry. While this is discouraging, it does show me that a number of students are still very engaged in this process.
I need to have students who are struggling to finish their blog, write it in class so they are done and more likely to type it at home/at school.
I need to go over how visual elements can help break up text and make it more appealing.
While I have provided time in class with technology, I need to ensure I have enough ipads to allow students to work on their blog during downtime/study hall.
I need to have another mini-lesson on writing informally.
I think it would be helpful to also go through examples of effective comments.
I also need to remind them that part of the goal behind this is to create a positive online environment. While it has gone well so far, I do not want it to slip into the typical online interactions some of them have.
So far this has been successful, although the slow start on week 2 is discouraging. There is an interesting “fame” element I had not considered. Students are enjoying that recognition that the comments are giving them and the fact that I am discussing this project in my masters class has really motivated some. When I asked one student permission to reference their blog another student said “You’re going to be famous!”
The closest I have come to using TikTok was during last spring’s class when I used my wife’s account.I decided to join for the purpose of this post, but made sure to do something I rarely do.Read the terms of service.I focused on the privacy portion.TikTok says the only information they gather is what you provide in your TikTok profile and the information in any profile you use to login.For example I used my google account (after the first week), my profile only has my age and name. No mention of gathering contacts (unless you link them, which I did not). I did not put on a vpn to get a true sense of what the app would do with my isp address. Initially it leads you to think that they will only gather other information if you give permission, then later on it says browsing history for advertisers. Sneaky.This was not something I noticed until later (as you will see in my point form reflections).
As TikTok is a series of short videos I have decided to present my initial findings in point form.
Week 1 (just using app as a guest, not signing in with an account)
First few videos are all of a hill on fire in Edmonton.
Fires in Alberta.
Lots of Indigenous creators.
Lots of weird cooking videos.
Indigenous content (specific ones on cultural appropriation).
Comedic animal videos.
Comedic kid videos.
Watch one comedy video on hockey and then…
….Lots of Canadian centred content (heavy Canadian accents)
I reread what info they take if you make an account from a third party (nothing about the content you use just profile info).
Sign up with google (same email as YouTube)
Almost immediately creatures I follow on YouTube shorts start showing up (coincidence?).
Still lots of indigenous content (mention of indigenous TikTok).
Started following Lewis Capaldi.
Turns out the YouTube connection was a coincidence.
Animal and kid videos have combined.
Told them not to track contacts and then the first person they recommended to follow was my wife (she does not make videos).
Started to follow Hank Green and felt sad
My dog is quite sick, so I’ve been up late scrolling through TikTok, feeding the algorithm.
Forwarded my first TikTok video
I’ve heard of this happening- where did the past half hour go?
Following Lewis Capaldi was a mistake (dog video)
It knows I’m a teacher. Getting a stream of teacher related content.…which means the few teacher TikToks I was sent before I downloaded TikTok are floating around somewhere and TikTok has access to the part of my phone. I didn’t give it access to…or it’s kept track of my isp from watching videos before I had the app.
It is teaching me slang.
After my dog died it has become an easy distraction. Far too easy.
Throughout the second week I started interacting more, using hearts forwarding three videos and following a few creators. TikTok was much better at figuring me out than YouTube. Even before I started liking and following it got a very quick sense of my politics. With YouTube I watch one conservative video to try and balance my bias and then that is all I get recommended (no matter how many-“do not recommend” buttons I click). This, along with how much information it seemed to have without me giving permission, was frightening.
At the same time I see the benefits. I am getting a broader amount of content that is providing useful information. For example as a CIS white male I have worried about how well I will be able to speak out on anti-lgbtq+ issues. TikTok has provided me with allies that have added to my vocabulary and done so in a compellingly calm way. YouTube thinks I am anti-trans because I watched Neil Degrasse Tyson on Joe Rogan.
While TikTok is far more comforting I am worried about how comforting it is to those on the opposite political spectrum. Is it just one giant confirmation bias? It feels that way and it is very seductive. I don’t know how long I will continue using it, but each time I switch back to YouTube I am fed angry content. TikTok just seems happier. I get fed self-affirming videos, creators that are not just white males, progressive reflections, and dog videos that make me feel sad.
I hope I am able to find my way through the weeds and gain from the benefits while not pulling that comforting blanket of confirmation over my eyes.
I have decided to have my students write weekly blogs. I am keeping it brief with a suggested length of one paragraph per writing prompt. I will also have students comment on three blogs per week, making sure each following week they comment on three different peers. When our unit concludes I will have students write a reflection on their experiences working in our “sheltered” social media environment.
It seems like half the arguments I deal with these days have occurred online. Students tease or troll each other in discord and often see comments as a way to rile people up. Many of their favourite influencers and creators are those who spend their time attacking others and causing drama. I am hoping a few weeks participating in a common activity, with constructive and supportive feedback will normalize the simple act of being kind online.
To keep our blog isolated and easy to oversee I have created a google classroom specifically for this unit. Each week will be a topic and each student will be an “assignment.” This assignment will be where I post their individual blog. This will allow students to open and view the post and use the comment option to participate. I reminded students that social media is a dialogue, so they will be participating in an online conversation.
While this is not a typical setup, google docs and google slides can be made to look like a blog. I made a few simple examples for my students and posted them in the classroom. We will also do one as a group so students can see the step by step process. I may make a video as well.
To be transparent I told my class I would be discussing this assignment in my masters course. I made sure they were aware that I would not use any of their names. I did mention that if I found one of their entries interesting I might post a picture, however I would ask permission from them and their parents. I also let them know I would cover up any information that would identify them (names, pictures, etc.). Finally I informed parents of this new unit on Edsby and sent a letter home with my students.
This is also their blog so I wanted their input on what it would be about. I gave them a few proposals; Life as a first/second immigrant in Canada, Life as a grade 6 student in Canada, and What it is like to go to an Islamic school in Canada. I opened it up for other suggestions, but they were most interested in the last suggestion.
Each week I will provide an open ended question for students to write about. They will create their response and share a copy with me. I will then upload this file to their individual assignments. Throughout the week, at home or at school, they will read and comment on three blogs.
By submitting their paragraphs to me I will be able to review posts before they go live. While they will be able to comment independently, our rule going forward is they ensure their name is included in each comment. I have also encouraged parents to get their children to login and show what everyone is writing. In our school especially this will encourage students to keep comments appropriate.
Wrap it up already:
I realize this entry was very dry, future entries should be more interesting as I observe how my students participate. They did seem excited, especially because I would be graded on my own reflections. While I am interested to see how they decide to write and present their blogs, I think I am most interested in seeing their final reflections. Will they gain any good habits, will this help them develop digital citizen skills, will they see this as a complete waste of time? Probably all three. Either way it will be an interesting road to travel. Hopefully I do not get run over by my ambition.
I am old enough to have been around for the early years of social media. Before sites like MySpace and Facebook we wandered through chat rooms and early group chats in ICQ. It was very new and we were not ready.
For the first time we could speak to random people throughout the world without the need of ham radios or waiting weeks or months for responses through pen pals.
For me the novelty wore off quickly and I was lucky enough to avoid some of the dangers from sheer luck (and the speed of dial-up in a small town). MSN Messenger took off in my social circles and for the most part social media was just a series of group chats. The only thing that was close was playing online games like EverQuest where other players would ask A/S/L (age/sex/location).
Years later Facebook emerged, just in time to connect with friends I had lost touch with from university. In my twenties the feed was full of pictures of bars, birthdays, and making your life look better than it was. At the time I was not overly concerned and saw the whole thing as something frivolous. It was an easy way to keep track of people who a few years before would have just become parts of my memory. We no longer said, “I wonder what….is up to,” we knew and they just posted twenty pictures of their vacation.
For a long stretch this was my interaction with social media, interspersed with YouTube and the odd twitter quote I read in an article. When I went back to school to become a teacher, YouTube became a valuable resource; videos simplifying math or science concepts, old Bill Nye clips, and dance or music videos when students needed a stretch. I have a distinct memory of showing an OK Go video to a class I was subbing in to explain Rube Goldberg machines.
As time moved on and politics have become more populist, social media became more toxic for me. Anonymity gave people the same mentality they had in a car when they swore at someone who cut them off. Posts that could be disproved with a little bit of skepticism and knowledge where shut down with shouts of “idiot,” and “sheep.” I gave up trying to have rational discussions and started to hide feeds. COVID and lock downs poured gasoline on the entire internet.
Listening to my students interactions did not help. Thoughts you might share with friends in private are now broadcast to the world. I am forever grateful that the stupid things I said to friends have been left in the past as an embarrassing memory of who I used to be. As the age of those going online continued to drop, those that pray on them have reached out. As a child I remember warnings of who to watch for in the real world, but at least at home I was safe. My students now need lessons on how to be safe from people in the virtual spaces we open in our homes.
Last year I took a step back. I stopped going on Reddit, hid Facebook in a folder on my phone and found my news from “reliable” sites on the right and left political spectrum. Then I took a class called Contemporary Issues in Education Technology. We discussed and debated and I started to see some of the positives again of social media. Those that were isolated due to location or identity had somewhere to reach out. Support groups, organizations, and caring people were there. Imagine that, someone using the internet and social media to help people and not just attack.
I have still taken a step back, only delving deeper for this course. I am still cautious, but I am better prepared to help my students and care for my own interactions on social media. So I’ll dance with the devil, but my mouse is hovering over that close account tab.