Following on from RebeccaWho’s “What Digital Education?” ; David Edmundson-Bird’s “Digital Education: What’s it for?” and Ian Wareings “Call of Duty: Modernising Education“, we have the 4th instalment in our Digital Education guest blog series in preparation for our live digital education debate on the 10th October: Digital Education: The Dream.
This blog is from Christina McDermott, the Web Editor at Liverpool Institute for Performing Arts:
“A few weeks ago, my boss asked me to write a handy ‘Guide to Social Media’ for our new students. I jokingly tweeted to my followers that I was tempted to write “Don’t be a dick on the internet” and leave it at that. Over the course of the day, that tweet went nuts – when I checked my stats that evening, it has been retweeted over 70 times, in many cases by various social media “experts” (I use the term loosely), as though it was some kind of gnostic wisdom. It surprised me. Hell, it’s not even an original thought – a quick Google of the term reveals that Wil Wheaton (the guy who played Wesley Crusher in Star Trek: The Next Generation, fact fans!) has been preaching this idea for years. Why was something that – to me at least – just seemed like plain common sense such a radical concept to so many others?
In my opinion, a lot of this lies in how we educate young people about the internet. The concept of ‘digital education’ is nothing new – indeed, I have many happy memories of playing word games on my primary school’s sole BBC Micro back in 1989. However, this was before the web was even a twinkle in Tim Berners-Lee’s eye. With the advent of mass internet use and the recent emergence of social media in particular, it’s not so much that the goalposts have shifted so much as we’re now playing an entirely different sport. I worry sometimes that education establishments are too focused on teaching students how to use these things without sitting back and thinking about why they should use them. After all, teaching someone how to gut a fish isn’t the same thing as teaching them how to cook.
There appears to be a real fear of social media in a lot of Higher Education establishments – it’s a strange alien thing, booby-trapped with photos of students’ bums, that leaves them defenceless against negative comments. While many universities are represented on Facebook and Twitter, I can only think of a few that appear to know how to use it properly. Most appear to do little more than use their page as a glorified RSS feed, and would rather show off their fancy new facilities than answer a query from an international student with a poor command of English, who’s confused by UK Visa requirements. Many others don’t appear to exercise any administrative control over their pages at all, leaving them wide open to spammers. Why should universities expect students to take them seriously on the subject of social media when they visibly don’t have a clue?
So, here’s a radical idea. It’s time for us, as digital educators, to step out of our ivory towers. To stop talking and start listening. And who are the people we should be listening to? Our students.
Our students are digital natives – people who were born into an internet-capable world, and are often using social media in ways that we can only dream of. These are people who have lived their lives online, who have grown up with the likes of WordPress, MySpace, and Bebo and are used to writing about, filming and photographing their lives to document online. To them, Facebook changing their privacy settings is no more revolutionary an event than someone changing their knickers. So those of us who may have only started exploring the online world when we were in our late teens or early twenties have a lot of catching up to do. In the meantime, we should stop applying old media practices to a new media environment.
As digital educators, we should stop taking such a didatic approach when we talk to young people about the internet and social media. Instead, we should be encouraging them to teach us new tricks, and to share their skills and talents with us. In my experience, they are often more than willing to let you use their personal audio or video project on your institution’s website (anything to gets them more hits) and to tell you about new innovations they’ve made and schemes they’re hatching outside of their studies. If you’re promoting their ideas, they’ll help you promote your establishment to the world.
Social media is about its users as much as it is about its technology. Instead of teaching students about software applications that they’ve been using since they were in nappies, we should be teaching them soft skills, like how to use their common sense when presenting themselves online. When I talk to our first year undergraduates about social media, I tell them to imagine that their Mum is reading everything they put on their Facebook and Twitter profiles (and to imagine her face if she saw some of the photos they upload). Even people who’re old hands with social media are guilty of not considering the damage that they can do to their online reputations until it’s too late. What we should be doing is advising students on how to come across well online, and show them real life examples of the consequences of using social media in a negative way. In return, we should be taking the time to listen to them when they suggest ways in which we, as universities, can adapt our voices in the digital landscape, and talk to them in a language that they understand. Through conversation and collaboration, we can all learn from each other and maybe – just maybe – finally stop being dicks on the internet.”
Get your tickets for the live digital education debate and be involved in the discussion.