Sunday, October 18, 2015

Digital Citizenship, Engagement and Breaking Out of Our Social Bubbles

When you ask teachers their views on Digital Citizenship and how it should be integrated into learning in their classroom, one would definitely get mixed reviews. Part of what I do as a Digital Fluency Consultant is to help provide professional development regarding technology integration, and assist teachers with integrating the Digital Citizenship Continuum into learning. Prior to Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to lead several Professional development sessions at the Regina Catholic School Division Teacher Institute #RCSDInstitute on this topic from different curricular areas and grade levels.

During a session with a group of High School teachers, many ethical questions were brought up about considerations that have to be made for the digital divide, as well perspectives represented in social media. We went into great depth considering the social media bubble that can unknowingly encase many of us, if we are not aware. 

Bubble 2 by Ali Smiles :), on Flickr
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Ali Smiles :) 
Within our discussion a point was made that although social media can be great for connecting with others to explore different perspectives, are we actually doing this? When we follow individuals on Twitter, are we just following people with the same interests and backgrounds as us? In doing so, are we reinforcing the same perspective or viewpoint that we might already hold, thereby not providing the opportunity to see other world views. It was brought up that when someone doesn’t have the same perspective, and it makes us uncomfortable, how does the average person react? Do we consider other opinions, or do we just unfollow these individuals? This question has lead me to wonder, how my views are being shaped and reinforced on Twitter. Although social media can be a great space to see a variety of perspectives to widen our world view, it might be possible that we are not exploring alternate viewpoints and instead are just seeking affirmation. 
#life : #bobbivie + #writes #54 by bobbi vie, on Flickr
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  bobbi vie 

After this discussion I started researching the effects of Twitter and the reinforcing bubble effect of social media. It has become clear that other students in our ECI 832 class have also been spending some time reflecting on  the effect of Social Media and how we engage with the world. Fellow classmate, Laura Hunter, explores in her blog post, “Constant Connections” the impact of social media not only on herself, but on her daughters. She wondered whether social media is just a platform that is allowing us to become superficial as it “allows us all to hone in on meaningless snapchats, Facebook posts, and work emails” Turkle would agree and probably say that these superficial connections are diminishing our ability to really develop meaningful interactions face to face, “because we keep our phones in the landscape” or in our peripheral vision.

Marc Spooner Twitter Post
Other questions I have been considering since my High School Digital Citizenship Session revolve around whose voices are heard in social media. Marc Spooner, professor at the University of Regina, is one of these individuals who creatively uses social media to tweet on behalf of those whose voices are silent due to lack of access to technology. For more than a year, Spooner has been quite active on Twitter sharing issues related to the housing crisis for low-income families. Being a social justice advocate, he is an example of a person who speaks on behalf of those in need and evidently sees the power of people made possible via Twitter.  What if everyone started using Twitter to bring a voice to the silent? If more people made an effort to retweet an alternative, less-heard perspective then this could make a small difference in bringing about social change through social media.

To further ways social media can be used for more than sharing the trite or mundane, an article, by Mary Elizabeth Williams, “UsingSocial Media to Build a Better World: A Culture of Amplification” explores this point precisely. Williams shares an experiment where an individual did a study and noted that men are more often retweeted than women. So as a social experiment, this person made a point of only retweeting women to tip the scale the other way. Did it make a difference? In a small way, perhaps it did, at least in providing a sense of self-empowerment. Williams points out that although the average person cannot make a direct impact Mass Media with the content of magazines and television, they can make an impact at a social media level. William further states, “…let’s remember that when we’re only getting a certain kind of story and a certain kind of perspective, we take it as the norm. Let’s understand that’s incredibly limiting and painfully reinforcing.” For this reason, it is up to us to be aware of who is not being represented, and remember that the dominate voice is not the only voice.

So how does all this connect to education? In teaching digital citizenship, we need to examine with students the social bubble that can emerge when you restrict your lens to circles of “Birds of a Feather”. Yes it can be affirming and fill one with warmth knowing that someone else “gets you”, but how does it stretch or grow a person’s understandings of other perspectives, if your world view is not challenged but instead constantly reinforced? Why is it beneficial to be exposed to viewpoints that make you squirm?

Is it possible that others will pick up on the power of social media for social justice? Apparently in fact it has already happened. In a news story from CTV, “Social Justice Found It’s Voice in Social Media in 2014”. It was reported that “those tuned into the web's global conversations believe 2014 will be remembered as the time when social justice advocates found their voice.” A point made within the article that resonated with me is as follows:

"We're no longer looking at social media simply as something that allows us to share pictures of what we had for breakfast or to play games when we go online. We can also use it to do more meaningful things like perhaps improve the world around us for those who might be disadvantaged."

single 1 by Adg
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Adg's Screen Caps 
This story from CTV was quite elevating. Maybe collectively people are becoming a little more aware of the power of the people afforded through social media - and that  the voice of those unrepresented can finally be heard. However, my bubble of optimism burst when I was reminded of Sherry Turkle’s article, “Stop Googling, Let’s Talk” from the course readings.  Turkle once again shares all the problems with social media and problems that arise due to our need to be digitally connected in helping us form real human lasting connections. Turkle through her interviews states that people “don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” Are all these possibilities to do good in providing a voice for the marginalized, quickly dashed due to lack of manners or etiquette? Although Turkle should be applauded for sharing this opposing viewpoint and being the word of caution in this digitally connected world, I’m getting tired of her soap-box-negative stance. It turns out that I’m not the only one. After reading through reflections from other classmates and their reactions of the course readings, I found a kindred spirit in Amy Singh. After reviewing Shelley Turkle’s video, Amy noted in her post, “Now Entering the Apathetic Age”, that Turkle’s viewpoint that our world is becoming more apathetic due to over-consumption of technology is really just negative and points out that “we can work with technology and be empathetic.  We may need to build these skills, but it can be done.” I would have to fully agree with Amy. Are teens really anymore apathetic today than they were 20 years ago? Hello, hasn’t anyone watched “The Breakfast Club?? Teens are really not that much different than they were when I was young. Many of us I'm sure can relate to being self-absorbed, aloof individuals who were overly connected to friends via the phone. 

Day 50 Occupy Wall Street November 5 201 by david_shankbone, on Flickr
 Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  david_shankbone 
So what’s this all about? Can we be selfish and apathetic as well as social justice activists all at once? Of course! Is social media making people more selfish or self-absorbed. It's doubtful. One just has to look at the impact the Occupy Movement had on raising issues regarding poverty and the discrepancy between the rich and the poor. How did this message spread? Social media. With any technological change there will be pros and cons. What it comes down to is the character of the individual who wields the device and their understanding of how the device impacts their life and those around them. This fact in itself reinforces reasons as to why educators need to ensure that Digital Citizenship is integrated into learning and is part of the conversation. 

In closing I share a TED Talk, "Youth Activism in the Era of Social Media: Emily's Entourage at TEDxLMSD". This TED Talk is a primary example of how social media can be used for social justice among teens. In the video, Julia and Coby Kramer-Golinkoff share how they used Social Media to share the story of  their sister, Julia and her battle with Cystic Fibrosis to "rally people and mobilize change" and create awareness about the effects of CF through Social Media. It's a great TED Talk and demonstrates the power of social media and how millenials are exploring ways of sharing in authentic, meaningful ways.  

No comments:

Post a Comment