Last term, I planned and taught social media safety lessons to our Middle School students. There are many great social media experts you can call into the classroom to talk about online safety; however, it is of greater benefit to students to have these lessons taught by a teacher within the school for two main reasons:
1. Existing relationships between teachers and students
A teacher within the school has the benefit of utilizing the trust and relationships they have created with their students. In my experience, students are more inclined to engage in sensitive discussion surrounding a topic or have the confidence to ask tricky questions. If the teacher has a positive relationship with the students, by default, a safe environment is created for students to delve into topics surrounding social media that they usually don’t give great thought to.
2. Ability to block and unblock social media sites
I am a strong believer in a learner-centered approach to teaching. External social media experts don’t have the permission to unblock social media sites within a school for their lesson. Thus, an external expert – albiet their knowledge and ability is high – are not able to provide a learner-centered approach as they are restricted to what is accessible. When teaching these lessons, I had an agreement with our network administrator to unblock Facebook and Twitter for the duration of the class. I started my lessons by talking about social media safety and privacy settings, I demonstrated inappropriate Facebook wall posts, effective uses for Twitter and lastly (but most importantly) I showed the tedious nature of adjusting privacy settings. This resulted in discussion around the purpose and value of adjusting privacy settings, examples of news stories where employees’ jobs were at stake due to incriminating online content as well as examples of situations the students have faced. This was a great segway into the second part of my lesson which was for students to adjust their own settings on Facebook or Twitter. Although they also use many other social media tools, the idea was to plant the seed of critical thought around their online use and privacy.
In addition to these lessons, I drafted and posted around the school a version of the THINK poster that we had found online. The purpose of this poster was to help students think critically and to be aware of their online actions. This poster’s simple message falls under any sort of character development. We teach all forms of character development and reinforce it by creating a sense of community within the classroom and by addressing critical issues in language and communication; however, those messages don’t always seem to transcend into the students’ digital communities. A recent infographic regarding children’s online use, states that the “Internet is making our children stupid”. I don’t agree with that statement. I think with a tool like the Internet which is vast and ubiquitous, educators and administrators need to understand its implications on learning, teaching and character development. Without certain checks and balances in place students use the Internet freely without being able to discern fact vs false information or proper netiquette vs online bullying because they haven’t yet developed critically thinking skills and are still developing their “emotional intelligence”.
The nature of the Internet is a largely unmonitored “playground” lacking “supervision”. Thus, the four strategies listed in the infographic used to combat the negative effects of the Internet (limit Internet use, encourage other interests, help them develop emotional intelligence and take an active role in their Internet use) are all laced with the same undertones: parents, teachers, administrators and community organizations need to assist and play a large role in how their child or students are using the Internet.