February 20, 2017

Safely Guiding Students on Learning Journey

Categories: Digital Citizenship, Educational Practice
classroom with teacher and students

I remember the first year I started teaching. It was exhilarating and confusing and led me to a mini-existential crisis of sorts that I imagine often when you walk into a class with a bunch of faces staring at you who assume you have all the answers and the key to their future. Why else would they be there? I had a conversation with a dear friend and I asked her the point of teaching. She said: “To remember that students don’t know what they don’t know, but that they are in that space to learn and make those areas where they have a lack of knowledge smaller.”

In that vein, as someone who is fascinated by the way we consume information and turn it into knowledge, social media fascinates me. We are still in the first months of 2017 and this is a topic many people are exploring and discussing in the age of “fake news.” For me, it is making me revisit what I’ve tried to make sure faculty are keeping in mind as they attempt to incorporate digital components, often in the form of social media, into their courses. Much like students, we often don’t know what we don’t know (I am definitely not excluded from this), but we have an ethical obligation to ensure we are guiding our students safely on their learning journeys. This is even more important now when a new precedent has been set for what might happen to the data on the digital tools many of us use to enhance learning.

I come off as paranoid in the faculty development seminars I co-lead because I am adamant that if social media will be used that faculty know how their students can use it as safely as possible. This includes making sure faculty can make sure their students are able to:

  • Participate in the public facing portions of their courses pseudonymously
  • Create profiles not attached to a primary email address
  • Access devices (both desktop and mobile) not registered to them
  • Understand that mobile devices track their location and that media created with  mobile devices includes location and other data about the device, that they cannot turn off
  • Opt-Out of social media/digital device based projects without needing to explicitly say why

It is important to think through learning outcomes with any assignment. If there are set learning outcomes, then it is possible to find other means of getting the students to where they need to be. I did have a faculty member once ask if that would single out certain students. The solution we came up with is to have the entire class do either the digital or analog assignment at different points, ensuring those students who opted for digital projects are in the analog group. This adds a rich element to any course in as much as after the project is completed, a discussion can take place about the difference between the two assignments. This will aid in helping students critically engage with digital literacy and what it means. It also allows those students who opted out to still learn what the digital components added to the assignment.

Making sure faculty think about and have the tools to enact such assignments is crucial at the moment. The institution where I teach has students impacted by the recent Executive Order that saw people from select countries being banned from entering the U.S., colloquially called the “Muslim Ban.” My college has one of the largest international and Muslim populations in CUNY. When I heard reports of people being detained and having their social media reviewed and their cell phones examined for information such of contacts, my heart dropped. We must protect our students when we can.

In this moment, we don’t know what information will be used against people, but we have been shown that all information is subject to this fate. If students do not know what they do not know, then, for me, that means learning and engagement in courses where they are developing their identity in relationship to knowledge. In other words, engaging ideas and practices that are different than what they might believe or do on their own for the sake of reorienting themselves in the world. While social media is a wonderful tool, it has its own set of politics and an ever increasing amount of risk that we must critically examine when deploying it in the classroom. It is important to remember that if the platform is an external one, it can be taken away, cease to exist, or expose your students in ways outside of you control.

Banner image credit: U.S. Department of Education