As humans, we are social creatures. Based on Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, we have social needs that include love, acceptance and belonging. It is important for us to feel loved and accepted by others. The personal relationships that we establish with others, such as friends and family, have a significant role in our lives. The COVID-19 pandemic presented a challenge for everyone in how we connected with others. When schools were suspended at the beginning of the year, it was pretty challenging to forge new relationships with students. Zoom became an important medium to interact and develop a meaningful connection with students.

As school suspension and online teaching continued, I realized that Zoom was becoming an essential medium for students to interact with each other. My primary one students shared with me how they had Zoom meetings with each other after school. During Earth Hour, a group of primary five students shared how they had a Zoom meeting as they took part in turning off their lights. Students were adapting and finding ways to connect with their peers.

Besides video calling each other, there were other mediums in which students would connect. Some would email, some would send a message through WhatsApp, Instagram or Snapchat. Whatever the medium, students were finding various ways to communicate and keep in touch with each other. They all simply missed their friends.

This made me think about my own experience during SARS. When I was in primary six, school was suspended due to the SARS outbreak. I missed my friends, but the only way I could keep in touch with them was through a phone call or MSN. It is pretty interesting to compare how I communicate with my friends now compared to when I was a child! Before it was mainly text-based, I would send a written message on MSN or through an email. If it were through MSN, I would have to wait for the person to be online to receive a reply. Similarly, I would have to wait at least a day or two with an email before receiving a response.

The key differences in how we connect now are time, social media and the integration of different types of communication. Technology has evolved how we connect. The ubiquity of technology has made connecting through whatever medium to be instant. We don’t have to wait that long for a reply compared to before. We can send pictures, videos, reaction GIFS, emojis, audio and so on. We are no longer limited to only communicating through written messages.

Mike Rugnetta explores the use of reaction GIFS in his video “Are you literally what you post?” It has made me think about how I have used reaction GIFS and how they are viewed by the people I communicate with. Communication in itself is not only limited to what we express verbally but through our facial expressions, body gestures, tone of voice and so on. There are many facets to communication. Sometimes through words, it can get lost in translation or be misunderstood. Using more visual communication helps convey more meaning and create understanding where words alone cannot.

The most significant difference would be social media. Having my own social media account has helped me connect with other teachers and grow as an individual. Through my students, I can see how social media can be leveraged to establish a participatory culture. My students have shared how they have followed other artists on Instagram and learned how to draw by watching videos on Youtube. They also post their own artwork for others to view and comment on. The most impressive part is seeing their progress and growth as they explore their passion through social media.

In Mary H.K. Choi’s article “Like. Flirt. Ghost: A journey into social media lives of teens”, I was struck by how she had described Ubakum’s relationship with her phone. She had described it as a “lens through which she views the world”. I found this to be intriguing and powerful. It has made me think more about the relationship that I want students to have with social media. After having various conversations with my students about their use of social media, they tend to mainly like or comment on a post created by a friend (usually a photo of what they had done). It made me think about what if students became proactive in using social media. If they could be taught to leverage social media to post their work or ideas or reach out to others, they would be able to participate in the participatory culture and evolve their connection into something more meaningful.

I would like to share a video titled “The Art of Human Connection” that I had watched by Ivan Cash. It was amazing how he led various collaborative projects that involved thousands of people from all walks of life. Through his collaborative projects, he reminds us of the importance of meaningful connections that there is more to forming connections than what we have limited ourselves to a “like”, “share”, or “tweet”. He shares how by creating a compelling human experience, we as humans would seek to be part of it. It has made me think about leveraging social media to establish meaningful connections and create meaningful experiences for students.