Thursday, May 18, 2017

Let's Not Blame Netflix

Well it seems like the age-old debate in education is rearing it's ugly head again. On the one side, the great cry from schools, teachers, and some parents about banning social media & devices, while on the other its the students who don't want their digital freedom to be taken away.

First, it was banning personal devices in the classroom, and now it's one of the largest school board's blocking social media. The usual reasons are given - "doesn't support the learning", "negative impact on students' well-being", "wifi usage", etc. - and although there is some validity to these (Netflix does make up for a huge amount of network traffic), they are often thinly veiled excuses for not doing what is really needed - educating. So I enter into this debate with my own thoughts on social media & device use in the classroom, and they are just that, thoughts. I don't know if they are the 'right' answers, but I do feel strongly that we need to consider these - our own fear of new technology, the power of social connectivity, and digital leadership instead of simply digital citizenship - in forming conclusions that impact so many.

Ok so here are my thoughts...

Every new technology is met with as much acceptance as there is resistance. There are both the costs & the benefits associated with it, and we see this all the time in education. When the calculator was introduced to schools many teachers wanted to ban it, or even better when paper was introduced as a substitute for chalk and slate "Students today depend upon paper too much. They don’t know how to write on slate without chalk dust all over themselves. They can’t clean a slate properly. What will they do when they run out of paper?". It takes time for the media/technology to find its place, and we're really in the infancy of social media adoption & mass use - Snapchat is only 3 years into its mass adoption and has reached its peak by many accounts.   History provides us with a fairly similar example of a social media app's rise & fall - Twitter. It too was once called upon to be banned, as it distracted, led to cyberbullying, and consumed a certain amount of network traffic, but now is barely used by students. My own belief regarding Twitter's role in education (no scientific evidence) is that it reached its peak a couple of years ago and has since found its place in the market as a content consumption & sharing media tool rather than a media form for two-way communication for our students. Snapchat too will find its place and be much less of an issue for some in the coming years.

Secondly, the power of connecting socially today is more important to our students than ever before, but we too had similar behaviours when we were students (we just choose to forget or actually forget due to old age which I'm learning all about). I'm sure many of us couldn't wait to get home from school to make the phone call to our friends? And were distracted all through last class to do so. How many of us pleaded with our parents to install a second phone line just so we could have that available social connection? I too struggle with managing the students' need for immediate gratification and connection, as it does distract from a lesson's purpose or in-person collaboration. I also believe that various initiatives taken by social media companies (and other media companies for that matter) are created for user-control purposes rather than positive reasons such as 'sharing what you ate for lunch'. Snapchat 'streaks' are definitely something that has been created by the company itself to manipulate users, rather than empowering them to become leaders online. However, let's not overlook the value of those social connections that our students have through the app, or downplay how important they are because they are not 'face-to-face' or "are in real life". They are real, and they are important to them, and banning social media, or a specific SM app will not stop these from happening. Our students are resourceful, creative, and innovative when it comes to overcoming such obstacles, and they will find a way.

And last, and I feel most important, is the need to educate rather than ignore. Banning social media/devices/etc. is really just ignoring an opportunity to educate our students on how to be responsible online, and how to move toward digital leadership (using it for good). If we aren't going to educate our students regarding digital health & well-being, who is? Most parents exposure to social media is Facebook (a 12-year-old social media platform - really considered ancient when compared to the others) and are not fully aware of what else is out there. We've really done a poor job with regards to educating students on digital citizenship, as we constantly opine that they need to "be careful what they post else they may lose that job", or "don't cyber bully because it's mean". Our kids know these lessons, just like they know it's not a good idea to walk the opposite way in Ikea, or eat yellow snow, and while they were and are worthwhile topics to be covered, we don't need to repeat those message every year, and in every grade. We need to shift the conversation toward digital leadership - how to use the social media form to take advantage of opportunities and support, rather than the negative messaging. There are many elements to social media and the ones that we often overlook are the ones that need to be focused on now more than ever - health & well-being (nomophobia), security (credential hacks), literacy ('fake news'), law (using Uber yet being under 18), rights & responsibilities (right to privacy and identity protection). It's our job to help & support, and we need to allow devices & social media into our schools to do so.

I'm interested to see where this debate/conversation goes. I have a feeling it will continue for years to come, and I'm sure a new tool will enter into the fray. We'll just have to wait and see, but until then gotta go keep my streaks going.

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