At the beginning of the school year, I thought that the social media class that I do with tenth graders would help me write a constant stream of edSocialMedia articles through the year. It didn’t quite work out that way, but the class has given me a lot to think through.
The most surprising thing for me is that — despite everything I read to the contrary — kids don’t live online, or if they do it’s a different mix of media and tools. Sure, Facebook is a large portion of their online world, and you’d have to throw in some gaming, too. But what’s not happening is that kids — my kids, anyway — aren’t flocking online to gather news and ideas from Twitter, or blogging, of checking in with Foursquare, or frankly any of the things that I personally take for granted as the way things are done online. (We did, though, have several students and our vice principal stir up a good debate on Huffington Post in response to an article that many at my school would disagree with).
Kids don’t trust the online world that we have built for them, and it’s because it’s kind of built for us. They — and I think this is a huge victory — don’t trust the sources that they can’t verify. After the recent events in Afghanistan, we talked about the guy who unknowingly live-tweeted the American raid on Osama bin Laden’s compound. Proudly thinking that I was presenting them with the most amazing primary source, what I got back was “We have no idea who that is, so how can you say he was trustworthy?” They were only slightly less dubious about the utility of Twitter when I told them that a former defense secretary’s chief of staff broke the news. My exercise lost all momentum when I told them that one of the first people to break the news on Twitter was WWE wrestler and actor Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson.
What I found out was that my students wanted to know where their news was coming from, and this online thing wasn’t going to cut it. Until one of them put the pieces together and said that if Andy Carvin, who I had spent much of the year getting them to read because of his amazing coverage of events in the Middle East, had been breaking that news it would have been a much more serious online endeavor because of his network of sources and followers.
So we took the question to him. Hoping that this would work out in real time, I had the student who had raised the question of credible sources next to me as I asked Carvin his take on it, and his answer was a great testament to the power of online sources to break news and reveal new sources. In a couple minutes, I had been able to use the medium that they hadn’t quite bought into to get an answer from someone who they had learned was about as credible a source as you could hope for, a a-ha moment that I wish had come earlier in the year but that I was happy they got to see unfold before them.
I think that educators, and particularly the ones predisposed to read edSocialMedia, might already be among the converted. We don’t need convincing about the power of social media. We’re blogging, participating in Twitter chats, even bending Facebook to our collective will as a professional tool. But we need to take our time with our students to make sure that they get this right. They need to see real examples of this online thing working out in real, serious, and meaningful ways. I’ve turned my class into reporters at the end of our year, and you might have your own way to get them engaged. But we need to make sure they are engaged because this isn’t a sea change that we can question, but instead one that’s already happened.
Photo by daemonsquire.