I came to a revelation the other night while reading another educator's blog post. I won't include the link because it might cast me in a light that I simply don't belong in. Here's the thing, the blog was about an epiphany this blogger had with regards to digital citizenship. Basically, the author had come to the realization that just avoiding negative interactions, "keeping your nose clean" and maintaining a clean online presence isn't enough. It's funny because I am reminded of something my brother-in-law said to me while I was first explaining my ideas for this group to him. He said, "most people use Instagram for selfies and food pics and Facebook for the odd status update and to show off pictures". He wasn't wrong and right now there are some readers who, if they're honest, are either a little bit offended or are a little bit confused as to what my point is here.
We're in an age where you can support any number of charities, causes and organizations without leaving your couch: you can read about atrocities and injustices, watch a video showing you a village in need, or check the daily bread food bank's website for a visual (infographic) illustrating the percentage of families in your community who rely on food banks. Never has there been so much information at our fingertips and so many ways to DO SOMETHING good, creative, useful - meaningful, with less than an incredible effort (if that's the route we'd like to take). The character in the blog I am referencing had never done more than the normal "social media to chat with friends, share my outfit, show the 'world' my breakfast", etc, and it wasn't impressive enough to land them a job - which makes sense to me! For reasons that go a lot further than how annoyingly self-centred the "selfies, outfits and breakfast" approach to social media is, we need to educate our students on just how powerful the tools in their phones, tablets and laptops really are because, let's be honest, it's not just the students who are taking these incredible mediums for granted.
Maybe the first thing we need to do, as educators, is take a look within - a touch of introspection - and ask ourselves how we are doing more than "not being bad" when it comes to our use of digital tools. Are we "twitter literate" and, if the answer is no, why not? Let's keep in mind that a mechanic has to keep up with the changes to auto-mobiles year over year, doctors need to keep up with the advancements in medicines, procedures and treatments and lawyers need to have their fingers on the pulse of ever-changing legislation and legal precedents. Our profession requires us to keep up with the technology that our students are using; to be good at that, we need to actually live it, or at the very least learn it and understand it (I'd always prefer "live it" because your students learn more from what you are than what you teach - a quote I borrowed and modified from W. E. B. Du Bois).
Let's be clear, "living it" doesn't mean that you have to suddenly blog every night, donate to 8 charities on-line, follow Amnesty international and UNICEF on twitter, set up an account at change.org, set up a Youtube channel for video content connected to all of your lessons and become a master at coding (though you can do all of that if you like!). It just means that you didn't think: "who?, where?, huh?" while you were reading that last sentence...It just means that you are actually trying to keep up, to learn and apply your learning to your life and your profession (doesn't that make sense?) so that you can actually support your students in their positive use of the digital tools they are surrounded by.
Our students need to understand that there is a world of good that they can do if they decide to connect with the global community using the tools at their disposal. Our students need to learn that they can have a positive impact on the world, far beyond their own communities, even if they are not able to travel the world - because they really can. The thing is, they need us to guide them. They need us to lead them; but we can't lead if we are oblivious to the creative possibilities.
I'll end by sharing a great resource that is part of an interesting project from the National Film Board of Canada called 'High Rise'. If you click on 'begin' a virtual host of your choice will lead you through different stories that relate to how people have made meaningful connections to the world around them through the digital tools they had available to them. Your exploration will be more meaningful than my explanation, so go and see what I mean: NFB/Interactive - UNIVERSE WITHIN
**please note that "The Universe Within" would best suit the intermediate level or above when thinking about student use**