Sink or Swim, Time to Jump In

Having been a teacher for over 12 years, my perception of my role as a teacher has changed in many ways.  If the first few years, I viewed myself as conduit of information to that had to be channeled effectively to my students.  Today, I view my job as a teacher as a curator of information and a guide to assist my students in interpreting and navigating the ocean of knowledge the internet has to offer.  With my guidance and the structures, I provide within my classroom, I hope my students learn the skills and the abilities that will prove critical once they leave the confines of school and enter their adult lives.  It’s my hope that they use these skills to navigate life and make good decisions based on good values and good logic.  As Brown and Adler mention in their article, Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Trail, and Learning 2.0:

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning.

By controlling the environment in our classes where our students develop, we as teachers can influence, in a calculated manner, how students are learning.  There is no sense in competing with the quantity and quality of the information the internet can provide; however, we can influence and teach our students how to manage these strong sources of information so that they can be properly interpreted and processed.  This is the type of social learning that can be achieved through the use of social media in the classroom.  By providing a safe environment where students can make mistakes and takes risks, we can guide them in being responsible digital citizens.

In the recent past, it was possible to live in two separate worlds, the online world and the real world.  The ever-connected nature of our modern society creates a situation where people are now, more than ever, forced to integrate their digital lives with their real world lives.  The online world is now the real world and the real world is more than ever online.  We as a society have moved the majority of our social conversations to the internet and this is where we must concentrate our efforts in helping our students.

Like Michael Wesch postulates in his TEDxKC talk, we must help people in their transition from being knowledgeable to being knowledge-able.  With instant access to information, students have to gain the ability to not only contextualize and be critical of the information that flows on a daily basis, they must also gain the ability to act on the knowledge they have in concrete and positive ways.  The integration of social media into our classrooms represents, to me, a way to foster Wesch’s idea of knowledge-ability in our students.

With social media and its ability to open the classroom to the world, concerns related to privacy and safety are always the first things that come to my mind.  One of the 21 century literacies that is presented in The NCTE Definition of 21st Century Literacies is:

  • Design and share information for global communities to meet a variety of purposes.

Much like Alfed Nobel and his creation of dynamite, all the best intentions in the world will not always lead to positive and productive use of such technology.  As we have seen in the past decade, the weaponization of information though the spreading of fake news and the dissemination of pseudo-scientific misinformation can cause real harm to a society.  Much like the use of propaganda in the last century, the control of information can guide society to very dark places.  With large companies like Google and Amazon recording, studying and modeling our every move online, my information is being commoditized and sold.  Although I’d like to think I’m just another number in an infinitely large database across multiple servers in hundreds of locations across the world, I’m convinced the Internet I see might not be the Internet others see due to companies like Google personalizing my portal to the web.



Our students have to navigate this world, and as soon as they log onto the Internet at a very young age, their electronic profile is already being built.  The idea that a large corporation owns so much information on so many individuals is starting to spark many political conversations across the world.  In the European Union, the Right to be Forgotten has provided a mechanism for a person to erase their online profile.  This leads me to believe we should have a similar mechanism everywhere in the world as this might allow kids to live their online childhoods not having to worry that if they make a mistake as a 13-year-old, it will not haunt them for the rest of their lives.   Another interesting regulation from the EU, which has its pros and cons, is the General Data Protection Regulation (GDPR) which aims “to give control to individuals over their personal data”.  With all of these initiatives, I have a bit of hope that someday control of our data will come back to the individual.

Building resilience and “knowledge-ability” in our students can be a daunting task.  It is one that I personally don’t feel like I’m well tooled to address as of today.  Gradually, I’m gaining confidence in the possibilities of social media in my educational practice.  I know my pessimism is getting the best of me at the moment and I acknowledge the many fantastic things social networks can bring to the lives of students.  I need to leave this zone of stagnation and take more risks as a teacher, more specifically in the world of using social media in my classroom.  How can I expect my students to learn the skills I hope they acquire without me being good digital citizenship that they can observe?  How do I take the plunge without having the fear of drowning in the deep end of the SAMR model?  (Thanks Brooke for bringing this version to my attention via Twitter!)


6 thoughts on “Sink or Swim, Time to Jump In

  1. A very well constructed post. I can totally relate to the transformation of your job as the teacher. I also see the merging of the online and offline worlds … instead of teaching digital citizenship it should just be called citizenship. Your point about controlling the environment in our classes made me stop and think … how do you control the environment? Do you mean give very specific learning tasks or more the set up of a safe environment in which to test the waters? I’m not sure we can totally control what happens once we use online tools / resources with our students. The whole idea of the right to be forgotten is very interesting. I think building a great network of fellow swimmers is a great start. Thanks for making me think.

    1. Thanks for the comment Dean, I guess the idea of a controlled environment in my mind if one where teachers choose the medium in which students communicate and monitors that medium to encourage good practices. Hopefully by doing this, they might transpose these good habits and good practices in their other social media platforms. It might be a pie in the sky thought, but I guess I’m thinking of social media training wheels.

  2. Very thoughtful post Daniel. It seems, alongside you, many of our classmates are addressing the shift of the teaching role in their posts this week. I can relate to your feelings of the “daunting” nature of it all. I too am always cautious about using social media in the classroom for fear of student privacy issues and keep all of my social media posts very private. I am just not into the idea of whole world seeing my Instagram posts! Currently, the open platform I have open to the public is Twitter which is primarily used for professional purposes. On another note, I think you might enjoy Alec’s 832 course which talks a lot of digital citizenship and the blurring of the online and offline self (if we should even be making this differentiation still). Cheers!

  3. Pingback: My Teaching Story
  4. Pingback: Nataly Moussa

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s