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.
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…
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.
“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.
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.