Social Activism Online: Leading the Charge or Contributing to Nothing?

It seems that there is a new hashtag campaign every day, advocating for this, boycotting that, bringing awareness to some new cause. Some of these campaigns are more successful than others, protests which once took extensive planning can occur in a short span of time and simultaneously around the world (such as the Women’s March or Climate March that occurred earlier this year), images of companies, groups, or individuals can be destroyed or lifted up (such as #boycottUnited, or NASA’s #ayearinspace). But how does one hashtag outlive others, and why are some successful while others never achieve a viral status?

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via GIPHY

Although there is a history of failed social activism, we are seeing increasing more successful campaigns and social media is becoming the platform of choice for activists to share their story.

 

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Photo Credit: MTSOfan Flickr via Compfight cc

Sabina Khan-Ibarra makes several points in her article The Case for Social and Hashtag Activism as to why activists are choosing social media. She acknowledges that social media allows us to reach more people, more quickly in order to share our message, that conversations can happen worldwide instead of in a localized area, that those who are not able to leave the home are able to access the cause, and that social media creates an engaged and interactive audience. Her strongest point, is that social media gives the average person the ability to call out injustices, inaccuracies, and misrepresentations and be heard by a large audience. Although there are many that will just “retweet”, “share”, or “like” a post, these slacktivists are still useful as they are serving as a means to continue to share the message to those who will take action and therefore, we are not losing out on the purpose because those sitting on their couch do nothing but click a button.

In fact, it is the average person’s pleas that are often form the most successful campaigns. Jonathan Moyer’s article describes how campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter tap into feelings that are already present and prevalent in our society and this is why they are sustainable. When we are looking at issues that touch the general public, we are more likely to go out and say something, to act on our thoughts that would typically only solicit a retweet or a share. When we use social media to try to demean or punish brands for their actions (such as United Airlines) it doesn’t “hit home” in the same way as systemic prejudice.

“[…]people are now faced with real, personal, unavoidable issues that drive them into public spaces to attempt to break down oppressive structures.”

-Jonathan Moyer, Political Activism on Social Media has Grown Some Teeth

Campaigns such as #BlackLivesMatter, #WomensMarch, and #ClimateMarch demonstrate that there is meaning and worth in social activism, the trick is finding the appropriate means and motivation. Caroline Dadas looks at the trend of hashtag activism and proposes considerations and warnings for those who wish to engage online.

“I argue that those engaging in hashtag activism need an understanding of the political and historical context of the issue(s) they are describing; an awareness of how rhetorical velocity and remix might affect their tweets; and a willingness to include links to reputable news stories in their tweets, in addition to other factors.”

-Dadas, Hashtag Activism: The Promise of Risk and Attention (p. 18)

Dadas pushes the need to ensure that activists consider the brevity of hashtags that they will be using to invoke change as well as the ways in which the hashtag and the images used to support their cause can be skewed, such as how #yesallwomen saw a counter #notallmen campaign.

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via Rikki’s Refuge on Flickr

So is it possible to have productive conversations about social justice online? Yes. Following the suggestions of Dadas, the conversation needs to use simple hashtags, and be cognizant of the various political, historical, and social contexts of the topic to ensure that the cause is interpreted in the correct manner. There will be naysayers,  just as there are in any social justice conversation, and these need to be addressed in an assertive but conversational manner and backed with research.

Using social media will likely be the activism of the future and I agree with Katia Hildebrandt that:

If we are online, as educators, and we remain silent about issues of social justice, if we tweet only about educational resources and not about the release of the Truth and Reconciliation Commission report in Canada, or about the burning of Black churches in the southern United States, we are sending a clear message: These issues are not important.” 

-Katia Hildebrandt, In online spaces, silence speaks as loudly as words

Our students need us to model how to engage online, to be digital citizens, and to speak for what we believe in. We need to model and teach how to engage in social justice issues to ensure that, when our students are in our shoes, they are equipped to engage in our ever increasingly online world to enact change and share their passions. Otherwise, we are leaving our students ill-equipped to succeed and grow in their future.

Do you agree that teachers need to be engaged in social activism? Is it their responsibility to help our students develop the digital skills they need to enact social change? Do you think the potential risks that educators may encounter when engaging in social justice online are “worth it”? I would love to hear your opinions!

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Setting the Stage

This week, I have been up to a few things for my digital learning project. I started with creating a few documents to help organize my students for their upcoming units, have been working on a “Getting Started with Blogging” cheat sheet (I will post this once I have it fully tweaked the way I would like it), and have made my first post on the classroom blog.

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Screen shot of my classroom blog

I have decided that I will model how to use a blog with my students for a unit before letting them go free and have them put basic, fairly common posts initially so that they can become comfortable with the platform. I am also waiting on permission forms to come in so I cannot get rolling too fast with having them posting away until I receive a form from each student.

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Screenshot of Edublogs form to add student blogs

Today, I sat down and created blogs for each of the students in my class. It was a little of a tedious task as I had to create a username and blog URL for each student. Thankfully Edublogs has a great support page on Choosing Student Usernames, Blog URLs and Blog Titles and, with a little planning and thought on how to maintain the privacy of my students but have unique usernames, I was off! For now, if you are looking at my page, you will see their usernames/URLs on the right side bar of the post but, as we log in this upcoming week and name our blogs, this should change to be [Student name]’s Blog or Learning, that I have not quite decided upon yet. What do you think? Should this be uniform or should I allow the students to choose?

We started a jigsaw activity last week on cultural aspects of various First Nations’ groups based on their geography and students are to create a handout on their region in our next class. Once these are complete, they will be posted on the classroom blog, I can’t wait to see how they do, they were already excited and talking about how their product will look!

I would love to hear your thoughts on the theme I chose, the layout, or anything else!

Digital Identity and Schools

We were asked this week to talk about one of a few different things and of the list, I chose Digital Identity. I chose digital identity because I feel like it relates to my learning project as it will be a topic that I discuss with my students while we are blogging and considering when we are presenting ourselves online.

Maintaining your digital identity is a complex task. This has a lot to do with the ability to take things from the internet and claim them as your own along with the fact that once it is online, there is no way to take it back and it will always be documented on the internet.

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Photo Credit: Oliver Dunkley Flickr via Compfight cc

When I look at my digital identity, some of the things that I do to manage it is to do regular checks of my security settings on my various social media accounts as well as mediate and go on what I call an “unfriending spree”. I go through those who have the most open access to my accounts every 2-3 months and consider if they still need to be my friend or connection on my social media account and often unfriend quite a few people every time I do this. I have also become more selective on who I will be connected to.

Not only do I limit and restrict who has access to me on certain accounts, I also censor what I share, like, and comment on. I recognize that every time I engage with certain content online, others online are able to see what I have engaged with. When I go to share a video, like a photo, or comment on someone’s status, I always take a moment to consider how this will affect me as a teacher if someone sees it, can it be “used against me” in some way? That teacher hat never comes off and therefore I need to ensure that I am always acting “on duty”. I also have to consider my division’s procedure for Use of Social Media.

When talking with students, or when I see students interacting on various forms of social media, I try to share the risks of sharing online. My division has a policy on what students are allowed to share and I have dealt with some issues of inappropriate use of social media as an acting administrator in my building but I feel that more needs to be done in order to help students understand the effects of them sharing personal information online. This is part of the reason why I have chosen my major project to involve interacting online through blogs. The blogs will allow me to bring digital citizenship and some of the laws and regulations of sharing images, photos, and the work of others into the classroom in a real and applicable manner where they may demonstrate more “buy-in” to the ideas of being a citizen of the digital world and not just someone who uses it.

Do you have personal rules or procedures you use to ensure the security and appropriateness of your social media accounts? Do you add your students (current or past)? Does your division have a policy around social media that you are required or recommended to follow?

Blogging about Blogs

So I have been spending some time plotting the implementation of my major project. I started by looking at my goals and then seeing what tools I have available through the software on my school computers. We have access to laptops, desktops, and iPads and, in looking at the programs installed, I have access to various web browsers and Zoom to help my students contact experts. I have also found an expert. I still need to organize and arrange but, at a meeting I attended as Career Counsellor, an anthropology professor stated he would love to talk to high school students. I want to figure out more of a timeline before I contact him about “Zoom”-ing into our class but I hope to arrange a conversation.

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via Zoom

I have also started to set up blog accounts. I decided to go with Edublogs as it is based on WordPress but allows me to approve all comments, at least until my students get the hang of things. I have also sent home a parent information letter explaining how I will be using blogs in the classroom. I can’t wait until I can start setting up the blogs!

 

Social Media + Teaching = ????

When looking at social media, I took a moment to reflect on my first experiences with various networks. I had a MySpace account, I don’t think that anything that I had posted on it “about me” was true. I was still nervous about putting myself out there on the internet, where anybody could find me. I have had accounts with many other different sites, some that have come and gone, some that probably still exist somewhere but are rarely used.

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I created my Facebook account in 2007 and, at that time, was one of the very first people in my school to get one. I know this from the confused looks I received from my peers when I asked them about Facebook. A childhood friend of mine had told me I should join the network, that it was the next big thing, and so I did. Facebook was 100% me and I definitely overshared (sometimes I hate seeing the “On This Day” posts….cue a major face palm!). Over time, I have limited some of what I share, I no longer update my status multiple times a day, I try to only share the important things, and I filter what I share and like based upon those that I am connected with on the site….more on this later.

I joined Twitter my first year of university in Alec’s ECMP 355 course. It was so different for me to experience and it took me a LONG time to decide that I like the platform (as in, I only really started enjoying using it during the Winter 2017 term for ECI 834)). It was too random for me to fully embrace the way it shared information.

When thinking about teaching in the digital age, I have to admit that I do not really know any other way. In internship I created a Wikispace with all of my assignments. Shortly after starting in my first (and current) position I created a classroom Facebook page and encouraged students and parents to connect. For me, many of the forms of social media have always been there. The major change that I have seen in my teaching career is the shift towards a focus of including these digital tools and various forms of social media into the classroom in a meaningful way.

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via Max Pixel

Even though I may be considered a digital native in teaching, it does not mean that I do not have concerns over social media in schools. I worry about cyberbullying, about inappropriate content, and about not knowing how or when to interact with others online. I also worry about some of the things that I am guilty of: oversharing and sharing information that may not be safe to share (age, address, full name, etc.). I have many fears about having students online but none of them overshadow my strong belief that students today need to learn and understand how to use the internet and various forms of social media to access the knowledge they seek and, as Pavan Arora states, students need to learn how to apply the vast amount of knowledge that they can access.

I really resonated with Michael Wesch‘s comment that we need to be focusing more on what types of questions our students are asking as opposed to what and how are we teaching content. I think that this is a critical aspect of teaching in the digital age and have had many students ask me over my career “why am I learning this if I can just Google it?” or “why can’t I just use the app?” and each time I have stepped back and had to look at how I am teaching and how it can be more meaningful for my students. Sometimes, it comes down to a simple, yet unfortunate, “because that is what the curriculum asks you to do to earn the credit”, but often these questions cause me to come up with a new way of covering a topic, it pushes me to encourage students to come up with the content themselves through inquiry, a tactic that I enjoy using in my math class. By allowing my students to create the knowledge for themselves, they gain an ownership of their learning which helps them buy in to the other concepts that may not lend themselves to this as easily.

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via Pixabay

By using blogs, Twitter, Facebook, and other social media platforms, we are helping our students learn to connect and interact with others from around the world in a professional manner. There is a definite need for ensuring that our students have a deep understanding of digital citizenship before embarking on this experience but, without allowing them to experience the open internet, I would argue that there is no way to be sure they understand what it means to be a digital citizen. When looking at integrating various types of technology, including social media, into our classrooms, Shelby mentions that we need to ensure that we are integrating the technology for authentic reasons as students can easily recognize when we are implementing something for the sake of implementing it. John Seely Brown and Richard Adler state that Web 2.0 is about connections, not just about information. I feel that this is the niche that social media can play in our classrooms. Brown and Adler also touch on research that demonstrates that a social aspect of education is essential and that students that meet in study groups tend to see greater success in their courses, something that is echoed in Jacque‘s mention of a student who regularly attends study groups. To push this to the limit, there is the case of a group of students taking notes simultaneously on a Google Doc and the interesting questions it raises about the importance of the course if these notes could be accessed without attending or could be forwarded to the next cohort of students.

Where do you fall on the scale of digital native to digital immigrant? Do you have a variety of different social media accounts? Which ones, if any, would you feel comfortable integrating into your classroom with either your personal or a professional account?

 

Third Time’s the Charm

This past week I have been thinking about my learning project. I had asked Alec about creating an open-source textbook and how that would work into the project and spent some time mulling over how I would like it to work. The more I thought about it, the more I wasn’t so sure that it was what I wanted to do. Trash can for Idea #1.

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I looked into different things I could learn. I asked my students, I asked my brother. Ideas of Spanish (we recently had three students who speak minimal English join our school, so it would be practical), sewing (similar to Shelby  and Ashley, I love Hallowe’en and enjoy make elaborate costumes so sewing could be a handy skill), and my brother was excited to suggest coding (being the electrical engineer that he is) and even offered me his Arduino to learn and practice with . And yet with all of these great ideas, my heart was just not into any of them. Trash can for Idea #2.

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AND THEN….our school became a little crazy. With newly added staffing of 0.5 FTE, new timetables for all grades 7-12 (and minor changes in PreK-6), and transitioning students to new teachers, my learning project took a rest in the back of my brain to simmer until the hectic was (mostly) over. After things had slowed down, I realized exactly what I wanted to do for my learning project, something I had wanted to do for a long time but had just never been able to get going properly: having my students blog as part of their course.

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Photo Credit: MarcelaPalma Flickr via Compfight cc

So social media and open education implementation it is! It may sound like this was a last resort, but to be honest, the more I think about it, the more I have been getting excited about it. I have decided that I will implement blogging with my Social 9 class. I have already decided that I would allow my students more choice in the societies we study this year, developing units as inquiry and independent learning tasks with various supported activities. Using blogs for students to share their learning and interact with the public world, seemed like an easy and authentic fit for blogging! Last step before starting down the planning stages: clear with my administration, which was received very well (and with some personal anecdotes of their experiences).

And so we begin! I am still looking for what platform I will use, I want to play around with a couple before starting, the biggest annoyance for me when integrating something new is not liking the platform or program I choose and finding one WAY better suited to my needs a couple days after I have rolled it out. This may still happen but I want to try to eliminate the majority of the disappointment of missing out on a great platform. I like using WordPress for my personal blog but I’m not sure if that is the best option to use with my students, I know some use Edublogs but I don’t have personal experience using that platform.

Goals for my project:

  • Set up individual student blogs
  • Teach my students about blogging, integrating images and videos, and commenting on others’ posts
  • Create a unit plan that requires blogging about their progress through the unit as well as reflection questions and requirements around embedding videos, linking to websites, and sharing their sources they use.
  • Encourage students to use Twitter to interact with experts. I’m not sure if this will be done through their personal Twitter accounts or if I will use my account to tweet on their behalf. If you have suggestions around this, please share!
  • Encourage parent interaction with their child’s blog so they can see what is going on in class.

My Idealistic Product

I would love for my students to Skype or instant message an expert in the field they are studying, or maybe even just someone who has been to one of the sites they will study but I am not positive that I will be able to make this happen. I am definitely going to try but don’t want to set the bar so high I will never attain it! (On a side note, the first societies we will look at are Egypt and Mesopotamia, if you know or are an expert, lets chat!)

On my way

The plotting…. I mean planning… begins. I have a bit of time as we have just started a unit that I would like to finish before implementing this project but the learning about blogging will likely start sooner than our actual unit of study.

Have you used blogs in your classroom? Where did you host them? Do you have any suggestions or know of any “experts”? Let me know in the comments!

Open Education: To use or not to use, THAT is the question!

This week, we were asked to think about the consequences and complexities of learning “in the open”. This is something that I have often debated and dabbled in throughout my teaching career and I am excited to be jumping in to a space where I am a little more comfortable with implementing open learning in my classroom.

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How integrating open education has gone for me thus far… via GIPHY

I have seen student blogs done well, I remember taking ECMP 355 (I think that was the number) with Alec in my undergrad studies and commenting on the student blogs of a Calculus class, asking questions and encouraging the students writing them to think outside of the box and, ever since then, I imagined a classroom where I would do the same. In reality, I struggled with access to technology, bandwidth, and student and community support in implementing blogs. I also had to grapple with an experience that many of my students had where using blogs was not as well planned as it could have been and they had a “sour taste in their mouths” about the process.

What are the best possible outcomes of having students share their work with the greater world? I can’t even brush the surface of the benefits! Having students be advocates in their own learning, asking questions, and making connections to experts or others that are interested in a topic are just a start. In taking students to Europe on a tour of World War sites, I had the opportunity to invite a Holocaust survivor to Skype into our classroom and share her story. As a group, we had read her two books on the experiences she had at Theresienstadt, a concentration camp, and we arranged a question and answer period with her during the school day. To top it off, she happened to come to Regina and we were able to take some students to meet her face to face. The learning that those students experienced could never be replicated by me talking, them reading or us watching a video. What if every student could connect to an “expert” or someone who has spent their lifetime investing in a particular hobby and learn from that person? What if they could ask their questions to someone who was present at an event? This may not be plausible for all situations but there are many where an expert can take a lesson from “blah” to amazing in no time at all!

What about the dangerous side of the internet? The side that may harm our students? I agree with Nam that our students are vulnerable and we need to understand that there are those online that do wish them harm. Some of them (or their parents) may value their privacy of not being on the internet, such as Joe mentioned in his blog. Not only do we need to be aware of those who may try to physically harm our students, we need to be aware of trolls and cyber-bullying, not just from the outside but from inside our classroom as well. The key to supporting our students is to ensure that we start their “open education” with digital citizenship.

Digital citizenship encompasses all the ways that we interact with others, either actively (commenting, posting, sharing) or passively (viewing) online. Coralee found a great image that describes the aspects of digital citizenship below.

9 Elements of Digital Citizenship

Photo credit: http://www.fractuslearning.com and Coralee‘s post.

By ensuring our students have a deep understanding of what it means to be a digital citizen, we are teaching them how to interact and how to protect themselves online. It is not enough to teach students the aspects of digital citizenship, teachers need to model this and hold true to their teachings, not being afraid to talk about the repercussions of those that were not acting safely and encourage conversation about issues such as cyber-bullying and how to prevent it.

Overall, is having our students learn in the open worth it? I would answer a definite yes. Not all teachers may feel comfortable with using open education at young ages but, in looking at educators such as Kathy Cassidy, with the right framework and planning, I think that it is always doable. I think the key is to start slow and gradually add to your reptoire of teaching tools.

Have you integrated different types of open education in your classroom? What types of activities have you used? Let me know!