3 Questions for Students Before Posting to Social Media

The Tweet Heard ‘Round the World (Well, almost.)

And with a single Tweet, Lila’s first infographic on the Japanese Internment is put on display for the world to see. And after just three days, she’s made an impression on more than 4,000 people and climbing.

When students create something for public consumption, it transforms from “school work” into something bigger, more important, more real.


A Time of Remembrance

Recently my students have been studying the internment of Japanese Americans on the West Coast of the United States. The Time of Remembrance starts each year on February 19-the date President Franklin Roosevelt signed Executive Order 9066. Fifth grade students in the Elk Grove Unified School District each year attend a program at the California State Museum in Sacramento, California that showcases this moment in American history. Docents-who were themselves internees-lead students on a tour of a now permanent exhibit featuring a replica barrack, and dozens of photographs, letters, and artifacts from the internment camps.

To prepare for this trip, my students read the novel Journey to Topaz by Yoshiko Uchida. We read other nonfiction pieces of text to compliment the novel and this year built infographics using archival images from the National Archives War Relocation Authority Records and Easel.ly.

Looking through the thousands of black and white photos offered by the National Archives was a sobering experience for students. How could a nation lock up a people convicted of nothing more than being an immigrant of Japanese descent? This question was on my students’ minds as they built their infographics and reflected on the fictional family portrayed by Yoshiko Uchida in her novel.

When I told students they would use Easel.ly to build an infographic which they would then upload to their Edublog, they were instantly transformed from students to publishers of historical information. This wasn’t just a school assignment anymore. This was something they were going to present to the world at large.

A Time of Reflection: Social Media With a Purpose

I shared Lila’s infographic via Twitter. And I’ll admit I was surprised at how many people saw it so quickly. Lila was proud to know her work had been seen by many. The class was impressed, too.

And it started me wondering: What if we empowered students starting in elementary school to begin using social media responsibly, with a mission? While most terms of use preclude kids under 13, what if my social media accounts-Instagram, Twitter, Facebook, Vine, Pinterest-could become implements my class and I use collaboratively?

My own 12 year old daughter is asking for a Snapchat and Instagram and Facebook account. While my wife and I have repeatedly declined to connect her to social media, I’m now starting to wonder if it might be something we could ease her into as she transitions to her teen years.

It seems there are a few key points that have to be explicitly taught and monitored though.

  1. What’s your purpose?
  2. What’s your brand?
  3. What are your “digital values”?

1. What’s your purpose?

When I use Twitter, I know my purpose is either to celebrate a student or team of students, to share something about my profession I’ve discovered, read, or created, or it’s to retweet something someone else has shared that promotes growth usually in the topic of teaching.

When a teen posts something to a social media channel, have they stopped to consider why? If they can’t answer the “why” of a post, then they might want to reconsider sharing.

Is a post meant to be funny? By whose standards? Is it at someone’s expense? Or is it genuinely humorous? If a friend would approve of a funny post, would a parent or teacher also find the post funny or at the very least benign?

I had to Google the “Damn, Daniel!” quote exploding all over the internet lately after hearing it on Jimmy Fallon. You can check out the pop culture phenomenon in the clip below.

When I see the video and hear Josh  remarking about Daniel’s white Vans, I have to admit…it’s funny. Sure, Josh uses the “D*mn” word, but it’s a mild exclamation made by a teen expressing a compliment to a friend. Daniel is just way too cool with that hair and clothes and swagger!  Buzz Feed did a piece about Josh and Daniel on the Ellen Show, too. Two boys being silly, goofing around, not at the expense of anyone.

2. What’s your brand?

When I use Twitter or other social media channels, I consider how the post reflects back on me. My friend and colleague Gail Desler, Technology Integration Specialist at the Elk Grove Unified School District, would describe that as one’s “digital footprint.” I’ve learned a lot from Gail over the years about digital citizenship. I frequently use her Digital Citizenship Edublog for resources or guidance in teaching.

So, what does a teen want their brand to be? If they can’t answer that question, they might want to think a moment longer on how a post reflects on their overall reputation online. Students need to be made aware there is an entire industry that exists which “scrubs” one’s online reputation in order to mitigate damage done by careless posting.

Teens need to understand that unlike a whispered rumor or a paper note being passed around, an online post is immortal and can be shared around the world almost instantly. The digital footprint they create is not easily wiped out, but it can be managed in a way that enhances their reputation. If I were to involve my students in using my social media channels to build a digital footprint together, I think they might come to understand that we have to be reflective before we post.

A recent article by Best Colleges.com discussed how colleges and employers actively verify the nature of a candidate’s online reputation when admitting or hiring. Managing online presence must start at an early age and be an ongoing task. It’s something we need to impress upon students as they venture out into the world of social media.

3. What are  your digital values?

Any post I push out into the world is a reflection of what I believe to be true or important or genuinely funny. I reserve Facebook for the things I find personally funny. I reserve Twitter and Instagram for professional purposes. Whenever I post, I try to view the content of the post on two levels: a surface level first reaction and a deeper reflection on what any sub-context might be.

If a student  can’t analyze a post on these two levels-what the post says and what the post might say-maybe they should hold off on posting.

Recently a friend who owns a restaurant remarked on Facebook how they were annoyed while dining out by a waiter who kept responding to their table’s requests with a “No, problem.” Her point was this: By saying no problem, the waiter was implying the request might be considered a problem to some wait staff but not to him. My friend suggested on social media a reply such as “Of course” or “Gladly” or even “Sure” would have been preferable. While that might seem a bit overly sensitive, the point is this: we cannot predict how people will respond to what we have to say.

The moral of the story? Students (and adults) need to think about how the things they post reflect back on them from varying perspectives.


Next Steps

I plan on involving my students more in my use of social media intended to celebrate their success and our shared job of learning. I admire Aaron Brengard at Katherine Smith Elementary School. This cutting edge #PBL school in San Jose, California not only has a Twitter account, each grade level does, too!

Creating a poster in class that encompasses the three points from above and encourages students to suggest a social media post verbally is my first step. Eventually, I envision creating an online tool-probably a Google Form-students can use to suggest a Tweet, Instagram, Facebook, or Vine for our class to submit.

Students need to suggest a post organically, like an adult does when the urge strikes them. But by slowing down the process and getting students to reflect prior to posting, I believe they will see a single post is much more than a click of a button. It’s a snapshot of who we are and what we believe in at that moment of time for the entire world to see.


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