It’s no secret that students today spend a lot of time online, and that’s why educators need to ensure that our students are equipped with digital citizenship and media literacy skills to help them navigate the terrain.
Students need to know how to find reliable sources and spot misinformation. They need to know what information is appropriate — and inappropriate — to share.
Often, educators try to instill this information via traditional instruction in a classroom. But when presented this way, it can fall flat. The key to helping students make good decisions online is to mentor them in their spaces and allow them to pursue their interests. This personalized learning approach, which addresses several of the ISTE Standards for Students, has real-world application that hooks our students and helps them internalize media literacy and digital citizenship skills.
Here are five practical steps that educators can take to help graduate media literate digital citizens — those who learn, curate, collaborate and contribute thoughtfully to social media networks.
1. Help students identify an interest to explore.
As teachers, we know our students and their passions. Now we need to help them pursue these interests beyond our classrooms on social media. These topics could be academic, but they don’t have to be. One student might want to know more about competitive gaming, while another student might have a passion for fashion.
2. Model how to set up social media accounts for learning.
Students may already have social media accounts like Instagram and Snapchat, but we need to help them separate their personal accounts and their professional accounts. While some of the time spent online can be socializing and engaging in peer culture, we also need to steer students toward professional networks where they can learn about their interests. A student interested in competitive gaming should network on Twitch, whereas a student interested in fashion should network on Instagram and Pinterest.
3. Guide students to the best accounts related to their interests.
Most students won’t be able to build a personal learning network on their own. That’s where you as their mentor comes in. A mentor helps students discover their passions and then makes suggestions about where to start learning about those passions. Use your expertise to help students find the best experts to follow.
For example, a student who loves math and is interested in data analytics could follow influential organizations and thinkers on Twitter, such as FiveThirtyEight, Data & Society, Pew, IBM analytics, Vala Afshar, Max Roser, Nathan Yau, and Randy Olsen. A student interested in film could learn from YouTube accounts like SundanceTV, FilmBuff, Every Frame a Painting, Chris Stuckmann, Alice Malone and Jeremy Jahns. And a photography student will find inspiration on Instagram accounts like US Interior, Elena Kalis, Vadim Makhorov, Simone Bramante, Joshua Lott and Humza Deas.
4. Encourage creation and sharing.
It’s one thing for a student to learn online, it’s another to be understood as such. We have to help students create content and share it in the networks in which they’re learning. Teachers can help facilitate this by creating class accounts on Wordpress, Soundcloud or YouTube to get students writing articles, recording podcasts and editing videos, which will get them accustomed to contributing quality work to a space that values learning, networking and collaborating.
5. Practice what you preach.
If we want our students to use their time online more meaningfully by learning and collaborating with professionals about interests they care about, we need to do the same thing. And we have to share that with our students.
It's no secret that schools are struggling to teach media literacy and digital citizenship in an already crowded curriculum. We aren't going to make a difference if all we're doing is penalizing students for using poor sources on essays or discipling them for inappropriate posts online. We also won't succeed by just adding an "info lit" or "digital lit" class for one semester.
If every student built a strong network of quality feeds, we wouldn't need to worry so much about teaching students about media literacy and digital citizenship because they would learn it from their network of professionals as they engage in authentic learning. The lessons learned in these professional spaces will bleed into a student's social space and become second nature.
And interacting with and learning from real people about the topics they are passionate about allows students to address the Empowered Learner, Knowledge Constructor and Digital Citizen standards embedded in the ISTE Standards for Students.
By embracing the positives associated with social media, helping students engage online around genuine interests, and mentoring students in their space, we will empower 21st century learners. Only when our students experience what it's like to be a media literate digital citizen and live its benefits, will we truly have taught the skills our students need to thrive.
Nate Green (@MrShakedown) serves as information specialist and instructional coach at Flint Hill School in Virginia, where he teaches courses on the internet and social media. He believes in the power of building personalized learning networks based on student interests. He started the Social Media Marketplace to promote passion-based learning on social media, understanding that the internet and social media provide the greatest opportunity to develop curious and insightful lifelong learners. Look for his snapshot session, “How Every Class Should Use Social Media" at ISTE19.