Friday, May 30, 2014

Why Social Media? Because I Care

I often hear people say, "I don't do Facebook" or "I'm not interested in reading what people had for breakfast on Twitter". You probably still hear it too.

And while perhaps you would say I am a social media "junkie" - I blog, I tweet, I am on Facebook, Pinterest ... you get the idea -  I do understand the reluctance of some to engage in this strange world of online communication.

It is scary to navigate something unknown, especially without a guide. Being from rural Saskatchewan, I feel the same way when I have to take public transportation. I wonder if I am doing things right and if am going to get to my destination. Or if I am going end up somewhere I don't want to be. Navigating the digital world can cause similar feelings of anxiety.

My recommendation - Find a guide. Ask questions. That's how I got from Niagara Falls to Burlington, Ontario on the Go Bus a few weeks ago. I asked and in the process, earned a new connection in @WilliamsDanique. What a wonderful experience we had chatting about teaching and learning (and cooking) during our ride! So, for those wanting to learn about social media, find someone who is excited about it. Ask directions. Get support. Don't feel like you need to travel alone in this unknown world.

But not everyone sees the purpose of being online and using social media. They tell me that they just don't get why they would ever need to be on Twitter or Facebook. They don't "do" social media. It's just not for them. What's the point, they ask?

For me, it's simple. 

I get into the online spaces in which this next generation lives because I care.
CC Image by Wesley Fryer

There is no doubt that things are different now. Technology is now available in the palm of our hand, on our wrists, on our faces. At 17, my youngest son has never known a home without internet access. He has never lived without the ability to communicate globally through a computer and now through his smartphone, he can be connected 24/7. This is where he "lives" - through chatting, texting, and sending goofy face pictures to friends and family. He, and his generation, are connected socially in ways that I could never have imagined.

It is frightening to realize that our children are interacting with people we don't know in an online format we don't understand. So, as a parent, it makes sense to get to know that world. Because I care. I care what my own sons are doing online, what they are seeing, what they are sharing. And so, when they first started using social media (MSN chat in those days), I moved into those online spaces with them . I have guided when needed, reprimanded when necessary, and we continue to have conversations about these spaces.

Are there things I still don't know? For sure. But by being in those spaces, I hope I have a better understanding so we can talk about the things going on.

What does this mean for me as an educator? It would be easier to avoid this digital world in case I come across something I really don't want to read. To say it's uncomfortable to know that I am professionally obligated to deal with something that was posted online from a student is an understatement. It's more than uncomfortable. But it is my responsibility. So I completely understand that avoidance seems like a safer option for many. It is safer. And easier.

I am not on social media to monitor students. Instead, I get into those spaces as an educator because I care. I want to understand their digital world. So, I use Twitter to connect with a variety of people and model how this social media tool can be used for learning. We've set up groups in Facebook to communicate with parents and students. We use these tools to connect in ways that are different than face-to-face but equally important.

I use social media to model, to guide. And sometimes, I need to have conversations about appropriateness because I care about what they are doing in there. That's part of the package.

As a mother, as an educator, as a citizen, it's my responsibility to understand the world in which this next generation of learners are living, interacting, communicating. Because I care.

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