What does it mean to think? Is it to recall ideas from a variety of articles you read? Is it to be up-to-date on the current news that is going on in the world? Is it to be able to understand what is going on around you? Does it need to be something passive that you just do in your head? Does it need to be something active that you write, say, or do? Is it an idea you purposely bring into your consciousness for a purpose? Is it just an idea that floats into your consciousness without prompting?
The idea of thinking itself brought forward a lot of questions for me. I have dabbled in meditation and what I find most interesting of it as a practice is the realization that so many of the ideas or thoughts come to my mind without me trying to bring them forward. The power of the subconscious to take an idea, mull it over, and then send it forward to the conscious part of the brain is amazing.
So when thinking about how students need to think about each post they make online or each piece of information they get, it helps me appreciate the multitude of skills needed to do so properly. Before, people could make bad decisions or say dumb things as part of growing up and those actions/words would stay with the people around them. They would fade into obscurity as the years past. Sure, there may be a Polaroid somewhere with some evidence but nothing that could be seen by the world. But overall, they would stay in the past. Today, the impact of social media has negated this while also bringing people into more contact with outside influences.
This weeks post looks at the different skills students/people need for the digital age and the role of social media in determining what we should post and what we can trust online.
The Internet is Still Growing
USA Social Media Use 2021 as per PEW
The first thing that came to mind is how many people use social media. The PEW research center put out a Fact Sheet on Social Media Use and I came away from it feeling surprised that there is only around 72% of Americans on social media, meaning there is still around 30% of American adults who don’t use social media. Yet, further research shows this is not out of step with other western countries. For Canada, the total was 77% of adults. Looking at Europe, it was Malta and Cyprus with the highest rates at 91% and 83% of social media use. Moldova and Liechtenstein were at the other end with rates in the 30% range.
As a Canadian I thought it would be higher for my home country. Looking at the data a little closer though revealed a better understanding. While the total is 77% for all adults, those in the age range from 15-34 average around 92% usage of social media while only 50% of those 65 or older have social media. This matches the PEW Research Center’s data for age groups
So, clearly the internet is still growing in western countries. If we assume that as each age groups ages social media usage will stay relatively stable, we should see a growth in social media usage. Perhaps we will not have 90% of those 65+ on social media, but who knows. It is possible that as people get older the use of social media to stay connected to family or friends will still hold the appeal as it does to them as when they were 15.
Looking at social media use from a global perception and not just a western perspective, social media use is skyrocketing. According to Smart Insights, and its Global Social Media Research Summary 2021, there are 316 MILLION new users of the internet over the last year. However, the total percentage of the world using social media is still around 50%. Clearly, a lot of people are still learning about social media and with that how to behave and what to trust. The more people there are online, the more power social media has as a collective resource.
With Great Power Comes Great Responsibility
I searched around on Youtube for the best version of the Uncle Ben to Peter Parker speech about great power and responsibility and think this one hits the spot….
I initially only wanted to one liner, but the whole preamble up to holds true. With more people having access to social media and the ability to post information, photos, or reshare things, the potential for collaborations is great. But there is also the chance for mistakes to happen and be amplified as how people behave when they are younger has an impact on their future. With the amount of content out there, what they post can have a huge impact on how they are viewed. Not only by friends but by future employers or colleges. Melissa Pilakowski outlined the numbers showing how social media can be used in make or beak situations and is worth a read. Her suggestion is to T.H.I.N.K. before posting and created this great graphic to share with other teachers:
Look (or Think) Twice Before You Cross (Post) the Road
As a child, this seemed like one of the most important lessons I learned. I grew up on a sleepy suburban street where there was not too much traffic. But I still remember being told this over and over, having parents or teachers make me hold hands with them or a buddy when crossing the street, and having a crossing guard help walk me across the street.
Today, this is still an important thing to teach children. But, perhaps we can take a lesson from this and remind young people, and adults as well, that you need to T.H.I.N.K. before you post.. Kidscape has a great article that goes over some of the different steps students should take before posting online which can be used along with Melissa Pilakowski’s ideas talked about above.
To me, these ideas need to be reinforced and retold as often as when children are learning to cross the road. They need to be told over and over and over, until it becomes habit for students.
How Do We Prepare Students? Are We Prepared to Prepare Them?
Henry Jenkins and his co-authors of Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture: Media Education for the 21st Century have some great ideas on what is needed to prepare students for their future. Not only do students need to be able to T.H.I.N.K. about what they post, they need new skills to be able to interact with new forms of knowledge. They outline a series of skills and abilities that are needed for students going forward. I highly recommend reading through their discussion of the different skills needed but for a quick overview, the skills and their definitions are lifted from their work below:
Play- the capacity to experiment with one’s surroundings as a form of problem solving
Simulation — the ability to interpret and construct dynamic models of real world processes
Performance — the ability to adopt alternative identities for the purpose of improvisation and discovery
Appropriation — the ability to meaningfully sample and remix media content
Multi-tasking — the ability to scan one’s environment and shift focus onto salient details on an ad hoc basis
Distributed Cognition — the ability to interact meaningfully with tools that expand our mental capacities.
Collective Intelligence — the ability to pool knowledge and compare notes with others towards a common goal
Judgment — the ability to evaluate the reliability and credibility of different information sources
Transmedia Navigation — the ability to deal with the flow of stories and information across multiple modalities
Networking — the ability to search for, synthesize, and disseminate information
Negotiation — the ability to travel across diverse communities, discerning and respecting multiple perspectives, and grasping and following alternative sets of norms
For those who are still learning about the role of informational literacy, the power of the internet, and how social media is changing education, that can be an intimidating list of skills. It is far from the idea of just knowing how to read, write, and do arithmetic. It makes sense that in a more digital world where things change fast, ideas spring up, and the wealth of information available was unthinkable just decades ago, more skills are needed. But as someone who only finished teachers college six years ago, I feel my training left me unprepared for it. My first day into a classroom for practicum still had an overhead projector. Not to throw overhead projectors under the bus, but my initial training had little to do with the impact of the internet with teaching.
I am glad that I am learning more as part of COETAIL and on my own, but this reading made me realize that many of us are caught in the middle of the change. We were taught using methods that fit the time, when information was not digital. Now, we need to teach the next generation the skills needed for the digital world. Those who grow up using technology and become teachers will have not have known other ways. For them, it will be natural. I say this as a young person just really getting started in teaching. But, I do feel that I am learning as I am teaching. Jenkins et al claimed that “Unfortunately, most contemporary education focuses on training autonomous problem solvers and is not well suited to equip students with these skills.Whereas a collective intelligence community encourages ownership of work as a group, schools grade individuals”. This is a valid point, but I think it is because schools are still adapting and changing to the new reality. This change is needed as it will have an impact on our students future.
Being able to teach the skills mentioned above and to think critically is important, and can have a big impact on the future of society. Going back to the PEW research center, an article from 2017 entitled The Future of Truth and Misinformation Onlineclaimed that around half of those in the know feel that there will be a reduction in false information over the next 10 years. That is terrifying to me. That misinformation will continue and have an impact on society.
If students are not trained now to understand what is real, what is manipulated, what has agendas, or what creates filter bubbles, they will be less able to have meaningful participation. If students are not trained on what to post and the role they have in sharing media, they could end up contributing to this diatribe of false information.
Luckily, there is a host of information out there to help us. Below are four to get started, but this is but a drop in the ocean of resources available.
Media Smarts has a range of information to help with authenticating information
Media Smarts also has information on what is Media Literacy with lesson plans to help teachers
Crash Course (always a favourite) has a whole series on Navigating Digital Information
I would be remiss if I did not include the video that first made me think about what I saw in advertising…
The house hippo was a first step for me in understanding that I should think critically about what I see. Unfortunately, it is not just what appears on TV anymore that needs to be critically evaluated. Everyone needs new skills and to T.H.I.N.K. about how they interact online.
Uncle Ben was right, with great power comes great responsibility. The responsibility to be mindful and critical of what we read and believe. The responsibility to T.H.I.N.K. before we post. The responsibility to teach students skills needed for their future. The responsibility as teachers to learn as we grow in our profession.
Questions for the Reader
What are some resource you use to help teach students about Digital Information or Digital Citizenship?
Did your teacher training include any information on Digital Technology or Online Learning?
What is one thing you have had to learn as a result of new technology that has benefitted your learning?
Of the ten skills listed in the post needed for digital learning, which one resonates with you most?