Are we a part of the problem?

“Revolution doesn’t happen when society adopts new technologies—it happens when society adopts new behaviors.” Clay Shirky, Here Comes Everybody

This week for me, started off with attending an Royal Canadian Mounted Police presentation discussing “Internet Safety”. A majority of the presentation discussed the “threats” of technology and mostly social media, which is understandable since the police want to keep our society as safe as possible. With all of that being said, the office delivering the presentation did however say that this technology is going to change, and we need to ensure that our students are safe.

As the week progressed though, I saw many articles discussing issues with social media that spilled out in schools:

With all of these issues though (just from this last week), we cannot lose our focus on all of the good things that are happening using social media as well:

We shouldn’t lose our perspective. For every story like this, there are many more about kids behaving well, intelligently, harmlessly, creatively. What an incident points out is that there are new kinds of ethics afoot, and along with them, new kinds of behavioral considerations to deal with.

The reality of the world is though that students are using Facebook (along with other social media sites) and that there are many opportunities to use this effectively in the classroom. The BBC News recently reported that “82% of 16 to 18 year olds” use Facebook everyday. In the same article, the author suggests that these social media skills will be needed to be successful in the work place.

Social networking requires skills that would be useful to employers, he says, such as collaborating and interacting in a creative way. It could also be used to develop communities of interest groups – and he suggests that it could be useful for teachers in subject areas to share ideas.

Now here we are with conflicting viewpoints that on one hand say using social media can be harmful to our students, while the other view discusses how these are skills that are useful to employers. As was stated earlier, this technology is not going away. In fact, the more websites I use the more they become “social” as they know connecting with each other will lead to greater usage. It is not the technology that many of use are enamored with, it is the ability to easily connect with one another.

What are we as schools doing to not only curb these problems but also using this technology to help our students have better opportunities to thrive in the workplace? Many educational institutions have taken the stance that it is better to close down all social media sites as to solve the issues of cyberbullying, but this lends to our students not being prepared for their futures.

So what have we done in other harmful situations? Take the issue of drugs. We do not pretend they don’t exist with our students, but we talk to our children about the dangers of them and educate our students. Over and over again we have shown that education is a way to solve and learn about our problems and a refusal to acknowledge them only makes things worse. The difference however with drugs and social media is that the technology can be used in very effective ways to learn, grow, and pursue your passion. Most agree that there are many benefits of this technology.

I wonder in the cases of all the schools that were listed earlier in this post, if they had used social media in positive ways and educated their students on the harmful effects as well as the consequences of cyberbullying? Although we know that people will tend to do bad things no matter how well they are educated, and that ultimately it is the person using the technology that is the issue, not the technology, how have we dealt with this? We tell our students on one hand that they are accountable for their behaviour on websites and this is part of the “real world” yet sometimes ask them to sign up for sites using an anonymous name. Does that not seem quite contradictory?

As educators, we need to work with our students at an early age and discuss openly the positives and negatives of social media both for their learning, future employment, and even personal relationships. We must do the “driver training” and guide our students before they go out on their own. The fact is that many of our kids are venturing out into this “brave new world” alone, without any guidance from educators and sometimes even parents. As educators, we need to work with our students and even their parents (if they are uncomfortable) to educate them both on the perils and benefits of this technology.

We know that there is more to bullying than just the use of technology but with the use of technology, the truth is that the message and hurt can move a lot further and quicker than ever before. So to answer the title of the post, my own belief is that as educators, we are not necessarily a part of the problem. However, I do believe that we can be a part of the solution. That is more powerful.

Knowledge is power. Let’s work with our students so that they make the right choices in this new world that they are facing.

9 Comments

  1. Terri Reh said:

    I can’t help but think that cool projects students have been doing like global collaborations, multi app presentations, etc. won’t sell as many newspapers as the articles you mentioned at the beginning of this blog post. I have seen way more exciting “cyber” projects than I have seen “cyber” issues….

    January 18, 2011
  2. cbirk said:

    A very salient post, George!

    We most certainly can be part of the problem. Case in point, it is interesting to me that frequently, many of the people who create policies on things such as social media do not actually have social media accounts, or have little experience with social media.

    Coincidentally, I am sitting on our policy committee this week to discuss this very issue, and we are looking to draft up new policies that will enable learning about and with social media rather than trying to ban it. In preparation for this, I have collected numerous AUPs (including yours from Forest Grove, as well as from @cybraryman1, who has dozens), have been in contact with some experts in this area including Douglas Fisher, and have asked for the involvement of (gasp!) students in this policy development. By getting as much information as we possibly can, I feel that we can actually be part of the solution as opposed to being part of the problem.

    As a side point, Facebook has actually helped us tremendously with cyberbullying–we now have written records of harassing behaviour that we have never had before. While some might say it contributes to the problem, looking at the glass half-full, SM can also help contribute to the solution!

    I hope that as a collective, we can get better and better in this area. Posts like these remind us both where we are at and where we need to go!

    January 18, 2011
  3. Shannon said:

    Super post, George. I cannot abide by the ‘sign up for a site as anonymous’ line of thinking. In our district we are putting together a ‘responsible use policy’ to replace the old aup. ( will have to connect with Cale to find out more about where he is at in that process). This is with a view to students having access to school wifi with their own devices. We need to make sure that we are talking about responsibility with regards to online presence at every opportunity. Your post will be a great thinking point to share with parents, staff and community. Thanks for that!

    Shannon

    January 19, 2011
  4. Cyndie Jacobs said:

    This is a very passionate and powerful post, George. I think this discussion can – and will – go round and round indefinitely for a variety of reasons: discomfort with technology; fear of losing ‘control’; fear of the great unknown, etc.

    At the very end of your post, you have hit upon the most practical solution: working with students at an early age. Children learn what they live, so they say. If in Kindergarten, Grade 1 or 2 students are learning how to be comfortable with technology, then the parameters of what Shannon referenced “responsible use” can be ingrained. Like any habit we want our kids to develop, whether brushing their teeth regularly, tidying up after themselves, or ensuring their own safety, we need to instruct/teach them, model the behaviour and provide ample time for the habit to develop.

    Active learning like this must start very early. Perhaps we should all take a page from Aviva Dunsiger’s (@Grade1) book and start early with all students.

    January 19, 2011
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    January 21, 2011
  6. Fran said:

    Miriam Loeb wrote a post about school bullying that drives home one frightening point in particular:

    . School bullying statistics show that much of the bullying takes place when students travel to and from school and in the halls ways, bathrooms and playgrounds where often it is difficult to provide adequate adult supervision. In other words, bullying is occurring off school premises where we have little or no control. Here’s her full article: http://www.hertzfurniture.com/blog/school-bullying

    April 6, 2011

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