Over the next few weeks, we (at Eduro Learning) are sharing tons of awesome resources, lesson plans, ideas and strategies for helping students become responsible, respectful and resilient digital citizens. I am super excited about all of the content we’ve created for you around our new three-part series course called Teaching Empathy to Unite a Divided World. (And, btw, that’s why I haven’t been blogging here very much, because I’ve been busy developing some of that great content for Eduro as we continue to build our new business).
One of the reasons we developed this series course, authored by Emily Roth, with guidance from Chrissy Hellyer and me, is because we’re passionate about teaching students how to become the awesome people in online spaces that we (as teachers) are great at helping them become in physical spaces – but we know this can be a challenging task.
Frankly, sometimes it can be pretty challenging to behave ideally in online spaces, even for adults (myself included). Look at the comments on any YouTube video, online forum, or controversial Facebook post (particularly if it’s anything related to politics) and you’ll see more examples of horrible behavior than you could ever want to experience, all in just one thread. It’s easy to go off the rails in online spaces, there’s no one physically there to deal with, you don’t have the visible cues from their reaction to see how hurtful you might be, and of course, you might not even realize the way others might perceive the tone of your words.
As adults, we know we have to be so much more careful in our word choice in online spaces than we do when we’re in person, but ironically, in schools, we often spend much more time teaching students how to behave appropriately in physical spaces, than we do learning about our behavior in online spaces – even though we know that students may be spending even more time socializing online than they do in person.
So, what do we do? Well, for starters we need to make time to provide learning experiences for students to develop those social norms with our academic contexts – and that’s what all the great free resources we’re sharing (through Eduro Learning, check them out here) are about, as well as our new Teaching Empathy to Unite a Divided World series course.
But, one of the things I’m most interested in, is adults as role models for dealing with / responding to this kind of behavior. I think students often have adults in their lives who can help them develop understandings about how to make good choices in online spaces (here are a few examples primarily for teachers, but here’s one for parents too, and my Parenting in the Digital Age flipboard magazine is another great resource for both parents and teachers!), and we’re starting to develop great academic resources for that, but we rarely show them how we respond when something uncomfortable or unpleasant happens to us – especially when it’s our own fault.
Think about this:
- When a family member or friend posts something you don’t like (potentially even a picture of you that you’d rather not have online), do you discuss it with them respectfully, do you ignore it, do you do something passive aggressive in response, or do you get angry?
- When this same friend continues to post things you don’t like or makes you uncomfortable, do you talk to them about it, or do you just unfollow or unfriend them?
- Once you’ve unfollowed someone on Facebook (for whatever reason), if / when they ask you why they aren’t seeing your posts any more, do you act confused (“who knows what FB shows us anymore?”) or do you tell them about the choice you made?
- If someone reposts a picture you took on their own FB wall, or Instagram feed, without giving you credit, do you talk to them about it, ignore it, or react in kind?
- If someone comments on your wall with a viewpoint you disagree with, do you engage thoughtfully, do you ignore it, or do you get angry?
Those are just a few experiences I’ve personally had, and I definitely don’t think I’ve always made the best choices, but each one has been a learning experience for me, and I wonder how many of us are sharing those experiences with our students.
Here’s an small example that was surprisingly hard for me:
I competed in a race last year, and we were asked to take photos and share with the race hashtag, during the event. One of my photos was this one:
Shortly after I posted my photo, I noticed that one of the race organizers, also a well-known (you might say, famous) vegan athlete, posted this:
A post shared by Plant Based Athlete (@vladixel) on
You’ll notice the photo credit to me at the end, but at the time he posted it, there was no credit to me, and I found myself surprised both upset by the fact that he took my photo and honestly disappointed in myself by how hard it was for me to figure out how to respond. Do I say something? Do I ignore it? Is it really that big a deal that he took my photo and posted it as his own? It was a picture of other people, and I didn’t explicitly get permission from them to post it either… Plus, I was sharing on the race hashtag and he was a race organizer. We follow each other on Instgram, but with his 21k followers (to my 1.1k), who am I kidding, he’s waaaay more established and well-known than I am… is it really worth picking a fight?
I think it took me a good 24 hours, but I eventually posted this short comment (and, seriously, I was surprised at how nervous I was to see how he would respond):
And within less than 10 minutes, not only did he credit me in the caption (as you can see up above), but he also responded to my comment:
This may seem like a very small and insignificant story (because it is), but it made me realize something important:
If I was this distressed and confused about how to deal with something as simple as this (even just the wording of the request took me ages to determine), with another mature adult (while being a mostly mature adult myself), who I don’t really know and the result of which would have almost zero impact on my daily life, how confusing and difficult must it be for our students to deal with these kinds of situations with their friends (or sometimes frenemies) that they will see literally every day, and who can have a huge impact on their daily lives?
How do students deal with:
- pictures their friends post in which they don’t look the way they’d like (maybe their hair wasn’t looking the way they wanted, or the angle wasn’t quite right), or even, perhaps their “friends” intentionally post unflattering photos of them?
- seeing other students post intentionally mean things about other students (anything like subtweeting in any social media space), or even about teachers, which they know is wrong, but would cause problems for them socially to intervene?
- seeing students post images (or any content) of themselves that other students make fun of behind that students back?
- seeing other students spending time with common friends, without being invited?
Those are just a few off the top of my head, I’m sure you can think of tons of examples too. How often do you have conversations about these issues with your students? How do you address them? Do you consider them worth your time? Do you talk about things like this happening in physical spaces?
This also makes me wonder, how often do we share the mistakes we make in online spaces with our students, and how we recovered from them? So many teachers intentionally keep their social media spaces private (a decision I totally understand), which may mean that students may have fewer knowledgeable adult role models in online spaces than they do in person. When do they see responsible adults making genuine mistakes, reflecting on them and valuing those experiences enough to make better choices in the future (we know they’re not getting it from “celebrities” or politicians)? And if there’s a need for teachers to keep their social media spaces private, how can we do this effectively and in a way that will be relevant for both teacher and student?
These are all genuine questions, I don’t have any answers… What do you think? If this conversation sounds interesting to you, please join me for our next Eduro Learning Facebook Live event this Friday April 21st at 8am BKK time (or Thursday April 20th at 6pm PST, 9pm EST).