In this time and day, the growth and ubiquity of technology have made us more and more connected than we have ever been. Before we could revel in having a pseudonym online and remain anonymous. I remember in high school a friend had helped me create a Hotmail account and prompted me to create one using what I liked not my name. It amazes me that how even during that time I was being taught and learning about the unwritten set of rules on how to chat with my peers. It is similar to what Choi has described in her article Like. Flirt. Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens where young users of social media are proficient in the unwritten set of rules and behaviours.
One big difference that I can draw stems from an article that I read called “How real are you on Facebook?” by Sophie Goodman. There are many issues in assuming a pseudonym online as there is no accountability nor responsibility for the actions taken on by that pseudonym. There was a clear line drawn between the identity one took online and offline. I feel that this has led to the need for a degree of transparency online where one would need to assume their real identity both online and offline. I think that this has been supported by the nature of social media like Facebook. It appears the gap that once existed from our online and offline identity is becoming smaller.
I think that the privacy measures and settings that exist online help us navigate how we contribute authentically and even how we construct our identity online. There are a few students that I have kept in touch with through social media as they promoted to secondary school. I feel that they have taken advantage of the privacy settings on Instagram to be able to present and construct their online identity that is authentic to who they are. It is interesting to see how they are navigating around what Goodman has described as a “context collapse” from the social convergence brought upon by social media.
For instance, on Instagram, you are able to set your profile to private and are able to approve those that request to follow you. Once permission has been given to the request, the follower is now able to have full access to your posts and stories. Besides following your account, you can create differentiated lists of who would be able to see particular stories that you post live. A green ring indicates those that have been categorized as a “Close friend”. I feel that the different levels of privacy measures and settings guide or steer you into thinking about what and whom you post to.
However, this made me question whether this is them being authentic or not. On the one hand, it could be argued that they are posting authentic content to those that they trust. On the other hand, it could be argued that they are also choosing who is able to see this part of themselves. Despite the different layers of privacy, sometimes the content that they shared included private information about themselves. Another issue that came up was oversharing. While trying to be authentic by sharing what they had done, it made me wonder how much should they share with others online.
I feel that the permanence and exposure that comes from what we post onto the digital world makes us think twice before we share anything online. Now that the lines are blurred between who we are online and offline, I think that is why it is important to teach students about being a digital citizen and about their digital footprints. In the paper Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century, Jenkins et al. discuss how young people should be encouraged to be reflective about the ethical choices they make online whether as a participant or communicator and most importantly the impact it would have on others. We should be teaching our students about how we present ourselves online should be the same as how we present ourselves offline. It is important to teach students that whether they are online or offline, they would need to be thinking and reflecting on the right thing to do and that their actions online would have the same repercussions offline.
I think that the ISTE Standards for Students provides guidance as to what students need in order to be a digital citizen. As an ICT teacher, I feel that I am living and breathing standard 2b with my students in every lesson, no matter which year group. I think that being a digital citizen should be an identity that we establish in our students and ourselves as teachers. In my school, we start discussing with students about their identities online and offline when they are in primary 3 and explore what kind of information, we can share about ourselves whether online or offline. We had an activity where we had created different Instagram posts and asked students to rate which one would be appropriate to share and to explain their reason. We would then go over what kind of things we could see in the post and whether it protected their privacy or not. With each year group, we revisit digital citizenship at the start of the year and explore a particular standard in greater detail. Our approach to digital citizenship in our curriculum can be seen as a spiral approach as we revisit the concepts and explore it in-depth as they progress.
In Shapiro’s interview with NPR, he had suggested that adults should model to students through small social media groups on how they can engage with others online. I think that this exposure to how it is being used by adults in real life would already make a huge difference as they are able to see and learn the appropriate ways to engage. In addition, I think that in order to encourage students to engage authentically with their peers while maintaining privacy, they should be presented with experiences and opportunities where they can do so. Students could be presented with a safe environment in which they could engage with their peers online in a safe space open to only their peers and teachers such as Google Classroom, Padlet or Seesaw.
I think to scaffold students in engaging with their peers in a meaningful way would be to present a purpose for their engagement such as commenting on a project. However, it is not something that can happen overnight. I think students would need plenty of scaffolding and authentic opportunities to do so. When I first asked students to comment on each other posts, it was mainly “I agree…” or “I disagree…”. They required prompting and scaffolding as to how they could engage with each other meaningfully and authentically. Some were able to explain why they agreed and build on what their classmate had commented.
Moreover, schools should be working closely with parents in their expectation on how students should conduct themselves. Schools can encourage parents in engaging in meaningful discussion with their children. Shapiro’s interview with NPR presents the idea of a new childhood where we should be communicating with our children about what they do online. He referred to a study on joint media engagement which I think is something that we should encourage among parents. Instead of their online activity becoming a source of tension, it should be something that should come naturally as asking how their day went. By opening this area of discussion, parents would be able to guide their children on how to navigate the digital world.
From what Shapiro has mentioned during his interview, we should model to our children how to engage online. I think that as we are all digital citizens, we should all be playing a part in shaping a digital world where there is more good than bad.