Thursday, October 17, 2013

Social Media and School....Ugh

I am writing this to sort out my own thoughts and feelings. I apologize in advance for disconnected points and pointless rambling. 

My school is confused.

My school stresses technology in the classroom, but the school has not set up a necessary infrastructure for ubiquitous use. My school allows students to bring their own device, but strongly discourages cell phone use. My school claims technology is good for student learning, but bans all social media. My school has a Facebook and Twitter, but students can find themselves in major trouble if they are sharing photos with each other on Instagram. We claim students need strict rules to develop discipline, but they are not given a chance to make an actual choice or a mistake. 

I push the rules as far as I can. I let the students bring in personal cell phones and use their own networks if possible. If my school lacks bandwidth to handle student traffic, I want them to access the Internet anyway they can. The first few months of school have been successful. We made movies, set up websites, created QR codes, shared Google graphs, built societies in Minecraft, programmed robots, and coded for Scratch video games. Its nice hearing all of that. 

I thought all was good.

I received a text message Friday saying our kids were lightening up the Instagram world and, gasp, posting pictures at school. My first emotions were anger, humiliation, and disappointment. I thought I had developed trust, respect, and honesty. If students had their devices out, they were expected to be doing school-only activities. I didn't need to be a hawk over their shoulder because they would never betray me. And I felt betrayed. I also feared the response of my administrator. A few days earlier, I assured her the students would always use their devices "responsibly" and were wonderful self-monitors. 

Then I took a couple deep breaths and started laughing. Was this really a big deal? I gave the students a choice. I gave my students the opportunity to use it in a way deemed fit by my school. This is how true self-discipline is achieved- by having the opportunity to actually choose right and wrong. Given the rules at my school, they made a bad choice. Bad choices and mistakes are at the core of learning. The bigger question would be--how can I use this in the classroom? How can we learn from this to make a good choice next time?

We talked as a class and I told them they needed to delete the accounts and make better choices. I told them I still trusted them and they would have multiple chances to improve their decision-making in the future. I thought the talk was good, but there was a deeper issue here. The students picked up on it. Why are students banned from Instagram in the first place? What is so bad about social media? Can't we use this stuff in the classroom? Can't they change their "handles"? Are we forcing them to lie? 

Talking to them after class, I realized how heart-breaking this was for them. Those pictures were part of their lives. They loved sharing with each other. They were devastated. The school was taking away a part of their world. I was enforcing a policy I didn't believe in.

My school is confused.

Clearly so am I.   

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