Its Tricky

Its always interesting how things seem to fall into place. My students just recently collected five days worth of evidence of their digital presence as part of a history project.

5 days of Social Media
5 days of Social Media

I had not intentionally thought of the opportunity it would present to discuss their digital footprint, I was thinking more primary sources, yet there it was.

The topic also appeared in our #AfricaEd conversation

Shameless Plug
Shameless Plug

this week as we discussed student directed learning and someone brought up students building their own PLNs.

Then, one more time as my grade 8 Humanities class participated in a Google Hangout with a class from North Carolina to discuss teen culture.  Of course, this conversation led to social media and students asking to share contacts. I initially said no, but since have continued to ask myself, why not?

All of this together leaves me with a lot to think about.  We know our students spend time in the digital landscape and we are encouraging them to do so more often as we drive to integrate technology in the classroom.  So how are we encouraging them to do this with discretion and integrity?

Examples of these efforts are constantly appearing on Twitter and Facebook as teachers request retweets or shares to demonstrate how quickly and wide spread an image can travel on social media.  I wonder about the effectiveness of this though as they are asking for the shares, and students aren’t necessarily seeking the fame. More likely, they would come by it unintentionally.  For the typical middle school student I’d wager that they understand how widespread their images can go, it just doesn’t particularly concern them.  They live in the moment.  They aren’t thinking about where the picture will end up, they’re thinking about how much fun they are having with their friends.

Photo Credit: lostinangeles via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: lostinangeles via Compfight cc

I don’t claim to have the answers to this, but I will declare that I’m thinking about it.  There are a lot of great resources out there about digital citizenship and it is taught as a part of our technology classes here at Lincoln.  But how do we know that students are not only listening to the information, but putting it to practice as well as they navigate the social media landscape?

Photo Credit: socialautomotive via Compfight cc
Photo Credit: socialautomotive via Compfight cc

For middle school students, concrete evidence is important. I think reflecting on their usage and the messages they relate in social media is a good first step.  It also needs to be fun.  Sites like Poetweet and Status Cloud provide visually appealing and interesting looks into what you’ve been posting on your accounts.  The chance to create something fun, share it with a classmate and discuss the results in a guided reflection sort of way is a great opportunity.

Then of course, we need to model appropriate use ourselves.

As for my students sharing their contact information with students in the US, the more I think about the more I lean toward it being a good idea. There should probably be some parental consent or at least conversation about it, but, the way I see it, they are building their PLN.  If we are working on encouraging global learning and collaboration it makes sense. Sure students are sharing silly photos and such, but they are also asking each other for help on homework, talking about their classes, supporting one another and building relationships through social media. Isn’t that what we do?



  1. Tracy Blair says:

    Hi Ryan, I enjoyed reading your post about what you’re up to with your students in the history project. Great timing. Thanks for sharing the link to resources from Common Sense Media – very useful. This is one of my go to sites. I also came across this site which might be helpful for you since your kids are a bit older. I understand your reservation about letting your students share contact information. But another way to look at it is that they are sharing within a school context, for a particular purpose, with you there to support them. What better way to test out the building of a student PLN? Build opportunities for reflection and class discussions on the experience will make it even more valuable. These open discussions might bring to your attention certain issues that you can use as teaching points.


    1. Ryan Harwood says:

      Thanks Tracy. Common sense is a great resource for school and for my family. I’ll also check out the link you’ve shared. Thanks for sharing. As for the kids sharing at school, I agree it could be an opportunity to build a PLN for the students. In this case, the kids just wanted to talk I think. It was a one time shot with the Google Hangout. It definitely has me thinking about how to encourage kids to utilize a PLN. In their collections, I have already seen that they are actually among themselves. A lot of what they shared was them asking each other about homework. I think the main point is the one you made, reflection and discussion are key.


  2. Bradley Evans says:

    I love your comparison of showing how their digital footprints are the primary sources of the modern world! They are the diaries of today, except they are public, and like you said our students “live in the moment.” Their tweets, however innocuous, might someday become a big deal. Just look at the comedian taking over the Daily Show, and how his old tweets are being scrutinized in a new way.

    I love the real life application, and hopefully realization in students of the historical impact their current actions might have in your assignment. And I agree that you probably should let them share “some” of their contact info, because they’re probably going to do it regardless. What we can do is just try to guide them to do it responsibly. Thanks Ryan!


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