Please Stay on the Path

Recently I have found myself thinking why are these kids acting this way in social media? It is not what I would have done when I was their age…Shut the front door – what was I thinking!? Like the first signs of a cold, I knew that I was becoming out of touch – so the timing of COETAIL and week 2’s readings, could not have been better. Better in that they have pulled me from falling into the abyss of the fixed mind set, I know better than you brigade.

Always Connected

I first embarked on having a conversation with a group of G6 students, about their experiences with social media. I chose students from four different countries, to try to get a balanced view of how they connect with their friends. They all said that their main use of social media was to stay in contact with their friends, both within their current city of Shanghai, previous host cities and their home countries! I mean what better way is there to maintain these connections, rather through the different methods that social media provides. I could definitely relate to this as an adult, as I use the social media – messaging only mind – to stay in contact with all my friends and family outside my current host city. On the other hand my 11 year old self, could remember all the phone numbers of his friends, or would be able to go to their houses within a 5 minute walk.

The students then told me about the different apps they use to maintain these long distance friendships and why they were important to them. All the usual suspects where there including What’s App, Instagram, WeChat and Snapchat. In fact this was the first time I saw the Snap Map and I have to tell you I found this a little invasive. In fact it reminded me of the scene in Batman: The Dark Knight, when Morgan Freeman, aka Lucius, discovers that Batman has turned every cellphone in Gotham into a sonar device so that he could track down his nemesis. Good intentions, but in the wrong hands…

A picture of two people's hands, with fingers pointed and touching.
Photo by Samuel Zeller on Unsplash

An Unexpected Discovery

After I had finished admiring my DC movie analogy for social media, I talked to the students about what they liked and any challenges they may have faced whilst communicating online. One student told me that they liked that they could “get information quickly”; an answer I was expecting, and wish I had access to when I was 11 years old. For some reason, way back when, I was trying to find out what a punt was in NFL. Being one of the last Generation X’ers this was a herculean task in the 1992 in pre-ceasefire Belfast – and included making numerous bus journeys to libraries within the city; I finally found the answer by the way, and I am not sure it was worth it. Now-a-days this is a minuscule task that one might do on the Metro, on the commute to work! We then talked about editing texts…The students all agreed that they liked to be able to edit what they were going to say. They wanted to carefully craft their responses – particularly if it was a message within a group chat setting or post. I can certainly relate to this, and I do it all the time. But I do wonder what skills might be overlooked as this becomes ingrained in our psyche. Will it result in us losing our spontaneity and risk taking?

I then decided to wrap up the conversation by asking what challenges did they face, and I was not expecting their answer – which was that they preferred having face to face conversations because: they could read body language and react accordingly, they could see facial expression and tone which could then help them with their reply. I found this discovery intriguing, given that all the students I talked to where born in the year Steve Jobs introduced the iPhone, and have grown up with technology ever present in their lives.

A simple outline of two faces, facing each other
Image courtesy of Geralt on Pixabay

Rule Book

“The good thing about rules is that they are there to broken.” This may have been my catchphrase when I was a rebellious teenager, but upon reading the The Unspoken Rules Kids Create for Instagram, from the NYTimes, broadened my take on this – I mean it kept me on course for maintaing a growth mindset. Some of the so called “rules” are enforced by digital peer pressure, like the “bikini rule”, and how many pictures of a party can you post in a row. I appreciated the rule for not lying to your friends that you can’t hang out with them because you have to complete your homework, but rather say you are busy or have plans; I think this rule was created only because they know that they will get caught out when they post. I do agree with the author of this article when they talk about having a conversation with your children about what set of rules they have created online and on social media. I agree because by having a discussion with our children, we can offer some decent advice.

A sign showing the text
Photo by Mark Duffel on Unsplash

Why the Change

The participatory culture is helping to support the change in our social interactions. With more choice with what you want to say, how you want to say it and where you say it. Which picture you want to post. What post you want to comment on. Which comment you want to like. What like emoji you want to use; and it goes on and on. My point is that there is, and always will be constant change. Who knows what the next set of unspoken rules will be, and who will they apply to. The more that tech is integrated into our societies, the more it is understood and misunderstood. As technology continues to develop, we must adapt and change to how we interact with it. Foldable phones, wearables, self driving cars, snap maps, voice recognition, AR, VR – all of it provides a fertile breeding ground for social interaction and communication to change. Although I do sometimes wonder if today’s younger generations, Gen Z, will be more open in their social interactions offline because of their willingness to communicate online.


Who defines what social media is? Me, you, Google, or a so-called influencer on YouTube? I am not so sure, but what I do know is that I use different media platforms in the classroom to deliver academic and social interactions. For example on my YouTube channel, I put up screencasts for the students to watch when they are trying to figure out how to use the loft tool in Fusion 360. I encourage them to add comments to my videos so that I can improve. As soon as I get a comment, I will respond – if it is meaningful. I do think about how I comment, as it is a opportunity to show them how to respond to comments on their channels or ones they subscribe to. My videos serve another purpose. I hope that all of my students build on my work, and make it better. I hope that, when they watch my videos, it inspires them to create their own. Then they will be communicating their learning and enjoyment of the subject. I also use Padlet, Email (yes) and MS Teams to communicate with my students. In Padlet we have accounts for every student, meaning that their name will be attached to their posts. Which makes them think twice before they post – which is a good thing. And every time that I reply or put up an announcement, there is an opportunity to educate and model skills that can contribute to helping students become positive digital citizens.

5 comments to “Please Stay on the Path”
5 comments to “Please Stay on the Path”
  1. Isn’t it crazy how a simple 25-30 years can completely change the way that pre-teens and teens communicate with each other? I made a lot of connections between my students and yours in the information you found and had a good chuckle about remembering the phone numbers. I still can, my best friends was 262-5115 although I won’t give you the area code due to privacy and it wouldn’t matter anyway as, like most people, they have moved on from landlines. Although my students use Snapchat I neglected to ask them about the map function, will have to pursue that dystopia another time.

    I enjoyed reading your thoughts on rules or etiquette in the digital world and agree with your ideas about this being an important topic for discussion. Just a question though, do you think the discussion is for the purpose of giving advice or more about getting the students/children to reflect on their actions and hopefully make the right choice? Maybe it is a bit of both?

    Something that I thought about when reading your thoughts on adaptability and how we will always find a way to integrate technology into our societies made me think of the boys in my class. In a class of 16, there are two very distinct sets of boys in the class; the larger group consisting of the boys who communicate online every night while playing games together, and the boys who don’t. Both groups connect in the classroom but on the playground, they are very separate. I wonder if the inability to adapt (or having stricter boundaries at home surrounding technology integration) also changes how students see and behave towards each other in the real world? Even though we are in a private school where students all have access to a variety of digital devices at home, their parents choose not to let them go online and shoot each other every night. This constricted access can create (probably inadvertently) the complex social interactions of the have’s and have nots, even though both are technical “haves”. Just a bit of a ramble there about some observations I thought of after reading your post.

    I like how you use your Youtube channel to model immediate and appropriate feedback. I try to do the same thing with my student’s learning journals and also give them time to give feedback to each other. Modelling is such an important cultural force (see Ron Ritchhart) that creates so many valuable learning opportunities and builds a culture of learning and creation in the classroom. Thanks for the post.

    • Apart from remembering numbers do you also recall thinking you had put in the correct number – on those rotary dial phones – only for the phone to ring and someone you weren’t expecting to answer? This happened to me more times than I care to admit.

      For me a good discussion is like a good pizza. You always feel full up afterward but you will keep coming back for more. Weird analogies aside I also believe a productive discussion can be had if the participants feel that they aren’t being judged – maybe this will encourage them to open up more.

      Rambling is good, as you may stumble across a good point; and I think you have (or have not – pardon the pun). There is a lot to discuss in this area also – maybe too much for this comment section…

      I will give this Ron Ritchhart a look and thanks for your comprehensive comments Flynn 🙂

  2. Hi Flynn!,
    I also met grade 6 students to talk about digital footprints and their presence on social media. Their age is 11-12 years old but even though +13 years-old is the minimum age accepted to be part of many social media, they are active in more than 8 options. They prefer to show themselves as older teens. Even parents allow them to do it. I could identify three points: some of them have finstagrams (fake identities on Instagram), boys are more interested in video games than girls so their participation in social media is just to be in touch and show their video games accomplishments. Girls want to be popular and they want to be cool. I also noticed that they were not so informed about their safety and the image that they are projecting on social media. W But, there is also a breaking point in which all the students come together ‘Hangouts’. They use to coordinate homework, group work, and gossip. I also could see the faces of the girls when we were talking about digital footprints. I’m sure more that one posted comments not so polite, believing on privacy.
    After this conversation, I confirmed that we have to so much to develop awareness about social media at the school.

  3. I had the same discussion with the 8th grade students during a morning meeting about the kinds of social media that they use and what they like or not like about it. For me, it was not surprising to find that most students preferred social media usage over face to face talking. This may be due to location as in Saudi Arabia it is difficult to visit friends unless they are living in the same compound, or you have a driver or you are able to take an uber.
    Their overall preference was to use instagram where a lot of them like their friends pictures but do not post themselves. If they do post they wait for a couple of hours and if the response is not favorable they will take off their photo to post at a better time when more friends are online. They also feel obligated to like a friends picture on instagram and snapchat as not liking it means you are not friends.
    Therefore, most of my findings aligned with the feelings of the teens in the article: Like, Flirt, Ghost: A Journey Into The Social Media Lives of Teens.

    • Thanks for your comment Saadia 🙂 I do like chatting with the students about their use of technology. Every student group has its own set of rules within an given environment, and these rules can change at the drop of a hat. I do find it interesting, but not surprising that students will remove a picture if it doesn’t recieve any attention.

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