In recent years, and in this past year especially, we have seen technology play an increasingly vital role in education and human connection. I am writing to open the conversation about how we can work together to help students safely and effectively navigate their online lives, while building a digital footprint they can be proud of for years to come. The following are some key points that I believe to be particularly relevant to our learning community.
1) I consider the safety and privacy of my students a top priority, including online.
I will continue to use all available tools and resources to guard students against harmful internet content in my studio. In the interest of protecting student identities, I will ask for parental and student consent before sharing videos or photos of concert material (or material of any kind). In regards to social media in particular, I encourage students and families to practice awareness of how our interaction with apps, etc. may be affecting our mental health or sense of self-worth, and explore resources that counteract cyberbullying, blackmailing, and other forms of online harassment. As long as we remain aware of the potential pitfalls of online life, we will be better equipped to maintain a healthy relationship with the internet.
2) It is crucial that we learn to communicate effectively, both in real life and online.
Digital communication is one of the most exciting and important frontiers of our time. Whether we are sending a text message to a friend, writing a caption on an Instagram photo, or composing a Twitter thread about our political beliefs, we have the power to uplift our own voices like never before, as well as those of others. The sixth standard of the International Society for Technology in Education challenges students to think intentionally and creatively about what they want to say, who they want to say it to, and what kind of technological platform might best suit their message.
With increased opportunities to speak, we also have an increased responsibility to listen, challenge our own perspectives, and learn. I encourage students to consider the impact of our words and language, how we can be culturally responsive in our communications, and how we take up space when we speak. It is also important to remember that the internet is permanent, and online communications do represent a significant component of our digital legacy (for better or worse). Before you post anything online, ask yourself if it passes the T.H.I.N.K. test:
T - is it true?
H - is it helpful?
I - is it inspiring?
N - is it necessary?
K - is it kind?
3) We must guard against fake news, deep fakes, and incomplete information.
Whether engaging in research, a Google search, or simply traveling down the various rabbit holes of our curiosity, it is important to remain vigilant and critical of the information we encounter online. To combat fake news and other false information, we can start by familiarizing ourselves with the concept of confirmation bias (according to the dictionary: "the tendency to interpret new evidence as confirmation of one's existing beliefs or theories"). We can also practice asking the following critical questions whenever we seek or encounter information:
- What and/or who is the source of this information?
- What is the credibility of the source?
- Is this information confirming and/or challenging my biases?
- Are there additional credible sources I can consult about this information?
4) Students may be vulnerable to various internet radicalization “pipelines”.
In this day and age, feelings of isolation and loneliness are leading many of us, very young people included, to seek answers and connections online. In our increasingly turbulent political climate, I encourage students and families to be aware of current trends of emotional and psychological grooming occurring in seemingly innocuous online forums and communities. For more information about this phenomenon, I have linked a few articles below documenting instances of radicalization on Youtube and other various sites.
I look forward to continuing meaningful dialogue with students and families on how we can maintain a positive and rewarding digital citizenship. In the meantime I invite you to peruse the links below for more information and guidance on all four of the above topics.
The Problem with Parents, Kids, and Social Media (video from The Atlantic)
Is Social Media Hurting Your Mental Health? | Bailey Parnell | TEDxRyersonU
ISTE Standards for Students
The Making of a Youtube Radical
What Happened After My 13 Year Old Son Joined the Alt-Right (from The Washingtonian)