Social media is happening—with or without you. With the average age of students having smartphones being 13, it is all so common. The question is not whether they should have social media and what it means to have digital citizenship, but how we as teachers, parents, and mentors allow them to access and be socially okay on these platforms. In many cases students should learn these skills through school – as a preparation for being in the real world where most professional platforms are on the internet, whether socially or professionally. Kayla Delzer (@MrsDelz) an EdSurge columnist, 2nd-grade teacher and “Project Lead the Way” Lead Teacher in West Fargo, North Dakota, explains how her students took over a classroom Instagram account “Three Reasons Students Should Own Your Classroom’s Twitter and Instagram Accounts“. She discusses how her students were lead through a series of digital citizenship classes, taught these classes to the adults in their families and then took ownership of classroom social media, which ended up enhancing all of their work, both in and out of school. This idea of student-run social media at first sounds a little out of control – but by giving them the power and tools to learn to be socially responsible from a young age is a huge advantage. And let’s be honest… wouldn’t you prefer to have your students write the story of your classroom, rather than someone else?
These platforms can be an excellent way to gain support for your cause – regardless as to what the cause is. You can create a movement, simply by posting the correct image, the right #hashtags, and at the right time. For example – This French Instagram profile is not what you think it is – and with the right team posting, they gained 66,000 followers in just over a month. Gianluca Mezzofiore discusses how this was actually a fake account, with a message. The message was revealed through a single video clip that revealed the girl was just the product of the campaign “Like my addiction” by advertising agency BETC. This is a great example of just how powerful social media can be. So let’s spin this into education – where students can be empowered to use these tools to share their stories in their learning journey.
Throughout the centuries students have needed help from their parents, teachers, and mentors to become good citizens, nothing has changed other than they need this same help in becoming digital citizens. Our digital natives, generation Z need guidance as they learn how to navigate social platforms and apply the elements of citizenship to the realities they encounter in a connected world. Diana Fingal discusses in her article Infographic: Citizenship in the digital age, about the tools our students have access too, that are free and low-cost allowing students to write blogs, share their photos and artwork on social media, create videos and develop a YouTube following, and collaborate on projects with peers around the world. Allowing them to truly be global learners. These are just a few of the ways today’s young citizens – digital citizens – are taking advantage of the opportunities of living, learning and working in an interconnected digital world. But along with those opportunities come responsibilities. Students must learn to act and model behavior that is safe, legal and ethical.
Generation Z tends to communicate almost entirely through screens and not always with actual words (GIFs, videos, and emoji also do the trick). Know as Gen-Z’ers they are a particularly challenging generation to characterize. Caitlin Gibson describes how Gen-Z’ers are less idealistic and more thrifty than millennials, having grown up in the twin shadows of the recession and student debt crisis in her article “Who are these Kids? Inside the race to decipher today’s teens, who will transform society as we know it.” When it comes to privacy on social media sites such as Instagram, Snapchat, Tumblr or Twitter, a survey showed that teens are far less guarded than millennials and Gen X members. Members of Gen Z think that everyone should get a smartphone at age 13 and that it is acceptable to use it basically anywhere — at a family dinner, during a religious service, even at weddings (even their own weddings, the survey shows.) Ha – doesn’t this change the view of eating dinner together over Christmas. As the resist definition, we find that they are the most racially diverse generation in American history. They are extremely open-minded and fluid in the way they think about gender and sexuality. Because their digital movements are so trackable, they are prone to being data-mined and stereotyped — yet surveys show that they prize individuality over conformity.
So the real question is how do we teach the digitally native student to have digital citizenship – when we are the foreign ones to digital technology. Do we teach these skills in school, as a part of preparing them for the real world where the platform they work from is primarily internet based? As a teacher, I believe we should guide them, challenge them and lead by example to help them understand the importance of living in the now – but also in the future.