Digital Citizenship: Where Are We Now?

This tweet was initiated by a few folks who are very smart and who do really good work. 

Katia  I am Stronger

Jennifer  Social Ledia

Bonnie  Experience Required: Walking the Talk in Digital Teaching & Learning

All of their work as I said I believe is really important and you would do well to follow them and their work. Smart people indeed. They offer a positive, useful way of understanding media literacy. However, looking at this from another perspective has me thinking that we’ve adopted a bit of an “if you can’t beat them, join them”. Or “this stuff isn’t going away, let’s make the best of it” or “you can use technology for good or evil, let’s focus on the good” At one time or another I’ve likely used these phrases and even presented on them. However, I do see myself questioning this to some degree. Mostly because there’s somewhat of a conciliatory message that’s being shared. The message that might be being lost here is the overall negative impact and force that we are facing. This perspective is not only born out of my own experiences but certainly the research bares it out. 

I think a couple of things are really important to consider. First, technology is not neutral. I still hear people speak as if it’s just a matter of how we use it. My graduate advisor Rick Schwier, still one of the smartest people I know, helped me understand this very early. If you need convincing, read Postman or McLuhan. If you don’t know who they are, you have some catching up to do. In fact, stop reading this, go read something of their work and come back. Essentially every technology has a bias or intended way to use it. Without question, the apps on your phone and social media, in general, want you using it all the time. While knowing this is critical, it’s also critical to understand that most people aren’t able to fully outwit its inherent power. 

smartphone addicted school teenager boy close up photo


Secondly, things have changed. I’m generally a pretty optimistic person and I think that’s a particularly useful disposition to have in education. Education should be about hope and possibilities. However, when I think about social media and technology in general, I’m seeing less hope and possibly than I did a decade ago. When many of my contemporaries were exploring these spaces, we did so with a child-like innocence to test the waters of what these spaces might offer. The notion of “followers” did not play a role. Communities were smaller and intentions were less clouded with ulterior motives and interests. Like so many things, the Tragedy of the Commons has infiltrated these once-emerging spaces of newness and possibility. While some might be thinking, “it’s all in how you use it or who you connect with” I’m not so sure. Social media is always a weird mix of ideas and people. That’s part of its appeal. But the belief that you can simply filter out the things you don’t want to see is naive or at least getting more and more difficult to do. These spaces allow for any conversation. People might say “I only follow people who only talk about x” Yet as humans, we don’t fully compartmentalize ourselves. While we might talk about education most of the time, we can’t help but talk about other stuff. That’s not necessarily a bad thing, in fact, I like that but that also invites many unwarranted ideas and conversations to cloud that space. Even if you’re fully able to talk only education, the lack of nuance and emphasis on branding can create a very unsatisfying experience.  For young people, the number of example of suicides related to technology is worth talking about. The research around added stress is worth exploring with students. 

I’ve seen my own children and other teens and young adults recognize the toxic nature that social media exudes. I don’t know of many who don’t see this. Yet, most just live in this and try to filter out what’s important and yet inevidentably get caught up in gossip, political battles of misinformation and feelings of inadequacies. These pitfalls are nearly impossible to weed out of one’s feeds. All of my kids, all between the ages of 20-31 have deleted at least one major social media space: either Facebook, Twitter or Instagram. They don’t regret this choice. 


I suppose what I’m really asking is: 
“What are the trade-offs?”
“What do we potentially gain and lose?”
“What would happen if we taught kids about social media and media literacy and suggested that abstience is an option?”


Let me share a few ideas about how we might think about digital citizenship moving forward. 

  • Continue to think of it as citizenship and not digital. 
    • Spend time reflecting on what it means to be a good citizen. 
  • Cite examples of positive and negative use of technology and social media
    • Get very comfortable with the nuances and reserve judgment. Let kids decide what and if social media has value and where its problematic 
  • Talk about mental health and technology 
    • Explore the research on the brain and stress
    • Engage in experiments of restraints and disconnection
    • Include the adults. This is not exclusively an issue for kids but an issue for everyone 
  • Think carefully about any policies you enact
    • Don’t make it punitive. Even if you conclude you think mobile phones are a distraction, focus on the benefits for students. Allow them to recognize it as a distraction. This isn’t about control but it should be about informed choices. 
    • Be okay with teachers having different policies. Not every discipline warrants the use of technology. If a teacher doesn’t see value, don’t force them to use it. Conversely if a teacher does see value don’t restrict them. 

The closet analogy I can make here is sex education. This isn’t a topic that was always explored in schools. For years it was seen as something outside the purview of K-12 education. When it was introduced, abstinence was the sole focus. Today there is less judgment and more of a focus on providing all the facts and options. While many would adopt the “We know you’re all going to have sex anyway, so here’s how to do it safely” as the dominant approach, I would argue that abstinence likely offers better outcomes for many. I don’t know anyone who said: “I wish I had had more sex when I was a teenager”.  As adults, we know how powerful and amazing sex can be in the right context but we also know the potential damage and problems it can create and the fact that many young teenagers are ill-equipped to handle the consequences. 


So I wonder if moving forward we’ll see a shift in our approach and attitudes towards technology and social media in schools? What changes or at least nuanced tweaks do you think are missing from the current narrative? Maybe this is exactly how many are approaching it. My concern lies with those of us who have experienced the benefits of social media in the past and are struggling to acknowledge it’s not the same as it was a decade ago. There was certainly more innocence, hope and wonder that came with connecting with strangers. As always these are my ramblings, I’m sure others disagree or have alternative views. I’d love to hear them. 

Technology as Distraction

Like many before this post started with a tweet….

Today most inspirational messages, books and challenges to schools are to “prepare them for anything” or “future ready” or “solve big problems” or “change the world”, all good and valid messages. I’ve already shared my concerns over an overemphasis on innovation. I’m not saying these things aren’t important but I think what’s missing is recognizing that student health and well-being needs way more attention, emphasis on “way”. If we look historically at the purpose of school, it moved from a primary mission of knowledge distribution to job preparation. Health was an add-on at best and mental health wasn’t even on the radar until the last few years. Technology has fostered the conversation about a broader definition of jobs and the future.

But the title I use here isn’t even specifically about that kind of a distraction but rather as a distraction among educators and leaders vying for our attention.  Despite some who say schools haven’t changed in the last 100 years, they have. The conversations around everything from personal learning to connected learning to making school more relevant and empowering is by in large what every school is moving towards. These conversations have been driven by technology. While that may not be the focus, that’s the reason the conversations exist. More and more we’re hearing messages and reading books that speak about innovative ways to make learning more relevant and powerful. This is good. But I’m just not seeing enough conversations that address the fundamental question of “How do we help kids to live healthy, happy, productive lives?” 

The smartphone became a dominant technology in 2012. That means students graduating this year have had this device since they were in 5th grade. Moving forward this means all our students will never know a world without it. Without all the stats and stories about the power, potential and ills of this device, my concern is that students don’t have a choice anymore. As one small example, consider the average teen trying to sleep at night. Their choice is a world of information, entertainment and connection versus the back of their eyelids or time thinking quietly. That’s not a fair choice. That’s a choice many people struggle with including myself. Yes, we need parents to intervene, yes this is not specifically a school problem. But this one problem is repeated in various forms all day long. Schools are mostly worried about student focus and bullying. But this is way bigger.  I’m not sure we can ignore it. We should be asking questions and teaching things like:

  • “How to be alone?”

  • “What does it mean to be disconnected?”
  • “How can we better appreciate the simple joys of life?”
  • “How do we develop habits of mind and body when the dopamine effects of these devices are so compelling?”
  • “What does contentment look like?”

Those questions are ones adults should be reflecting on forever. They are hard questions. But if you get them right, chances are you’ll live a rich life. One huge advantage adults today have is we remember a time without smartphones. Not to be overly nostalgic, but there were some habits and experiences we had that need to be revived.

Until recently schools’ exclusive responsibility was academic only. Social, emotional and physical well-being fell into the “nice by not necessary” column. That is changing somewhat but we’re still far from where we need to be. Schools have not traditionally been asked to care for student’s health beyond a mandatory few classes. This isn’t as exciting as helping kids become entrepreneurs, creating an app, getting a scholarship or even just helping them graduate. Talking about the power and potential of the technology is exciting and very palatable. I should know, that I’ve done this and continue to get invited to share messages that promote technology as a powerful tool for learning. I’m not going to stop but I have and will continue to embed hard truths and realities about focusing on what really matters. I don’t want anyone to be distracted by technology. I’m not a mental health expert. My little book on joy is about all I know. And while it’s far from a manual, it at least speaks to the value of living a life of wonder, gratitude and joy. That’s a start. Mental health is complicated, and messy and doesn’t translate well to data or even a story.  But our current level of focus and attention on well-being is pretty abysmal.  I’ve not even mentioned physical health which I believe is far underserved. If it were me, I’d be fine to trade in all the time we spend on Math and use it for health. That’s a simple solution but the bigger concern is what are we going to do about this? Unless policy, curriculum (thankfully BC and Ontario have started this shift but it’s really early in its implementation) and intent change, we’ll do what we always do, acknowledge it’s an issue and keep doing what we’re doing.

The Obesity of the Mind

Being a good citizen today is exhausting. Being a good American citizen is a whole other level of exhaustion. Everyone around the world has been hit by the #$I*% storm that is American politics. Every news site and media outlet are dedicated to covering every aspect of the new presidency. If you consume media, even entertainment, it’s very hard to avoid it.

After the last several months using Facebook, in particular, I just got overwhelmed. The concept of “you are what you eat” flooded my consciousness. Facebook’s awful filtering and algorithms are worse for your brain than a Chuck E. Cheese pizza. I was feeling bloated and queasy. Almost everyone was sharing their opinions coupled with some reference to another story that was written to foster controversy at best, hate at worst. I just had enough. Scrolling through various news channels in my hotel room one night, I had come to the same conclusion. I just needed a break. I wondered, is it possible to be over informed?

As someone who advocates for and presents often on the value of citizenship, this might seem somewhat incongruent. I do a number of presentations designed to help teachers help their students navigate online safely and more importantly smartly, in order to be the kind of citizens we need: Thoughtful and active.

However, I began thinking about the analogy between information and food. Like access to cheap, nutritionless food, we have unprecedented access to cheap tabloid style information. Too often it’s disguised as truth but like food, sometimes folks have difficulty realizing there’s little value in it. Also true, almost all the food we consume today has some kind of chemical and toxins that aren’t healthy. Many consciously try to minimize the damage but even buying fruits and vegetables in the grocery store aren’t all they’re cracked up to be. Unless you’re growing your own food, it’s very difficult to assume your food is pure as you’re likely being promised.

Some gorge themselves on media because they can’t help themselves. Like the addiction of sugar, once you start, you can’t stop. Finding one more demeaning article about the other side gives you a buzz and you want more. Reading a post from the other side that is just begging for a response and you can’t leave it alone. Others may be trying to temper their consumption with a never ending search for high quality, accurate reporting. The problem is you have to sort through a lot of junk to find the good stuff. It’s like saying “I’m going to eat lots of food because overall, I’ll get my nutrition by volume.” If you only follow one source because you think they are the only ones telling the truth, I’d argue you’re not very literate.

In the end, many of us are getting obese on information. I know some would argue that’s the price we have to pay. We are forced to stay informed. But staying informed today with being somewhat misinformed is extremely challenging. I’m not saying we be like ostriches and stick our heads in the sand but I don’t think the way most are consuming information is any better.  I don’t really have a great solution at this point but if your solution includes reacting to Facebook posts or sharing links on twitter without context I’m going to disagree with that approach. This excellent article explains how we broke Democracy. It offers some useful tips as well. But a major takeaway for me was “Facebook still sucks”.

There are very few if any news sources out there who aren’t willing to add bits of “sweetener” to make their content more appealing. The sweetener is the use of inflammatory language and click-bait that is so tempting to take in. Trying to remove it to just learn what you need to know is very difficult. I still enjoy having meaningful dialog with smart people who think differently that I do. That’s where I learn the most. The media right now just isn’t the place for me right now.

Maybe my analogy isn’t working for you. Analogies often fail and so might this one. But it’s been somewhat helpful for me in realizing I need to fast.

Another thought I have deals with our history. How were people good citizenships before the internet? According to the book Bowling Alone, civic engagement was at its highest after World War II and has been declining since 1970. I doubt people spent anywhere near the time-consuming information. Partly because it wasn’t available but also because people believed in the democratic process. You voted for who you voted for and you let them do their job for four years and got to decide how well you think they did. Trust was given. Was trust deserved? Probably not always but I’m not sure people’s concerns were so much directed at one another as it was to their representatives.

When I think of the plethora of serious, important issues in the world from racism, climate change, global economics, foreign policy to name a few, I’ll admit I’m pretty ignorant. I’m also comfortable in saying most people are as well but many act and speak as if they aren’t. With limited amounts of time, I have to decide how much I am able to learn and at some point have to make a choice to opt out. People’s trivial level of understanding of important issues, masked with an appearance of authority is at the root of this problem. Combined this with news and media outlets anxious to feed every possible bias and we have a snapshot of insanity. We have to get better at filtering but at this point, we may be fighting a losing battle.

I would love to hear any thoughts or strategies you have in staying healthy in a world of crappy media. Right now my brain is getting bloated with garbage.

How to Become a Brand. Or Not.

Becoming a brand takes intention and thought. It is by definition a marketing approach. In our current era, this is not exclusively for products and organizations but individuals. Educators, specifically are often encouraged to “build their personal brand“. I’ve seen others, incorporate strategies that have led them to successfully creating a brand. Let me share a few things that may help you to build your personal brand.

  1. The majority of your tweets should be links to other sites. A tweet without one has no value. Bonus if you auto-tweet them all day long. Make your brand 24/7.
  2. Never post personal content. No one wants to hear about your naps or golf game or shopping excursions with your wife. The more you tweet about yourself as a human being, the more your brand loses its focus. People use twitter for information, not your silly natterings.
  3. Blog like an expert. Your blog posts should be stand-alone artifacts of authority. Questioning your practice or showing ambivalence makes you look weak. Write as if you’re the smartest person in the room, to get the help you may need to improve this area, check the tools available at https://indexsy.com/seo-tools/.
  4. Never engage in conversation on twitter. When people question you or reach out to you, ignore them. It’s a time and energy suck. Spend your time crafting your message. Don’t waste time talking to people. Real customers start with real emails – and the use of email validation from Zerobounce is still the most effective way to ensure the collection of quality data.
  5. Retweet every compliment someone gives you. This is particularly effective if you’re a speaker and have just completed a talk or workshop. It’s easy to hit retweet. If you want to include a thank you, that’s fine but not necessary.
  6. Make your Instagram account a potpourri of awesomeness. This is the one time you might include some personal items. But use caution. A photo of you and your loved one sipping wine at sunset is acceptable. Remind the world that your life is perfect. Don’t forget that your business needs seo liverpool first, as it is the most viable and cost-effective way to both understand and reach customers in key moments that matter.
  7. Consider hiring Move Ahead Media’s white label link building services or visit sites like https://victoriousseo.com/seo-agency-new-york-city/ to boost your off-page optimisation and ultimately earn a higher position on the search engines. You may also invest in an adult website that you can buy from https://www.girls.co.uk/classifieds/uk/adult-websites-for-sale/ to help boost your brand or business.

Businesses need promotional products like customized coolers as a cost-effective means of reaching out to more potential customers. This is a low-cost marketing method to drive customers. As with brand character and identity, you want your architectural signage business to quickly and simply tell potential customers what your brand is all about, so your signage needs to give a great first impression to anyone and everyone who sees it.

This is now a definitive list of strategies and you can retweet it to the world. For other posts on branding, see:

If I Ever Think of Myself as a Personal Brand, Slap Me
Anyone Want to Have a Real Conversation?
The Mixed Message of Digital Citizenship

Being Self-Aware

Mirrors

I’ve had a few conversations lately with family, friends and colleagues about self-awareness. I find it fascinating as a personal introspective but wondering if it can be and should be explicitly taught. For the most part, I consider myself pretty self-aware. I suppose most people would say the same. We like to think we’re honest with ourselves about our strengths and weaknesses and foibles and annoyances. It usually takes more than simply being reflective to address this. It requires the eyes of others to at times let you know when you’ve missed the mark or even when you’ve done well but weren’t even aware of the impact. On more than one occasion, I’ve come to terms with my own lack of self-awareness.

Exhibit 1:

I’m one of the worst complimenters on the planet. This is now a running joke among the folks I work with at Discovery Education. I have a bad habit of using “actually” or some other odd qualifier when I give people a compliment. “Actually, that’s not a bad shot” (ask Steve Dembo for the full story) I certainly wasn’t aware I was doing this but after being called on it more than once, I now can catch myself when I do it.

Exhibit 2:

Sometimes I shut down. After doing one of those online tests, it would appear I’m an ambivert. Which means, that while I’m not bothered by crowds, I often suddenly reach capacity and then shut down. My wife will call me on it later and tells me it was rude. It was, but certainly I didn’t intend that to be the case. Now she warns me when she senses I’m done.

I could go on. but you get the idea. Golf is a great metaphor for this. When you swing the club, you don’t see what your playing partners or an instructor might see. You feel as if you’re doing one thing and they tell you you’re doing something very different. The advent of video has dramatically changed golf and other similar skill based activities as we now can see what previously we could only surmise from a narrow perspective.

I value the support of others in my learning. In fact, it’s another reminder that quality learning needs to be social and that reflection, assessment and conversation are integral to growth.

I recently received some peer reviews from the book I’m working on. There were 4 reviews. Three were mostly positive and certainly made me feel good. The 4th wasn’t very glowing. In fact, let me share with you some of the critiques:

I do not think that the coverage will appeal to the audience the way it is written. There are several places where the reader could stop reading the information due to being told this is not the book for them or if they have made it this far in the book they may have a different perception. Although the book is conversational and I find it useful to tell the reader what the book is and is not, do not turn the reader away or devalue important information.

The manuscript’s major weaknesses were inconsistencies within theconversational style of writing. There were parts that seemed extremely choppy when read and others that were long and detailed. There were also areas that seemed to focus on a topic covered in another chapter rather than focusing on the matter in the given chapter.

At this time, I do not recommend publication of this book. I think the ideas are valuable to education but need to be more concisely and fluently written. After this is done I think this book could start many valuable and honest conversations about joy between educators.

I didn’t like reading this. Like many people, the first reaction to criticism is to reject it and consider reasons why it was off base. Maybe enlist others to support you and collectively renounce the challenges.

But after reflecting, I knew this person was right. I have no dreams of being a great educational writer. I have no illusions of writing a best seller, but I do want to be proud of my work. Without the eyes of strangers and peers who can see things objectively, I don’t think I can achieve the level of success I’m seeking.

Self-awareness also means understanding that others will see you one way and you have to make a chose. As I write this I got a tweet from Katia Hildebrandt who teaches pre-service teachers.

This is not the first time students have sleuthed me. I fully understand that they will often call me an “oversharer” and focus on the trivial, goofy things I share. I don’t argue that. I also am aware that I’ve likely lost followers, speaking engagements and other opportunities because of how I interact on twitter. This has remained for me a conscious decision to use social media to be social and personal first, professional second. I understand that the current mantra around branding would suggest I’m doing it wrong. That said, I’m grateful for various perspectives that challenge my thinking and by no means do I pretend to do things correctly. But I do ask people to think about the idea of self-awareness even in these online spaces.

Recently my daughter told me about Photo Feeler, an app that gives you unbiased feedback about your profile photo. If you’re looking to use one for a site like Linkedin, having the right kind of photo, matters. Kiwi is another app that allows you to get anonymous advice from friends. While I see lots of problems with these apps, the idea of actively seeking feedback is interesting.

Self-awareness might be one of the most underrated skills. It seems like a key disposition to success. Being intentional is a great first step. Having people, friends and strangers who can offer unique perspectives is the next step. Being able to process this and move forward completes the cycle.