During the final week of classes this month, I had an opportunity to discuss with our Grade 9 Health and Career Education (HCE) classes the importance of reflecting on their use of social media while on the holiday break. And yes, there was consistent acknowledgement that most would (with increasing frequency) immerse themselves in their various social networks to share, post, watch, discuss, blog, plan, and, maybe (just maybe), learn. And, of course, for most North American youth that means connecting with their friends over social media platform giants Instagram, Snapchat, Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.
It should be said that over the course of the week it did occur to me that I was sounding more and more like a broken record reiterating the ‘think before you post’ message (important as it is). Like most teacher-librarians and those working with our youth to help them navigate their online environment, I am always on the trawl for articles, posts or videos that can help to tell the story that needs telling. Thanks to the amazing colleagues in my professional learning network, I was directed to this social media experiment conducted by YouTuber Jack Vale. Indeed, Vale’s piece was perfect for the message I wanted to convey about making sure our privacy settings are set to ‘friends only’ and turning off location settings on apps that do not necessarily require them. Have a look for yourself…
It should be noted that prior to each viewing, I prefaced with the students that the people in the video were expressing surprise and some of their reactions were bleeped out. I watched, with absolute fascination, the students’ reactions during the short and powerful piece. Many of their faces echoed the expressions of the people on the screen as they (too) realised that all of this information was shared publicly and these people could be found easily because of the location data embedded in photos shared in spaces like Instagram and Facebook. Without doubt, this guerilla video ‘tactic’ was effective with most of the students students; some even approached me after each workshop to get help finding where location services was located on their phones (and to turn them ‘Off’) in those apps not requiring it for functionality.
The more time I spend in frank and honest discussions with our youth about developing positive digital citizenship habits, one pattern has started to crystallize: there is an ingrained assumption by many (i.e. most) educators, parents, and adults that our students are savvy users of technology. However, my growing experience tells me that our youth require (some desperately) much direction. For teachers, finding opportunities to share and discuss information in our often crowded curriculums is difficult, but we need to make time (I shudder to think of the long-term effects if we don’t). For parents, it is a myriad of reasons, as to why they are often not in command of knowledge like this, and therefore, cannot provide the essential guidance. I began and ended each of the workshop sessions with an overt acknowledgement to the students that it is no longer an option to be informed users of technology; it is no longer an option to be ignorant users who can (and will) make serious errors by sharing information unknowingly. Ignorance is not bliss in this situation; it is lifelong damaging. Part of being a ‘digital citizen’ involves the commitment to proactive learning by developing an intimate understanding of the broad dashboard settings of the programs they use on their digital devices as a part of the digital realm.
Indeed, time well spent!