I recently came across this post A Teenager’s View on Social Media and it made me think about how quickly technology is changing and how far ahead (in what a different space) young people are. The post contains the personal views of an “actual teen” (his words), a 19 year-old student in the U.S. commenting on the apps teenagers use and don’t use. The young man admittedly writes (in his follow up post) that his views are based on personal opinion “to provide a different view based on [his] life in this ‘highly coveted’ age bracket.” I found his perspective interesting both as an educator and father for many reasons and have shared my observations below.
Meeting our students where they are
My first thought to the blog post was a question: How do we meet (communicate with) our students where they are? While I recognize that it is not considered “social media” (the author makes no reference to it in his post), email continues to be our school’s number one communication tool amongst staff (as it is in many universities and businesses today). We continue to use it to communicate with our students and get frustrated when they don’t respond for days. As a result, many of our faculty and residential staff have switched to texting our students and this is much more effective. Some have also started to “tweet” our students and continue to look for alternative methods for communicating. Never-the-less, among our staff (me included), email is our mode of communication.
My second observation relates to the young man’s comments about Facebook, an “awkward family dinner party we can’t really leave,” he says, when referring to its waning popularity with teens. What does this say about the speed at which technology is changing if Facebook is already ‘on the outs’ with teenagers? At LCS we use Facebook to connect with our alumni and families to share details about upcoming events and life at the school. Our online community continues to grow and, so far, it is an effective way of staying connected to each other and our alumni “from cradle to grave.” How long before this changes?
My third observation relates to his comments around the popularity of a newer app called Yik Yak. As a school, we do have experience with Yik Yak. This year we discovered some students using Yik Yak to spread hateful messages because of its ability to post anonymously. Once alerted, we encouraged staff to download Yik Yak to their smartphones and let our students know that we were also using it. Knowing their audience had changed, an anonymous response came back: “who took the fun out of Yik Yak?” While the availability of apps like Yik Yak elicited poor decision making from some of our students, it also opened up the opportunity to share an important lesson about the appropriate use of technology—there is a teachable moment everyday. (Through the process, we also learned about having a “geo-fence” put around the school to block Yik Yak from working).
My final observation includes the following, while Facebook, Instagram, Tumblr, Snapchat and Twitter are all familiar tools to me, the apps mentioned at the bottom of his post are, for the most part, unknown. If this is what our students are in to, how do we share their enthusiasm and excitement? More importantly, how do we communicate with our students?
Learning through relationships is a two-way street
I suppose the answer is clear, ‘learning through relationships’ is a two-way street. At LCS, we have the opportunity to create space for our students to share what they know and are excited about, both inside and outside of the classroom. Enrichment periods like Grove Time are a perfect example. Imagine a session led by our students on social media trends, their relevance and uses? Would this be popular for students to lead? As staff, would we be courageous enough to attend? It is sometimes difficult, as an adult, to admit. Although, I can say from being a parent that I learn from my 13 year-old son on a daily basis how to maximize the use of my iPhone. We have great students at LCS. I think they would be excited to lead a digital/social media workshop for teachers and we could learn so much from them.
The bottom line is that learning never stops. We are all lifelong learners. Seeing teaching go both ways, between students and teachers and teachers and students, is exciting. As educators, it can continue to open ourselves up to meeting students ‘where they are’ not only in learning, but with an understanding of the tools they are excited about using, perhaps we can engage them in learning at an even deeper level.