Teenagers today are definitely not in the same world that I was a kid in. The fact that their Internet connection does not require disconnecting the home phone, and waiting 10 agonizing minutes, while a collection of the most annoying sounds in the world screech through the modem, is case in point. I still remember sending my first email, and recall just how mind blowing it was at the time. I remember getting my first cell phone, and how amazing it was that I could connect with friends; without worrying about my mother picking up the other phone while I was on it!
The simple fact is, they live in a different world. One which is so interconnected, that it is almost impossible for them to do anything without it being documented. I know this is not a CNN Breaking Newsflash, but when you step back for a second and think about it, you begin to realize just how 'Live' their lives really are. Just for a moment take a quick look at the list of social media websites available to them! True, not all hold the same popularity as Twitter, Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, and Snapchat, but the options are staggering; and many more are developed every day. This staggering amount of options not only provides them with countless ways to 'connect', but also with countless opportunities to reveal themselves - both good and bad.
Therefore, as educators it has never been so important to impart the lessons and knowledge onto them to show their 'best selves'. Few others have such a unique opportunity to engage with them and show them how to effectively communicate, connect, and share. I know many take this opportunity to teach them about the 'threats' that exist online, or the security issues that exist on many of the social media websites. And although this is beneficial, and definitely needs to be done, I am not sure it connects as effectively as it should with teenagers. I have found with experience that many teenagers are past these lessons; and although they are not experts in connecting with the 'right people', and limiting what they reveal to the world, they are aware of what they should and shouldn't do.
So I have taken a different approach. I guess it's the marketer in me, but feel that imparting the lessons of digital citizenship needs to build on the idea of 'branding'. What I describe below is the 'evolution' of digital citizenship in students, and how I attempt to build the brand in them, where I eventually have them connect with those influences that will further support their brand.
*Just a note before you begin reading each stage of evolution - Although developing the actual brand is one of the first steps in marketing a product, when it comes to students, they don't actually know their brand until later. Therefore, this step falls after the first step, and although it may feel out of order, I believe it is in the correct place.
Grade 9 - Communicating Positivity
Every brand, whether it's Google or Lego, Coca Cola or Walmart, communicates its messages in a positive way. You rarely see a large corporation ridicule or belittle a potential customer (although mistakes do happen); or share negative information about themselves. This should be no different for our students, and is an approach that is slightly different then "Don't Bully!" or "Be Nice!" Students need to be taught that not only should they not say mean things about others online, they should also attempt to share positive messages - regularly.
One of the best examples I have witnessed was a Twitter account started by a couple of former students at my school. They were fed up with the negative messages that were being spread around our school. Rather than simply taking to twitter to attack those who spread such messages, they created an account that spread nothing but positivity. The result? Positivity took hold of the school. It even spread to other schools who also took up the effort.
Instead of teaching our students not to say mean things, we need to teach them to share positive messages on a regular basis. I know this seems like the same thing, in reality it is not. It means we teach them what to share, how to share it, and how to ensure it is a positive message. This begins to build their brand, and advertise their positive beliefs. If we begin this effort in grade 9, then I believe we will see this not only shape social media in years to come, but also the culture of the school in real life.
Grade 10 - Brand Development
When students enter grade 10 they begin to shape their futures. They begin to choose their career path, their friends, their influences, their hobbies, their passions, and their lives as a result. Students at this age begin to realize just who they really are and who they want to be known as (which sometimes are not the same thing). Therefore, it is a great opportunity to support these choices, and help them shape their brand online.
In order to do this, students need to find out what they are known for. They need to see if their own beliefs, match what others think about them. If they don't, they need to work on improving their brand, and one of the best ways to do this, is to use the social media available to them.
Grade 11 - Choosing the Medium
Once students have a positive voice, and a positive brand, now is the opportunity to identify the best medium to share this. As mentioned there are a 100+ mediums that are available to students to share their lives; however, some are better than others, and some 'fit' better than others. Students see their friends on Facebook, Twitter, Vine, Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr, etc. and simply follow them onto these platforms. However, most don't stop and think about why they are on the mediums they chose; and even more don't stop and think about which one conveys their brand the best. This is no different from companies selecting different media for their own commercials - some are better for their brand then others.
Therefore, this is where we need to demonstrate the positives and drawbacks to each. Yes it requires a little bit of knowledge on each of them, but imagine the looks on students faces when you start educating them on the social media platforms they use everyday!
Grade 12 - Connecting & Sharing
The last stage of the evolutionary process is to align their brand with like minded individuals (or other brands). At this point in time, students are beginning to venture off into their careers, higher education, or other paths, and therefore they need to develop a learning network that they can look to for inspiration, information, and support. As a teacher on Twitter, I have developed what I believe to be, a fantastic PLN that I can always rely on for great insight into my profession. Why not teach our students how to develop a similar network? If anyone needs a supportive, insightful, learning network, I have to believe it is most definitely those who are moving out of their comfort zone of high school, and into the big scary 'real' world?!
This is the opportunity for students to connect with the institutions that they hope to attend, the career professionals who they can learn the industry information from, the educators that they will listen to in lectures, the experts they hope to apprentice with, and the many other individuals that will help them progress into fully functioning adults. This is the PLN that they need to use social media for, and the group they want to communicate their brand too.