What is The Social Dilemma?
The Social Dilemma is a Netflix docu-drama (documentary with an embedded fictional dramatization) about the explosion of social media throughout the past decade and the ensuing damage to us (its users) and society as a whole. It features several Silicon Valley early innovators who send warnings that might just make you want to chuck your phone right out the window.
This film takes us "behind the curtain" so to speak of the tech companies who bring us platforms such as Google, Facebook, and Pinterest. Commentary from the innovators, engineers, and masterminds behind the platforms heightens the believability that: 1) social media is mind-f'ing us, 2) we are all addicts (or well on our way), and 3) society is doomed.
I won't spoil it for you by giving away the reasons for #1-3 above because there's too many nuggets to adequately share in a blog post. I encourage you watch it and see for yourself. It will likely open your eyes (or serve as an important reminder) that tech companies' motivation is not altruistic; it's financial -- and that they are designing this stuff to keep us coming back for more no matter the consequences.
The reaction that I've seen from my personal social media connections about the film has been fear, anger, and the urge to purge all technology.
It seems to be having an impact.
But not everyone thinks the noise this film is creating is spot on.
Casey Newton of the Verge wrote What 'The Social Dilemma' misunderstands about social networks which suggests that the film is shortsighted in pointing the finger with such one-directional clarity at the tech companies for society's ills. Not because he thinks the big social network companies hold no responsibility, but rather that they're not solely responsible and that overemphasizing their role oversimplifies a complex issue. He's not wrong.
Most of us spend more time than we'd like to admit mindlessly scrolling our social media feeds and watching entertaining but not highly purposeful videos on YouTube. We instinctively understand that this is not healthy, and that tech companies are having their way with us, but most of us don't really understand exactly how we're being played... or why.. or in what way, like, specifically. And frankly, I think most of us are okay not knowing. We don't want to know how the sausage is made. Just serve us up more dog videos, please.
The problem with not knowing is that we are engaging with digital content in ways that actually shape who we are and what we think -- without us realizing it. It's only when we decide we want to know more, including how the technology works, what drives its design, and how its functionality can manipulate our behaviors and thoughts, that we can equip ourselves to make more intentional decisions to reduce its power.
For me, watching this film is about just that -- understanding more so that I can be more intentional about my technology use. It's about recognizing what happens with MY data and YOUR data while I'm perusing my feed and clicking on intriguing links; it's about being mindful that my perception of what's real is influenced by the content that social media algorithms serve me. It's about lifting the veil on how the sausage is made -- the good, the bad, and the unexpected.
It's easy to watch this film and get sucked in to a fear mentality about technology and the path we seem to be heading down. It's also easy to feel overwhelmed with the problems that are presented in the film, and lack of solutions. Personally, I don't (and won't) buy in to the "society is doomed" narrative. There's a lot of good that has, and will continue to be done in the world with the help of social media and technology. I do, however, believe that it's up to us to be in the know so we can own our role in shaping the digital landscape and help create policies that work in our favor rather than the tech companies'. I prefer to think of the film, NOT as a doomsday warning about technology, but rather an important lesson about our ever increasing digital connectedness. A lesson that prepares me to lead and participate in more conversations that can help us shape a better digital future.
When we help our students see their role as citizens of the digital world, we help them to take ownership of the community we are all constantly creating. My friend and fellow digital citizenship enthusiast, Kristen Mattson describes digital citizenship as the intersection of technology and humanity. The Social Dilemma sits squarely at that crossing. Quality digital citizenship education asks students to explore real-life questions about technology ethics.
Educators who work with students of appropriate age (this film is rated PG-13) can leverage the content in this film to spark students' curiosity about the impact of technology on individuals and society (which happens to be indicator #15 for digital citizenship on Edvolve's framework). For example, students can investigate, research, and defend a position on a question such as: Whose responsibility is it to keep us (and our data) safe? The company's? The government's? Our parents'? Ours?
I've create a one-page "film brief" to help teachers and parents use The Social Dilemma as a starting point for meaningful conversations with students that includes a summary of the film, key ideas, and 6 questions that don't have easy (or "right") answers.
My hope is that this film can encourage both adults and young adults to become curious and willing to learn how the sausage is made -- to become empowered to take greater control of technology, instead of allowing it to control us.
Please use and share this resource with colleagues who work with age-appropriate students.
P.S. Netflix does not grant Educational Screening for the documentary, at least at the time this post was written. In short, this means that viewing the film "in-class" through a teacher's personal Netflix account is not allowed.
cameras on during class sessions. If you're not familiar with some of the privacy and equity issues associated with such a requirement, check out this infographic by Dr. Torrey Trust from the University of Massachusetts Amherst.
Empowering Students to Decide
I see the ability to turn cameras on (and off) as a perfect opportunity to help students become more in touch with their learning preferences and needs, and to take more ownership of their learning environment.
According to the ISTE Standards for Students, students are empowered learners when they customize their learning environment in both physical and online settings by making choices that support their learning process and make learning more accessible (ISTE Standard 1b).
Since there are benefits to students turning their cameras on, as well as remaining off camera, why don't we forgo a "one size fits all" requirement and instead, let students decide? We can guide students to consider the benefits and choose what feels best each day and in each moment.
Can students make good decisions? Might doing so inspire more student ownership over remote learning?
Yes. They can, and it does. This is what empowered learning is all about!
How can I provide guidance?
I've created a resource to help teachers begin this conversation with students. I hope it helps both teachers and students identify reasons they may want to be on camera, and the reasons they may not, so they are better equipped to customize their learning environment.
Please use and share this resource with colleagues.
As we continue refining our remote learning practices, new questions will continue to arise each day about how to manage the digital learning environment. Whether to have students on camera is one, and there will be a thousand more. Let's continue to talk, to discuss, to debate, and learn from one another so that we may identify/create best practices together. Thank you, teachers, for all you're doing now and always.
Zoom, Google Meet, New Tools -- Oh MY!
Teachers everywhere have taken incredible leaps with technology use during these past few weeks of school closure/remote learning -- and this is one effect from an otherwise tragic situation that is making my heart go pitter patter in the good way. #silverlining
As we transition our practice and adopt new tools, let's think about something that isn't always as prominent on our radar -- student privacy. To be clear, student privacy should be on all of our radars regularly, remote or in-person. However, transitioning so quickly to remote learning has opened up a whole slew of novel situations and increased the use of technology applications such that student privacy becomes an immediate, at-large issue that begs careful consideration.
Small adjustments can create a safer and more private experience for our class community. For example, it is safer to have students use first names only (or a pseudonym) rather than first and last name in any digital platform. It's safer to have them use an avatar rather than a photo as a profile pic. It's a good idea to explicitly and firmly ask students and parents to refrain from taking screenshots or photos of the class videoconference session and sharing them in online public spaces.
I created this "DO THIS, NOT THAT" infographic with a handful of simple practices that are easy to put in place and make a big difference when it comes to protect our students' identity and privacy. I've made this available as a PDF. Please feel free to use and share! Thank you to the incredibly talented and #digcit nerdy, Nancy Watson, for making this infographic an infographic for me. :)
No doubt, these are unprecedented times. Schools across the nation have shut their doors as we keep our distance to try to flatten the curve. The role of technology in our lives has blown up overnight as schools implement remote learning, we telecommute into work, and socialize via Zoom. More than ever, we are living and learning in digital spaces. More than ever, we are engaging in digital communities. More than ever, we are active citizens in the digital world.
This is new territory for many of us, and it's new for our students. As we begin to navigate these new digital learning spaces together, why not introduce the concept of digital citizenship? Just introducing the term will give students an opportunity to see themselves as part of a community and embrace their responsibility to positively contribute & work toward the collective welfare for all community members.
When we share the language of "digital citizenship" with our students, it opens the door for us to think and talk about digital behaviors in new ways. It gives us a chance to say, "We are citizens of the same community. What are our responsibilities to each other? How will we behave? How will we hold ourselves and each other accountable for our digital decisions?"
I've created a set of 6 posters (sized 8.5 x 11) designed to help teachers introduce the language of digital citizenship. I hope that they can help you... help your students identify as digital citizens who make healthy and positive digital decisions.
Please use and share the posters with your students and colleagues.
And teachers...thank you. Thank you for all you're doing to foster a sense of normalcy for your students, promote learning, and to model flexibility, resiliency, and lifelong learning during these challenging times. You are all heroes!
Like a lighted pathway, the ISTE Standards tell me where to go with my digital-age instructional practices
Circa 2001. I had accepted a new role as a "Technology Mentor Teacher" which meant that I would be helping teachers to effectively integrate technology into their instructional practices. I'd be coaching, model teaching, and helping to write "snazzy", tech-infused lesson plans.
Now for those who were teaching in 2001 (or those who were students at that time), you might remember that technology in the classroom was... well, scant. There just wasn't much of it. Not to mention, it had to be hard wired to the Internet... except that often, those connections didn't exist in the classroom. (It was hard to do tech infusion without much tech.) I was lucky because the teachers I worked with had 5 computers for student use inside the classroom, but the whole idea of tech infusion was in its infancy and we were all learning together.
Additionally, in 2001, there weren't a lot of models for effective technology integration. No TPACK; No SAMR; No Triple E Framework. Nor was there much tried and true experience that could clearly guide teachers in the right direction.
There was, however, the ISTE Standards!
*cue inspirational lighting and music*
At a time when classroom technology was brand new, "stuffing technology into a lesson plan" because it was new and fun was more common than any of us would like to admit. We knew we shouldn't be doing that, but... it was just so shiny and FUN! And did I mention, we didn't have models to guide us?
Thank the heavens for the ISTE Standards! Released by the International Society for Technology in Education in 1998, the initial version of the ISTE Standards (called "NETS" back then), alongside learning how to operate a computer, also emphasized technology for research, productivity, creativity, and problem solving. These standards represented how technology could enhance learning, and so became my north star... serving as a guide to help both me and the teachers I worked with to recognize the difference between "using technology to enhance learning" vs. "using technology for technology's sake." They illuminated the destination and clearly pointed us in the right direction.
The ISTE Standards (for Students) have gone through a couple of iterations since the 1998 version. And you know what? They've only gotten better. The 2007 version of the standards shifted its focus from USING technology to using technology to LEARN. And the 2016 version of the Standards push the boundaries even further as they aim to TRANSFORM teaching and learning.
In my present role, I talk to a lot of teachers who want to infuse more technology into their teaching practices... who know that technology can and should be used for more than leveled reading tests and canned curriculum software. Teachers who want their students to create innovative learning products, solve problems, and learn with others around the world... and who know that technology can help.
If you are one of those teachers ^^, the 2016 ISTE Standards can be your best friend. The ISTE Standards can light the path of possibility for more creative, collaborative, and student-centered approaches to teaching and learning. Today, they still serve as my north star and are, by far, still my favorite jam.
Like a lighted pathway, the ISTE Standards tell me where to go with my digital-age instructional practices
Listen, there's a lot of meat to the ISTE Standards. It would be easy for an enthusiastic and highly effective teacher to take a first look, and feel a little overwhelmed & frustrated not knowing where to begin.
Sometimes the right thing isn't always the easiest thing to do! And the ISTE Standards are the "right thing" when it comes to tech integration. Let's see if we can make it easy to get started.
To that end, I'd like to offer three SUPER SIMPLE ways to dip your toe into the ISTE Standards water, so to speak. Each of the ideas below aligns to at least one ISTE Standard and requires only basic technology skills to get going. Oh yeah, and they're also really powerful learning opportunities.
1. Mystery Skype (ISTE Standards: Digital Citizen, Global Collaborator)
Think 20 questions meets the 21st century meets global communication.
The premise here is to connect your students with another class somewhere around the world (but don't tell them where). Students engage their prior knowledge, critical thinking, and inquiry skills to guess where the class is located. So many thinking skills involved, and technology is merely the tool.
Read more about one teacher's experience with Mystery Skype.
Link to Mystery Skype
2. Online Book Club (ISTE Standards: Digital Citizen, Global Collaborator)
It's just so simple!
Whether you're doing a class read aloud, a literature study, or having students read independently, there never seems to be enough time for all the rich discussion in which you want to engage students. Why not use a digital platform to host book discussions? Cue up some thought-provoking questions, teach students about accountable talk stems, and watch the conversation unfold.
Many different tools would lend themselves to digital discussion, including Google Classroom, Edmodo, Schoology, FlipGrid, and Padlet, to name just a few.
3. Virtual Field Trips (ISTE Standard: Knowledge Constructor)
Take learning beyond the walls of your classroom!
Did you know that many museums, national parks, zoos, and other exciting places offer virtual tours/field trips for students? One of the most amazing things about using technology in the classroom is the way it can transport us to experiences that would otherwise not be possible. How do you find virtual field trips? Here are a couple links to start your search.
We all want to ensure that we are integrating technology into our instructional practices in ways that truly elevate teaching and learning. The ISTE Standards provide a guidebook telling us how students can use technology to become empowered learners, knowledge constructors, and creative communicators. Whether you're tech-savvy or a tech-newbie, you can implement the ISTE Standards. You don't have to master them all at once... you can choose one activity as an entry point to begin. See how it goes. Gain experience. Build confidence. Be Inspired. Let the ISTE Standards point you in the right direction.
P.S. If the ISTE Standards are already your jam, consider starting your journey to become an ISTE Certified Educator! Check out our session dates and contact me with any questions!
Since digital citizenship is always on my mind, I was thinking that this year, we might just forgo the gym memberships and diets and instead focus on a different aspect of our life that sometimes feels overwhelming and adds (or subtracts) from our overall health and wellness.... Our digital life.
Digital health & wellness refers to our physical and emotional health related to living life in the digital world. A few examples of poor digital health include:
Have you experienced one (or all three) of the above repercussions of excessive (or regular) technology-use? Personally speaking... all three. 🙋🏻♀️
Before committing to new digital habits, I recommend first taking time to reflect on your current ones. Why? Because "reflection is the mediator between knowledge and experience." When we think about an outcome (such as sleepless nights and terrible next-days) and reflect back on the decisions (like mindless scrolling), we can make connections that help us to make better decisions the next time.
Here are 6 questions we can all reflect on in the new year... parents, teachers, and students.
After reflecting on our habits, we can decide what kind of actions we want to take next. Here are a my top 8 ideas to get started:
Here's to a happy and healthy new year... may we all take one step forward toward increased digital wellness!
I used to think the term "digital citizenship" only referred to kids... as in, kids need to know how to be good digital citizens and use technology responsibly. For some reason, I didn't necessarily think of myself or other adults as digital citizens despite the fact that I (and other adults) engage in digital communities including social media on a daily basis. "Digital citizen" was just a kid-term in my mind.
But as I continue to examine my own digital decisions (and make mistakes) and watch others do the same, especially with social media, I realize that I, TOO, AM A DIGITAL CITIZEN!! ...that I am in digital community with others and am constantly faced with decisions about my own digital actions! That I have to grapple with online situations that involve ethics, safety, and my own personal values. That I have to consider relationships and how my social media use could affect them... because teenagers aren't the only ones learning how to fly this digital plane as we build it.
I've come to realize that I can better help students own their role as digital citizens when I own my role as one, too. When I am more mindful of my own participation in the digital world, I become a better role model for my students.
I created a 10-item self-guided reflection resource for teachers. The idea behind this resource is to give teachers (or any adult, for that matter) time and space to really consider their own thoughts and actions as they participate in the digital world... to see themselves as a digital citizen.
The resource is called "I AM A DIGITAL CITIZEN" and I'm happy to share it with you - Just click the button below to have the link emailed to you! Feel free to use this "record & reflect" printout alongside the I AM A DIGITAL CITIZEN resource. Enjoy!
*THINK before you post* is a simple and effective message to reinforce in the classroom as students begin participating in digital communities/relationships. Versions of this graphic/message have been around for a long time, and there are some attractive posters and downloads floating around. Here's one more version for you... including a link to a PDF version.
Might you entertain me for just 15 seconds? Close your eyes and think of the words “digital citizenship.” I know this might sound corny… but just imagine a full 15 seconds to close your eyes. That sounds nice, doesn’t it?
What came up as you let “digital citizenship” permeate your thoughts? Was it an image of Internet safety or warnings of stranger danger? Did you think about students incessantly “snapping” each other? Did cyberbullying enter your thoughts?
Or, did you think about physical, mental, and social-emotional health and wellness related to technology use?
Chances are, many of you considered a topic from the first grouping. Online safety, social media use, and cyberbullying are among the topics that have, for years, comprised the digital citizenship repertoire. And while digital health and welfare is included on Mike Ribble’s longstanding list of 9 digital citizenship elements (2004), this aspect has not been prioritized to the same degree as other dig cit elements.
When we think about everything that “responsible and ethical technology use” entails, it makes sense that some aspects are prioritized at different times according to what seems most pressing and timely. To that end, the term “digital citizenship” and its meaning have gone through somewhat of an evolution since the early 2000s, in line with the evolution of technology in the classroom. I wrote about that in a previous blog post. The gist is that as technology was first entering the classroom, digital citizenship was geared toward “risk management” while more recently, a more positive and opportunity-based idea of digital citizenship has emerged. This 2.0 version empowers students to learn and connect with others digitally. The shift is evident in the 2016 ISTE Standards for Students.
Now another dig cit shift is bubbling that emphasizes digital health & wellness as an important outcome for all citizens. Lately, the media has flooded our news streams with stories and articles that relate to the (real or potential) physical, mental, and social-emotional effects of screen time, social media use, and video game play. Plenty of academics, physicians, and mental health professionals are trying to determine if our device use and certain digital behaviors are detrimental to our well-being. Honestly, much of the research has (to this point) brought about more questions than answers, but the priority is clear. It seems we can all agree that technology use has changed our habits, behaviors, and communication patterns and that new access to information and social connections has resulted in new triggers for both positive and negative emotions. Therefore, if feels “right” to emphasize the importance of mental and social-emotional wellness associated with technology use. It also feels “right” to consider wellness a primary goal for all digital citizens.
I would argue that as educators, we need to advocate for a more deliberate focus on digital health & wellness in both K-12 and teacher preparation. To strengthen this aspect, I propose two additional ideas.
Dig Cit and SEL
First, we can integrate digital citizenship into social emotional learning (SEL) initiatives. CASEL describes SEL as a process to “understand and manage emotions, set and achieve positive goals, feel and show empathy for others, establish and maintain positive relationships, and make responsible decisions” (2018). What if we simply added "in digital spaces" here? What if we simply drew more attention to incorporating digital participation in our SEL efforts with students? I imagine we can help them transfer these concepts to digital spaces. I imagine we can help students build resiliency and empathy both IRL (in real life) and online.
More Mindfulness, Less Mindlessness
Second, we can introduce digital mindfulness as an approach to help students reflect and build consciousness around their digital actions and associated levels of wellness. To be clear, I'm not speaking of practicing yoga and meditation in the classroom (although I wouldn't be opposed to that either, but that's a whole other conversation). Rather, I'm talking about helping students become aware of habitual and mindless scrolling, snapping, searching, and social media-ing (I know that's not a word, but I like alliteration). I'm talking about mind-ful-ness in terms of being aware and present while interacting with technology and recognizing associated thoughts and emotions to make more conscious decisions about technology use. I'm talking about the antithesis of mindlessness.
One way to prompt these conversations with students is to share images associated with technology use. Dr. Kristen Mattson has written about using digital citizenship images as bell-ringers and offers a fantastic curated list of images linked from this blog post.
Today, more than ever before, wellness is a prominent goal for most Americans. We are all striving to feel good and be the “best versions of ourselves” so that we may better serve others. With increasing focus on technology’s impact on our physical, mental, and social-emotional health, digital citizenship is important for all students... where wellness is a goal, and mindfulness is a value.
P.S. How are you practicing or promoting digital health and wellness? What are some other ways we can help our students and each other practice healthy digital use? I'd love to hear from you!
I love to watch Bella challenge herself and explore new territory. Throughout the past year, I've seen her learn to rollover; I watched her turn her army crawl into a crawl; and I witnessed her journey learning to walk.
Side note: Watching any child learning to walk, I dare you to not thoroughly delight in his/her experience!
And you know what? Watching all this gently reminded me how we all learn to do new things. Bella learned to walk... by walking.
By "walking" of course I mean that she got up, fell down, adjusted, and tried again. Many times. But without question, she learned to do the thing by doing the thing.
We learn to walk by walking
Which OF COURSE reminded me of digital citizenship and the way we learn to be in digital community with others. (What... it doesn't remind you of that?)
During my off-gym hours, I spend a lot of time thinking, reading & writing, and talking to other educators about digital citizenship. If you're not familiar with the concept, in general, it refers to responsible and ethical behaviors using digital technology. The term derives from the idea that as technology users, we are inhabitants, or "citizens" of the digital world and therefore, we have rights, privileges, and responsibilities within the community. And it is absolutely essential for our 21st century students/learners.
And the question of HOW to teach digital citizenship comes up often.
There are some great lesson plans out there that teach digital citizenship concepts, like how to stand up to cyberbullying and how to build a positive online reputation.
And while those are fine... and sometimes quite engaging for students, I stand firmly by the notion that we learn to do a thing, by doing the thing. Therefore, the best way I know how to teach digital citizenship is by giving students opportunities to participate within digital communities, and providing them guidance to engage in ways that shape a collaborative space conducive to learning.
We learn to be digital citizens by
participating in digital communities
In 2019, we (educators) have access to an array of powerful tools to engage students in digital learning communities. Online experiences can amplify learning in any content area, and according to COSN's latest report, device to student ratios continue to improve. It's possible to make meaningful digital participation a regular part of teaching practice.
When it comes to learning to walk, practicing is really the only effective strategy. I would argue that the 'learning by doing' approach also works best for learning yoga, solving math equations, and learning to fix that pesky jam in the copy machine.
When it comes to digital citizenship, students also need to practice doing. I don't mean to imply that we should never implement digital citizenship lessons. We can do that, too. But teaching lessons ABOUT digital citizenship without giving students opportunities to authentically practice definitely misses the mark.
Just like Bella exploring all of the shiny objects in the gym, under careful and caring adult eyes, so can our students practice navigating digital spaces with informed guidance.
What are your favorite ways to use digital communities to teach your content? How have you helped students shape their online participation? What do you do to set students up for a successful online community experience?
I can't wait to learn from you!
P.S. For further reading, I recommend Dr. Kristen Mattson's book Digital Citizenship in Action. She paints a picture of what it looks like to encourage positive and engaged digital citizenship at the secondary level. It's an excellent read for teachers of all grades.
I care deeply about helping educators cultivate healthy environments where every student and teacher can learn, grow, and thrive in this digital world!