I learned firsthand all about the “digital perils” associated with Twitter. An administrator pulled me aside to explain that a student’s mother was challenging my ability to teach her child because of a tweet I posted encouraging students to not be lazy and attend tutorial to raise their grade. There was no room for discussion because the student had already been reassigned to another classroom.
Getting called into the office for tweeting and learning what the word “tweet” meant happened in the same year. I used to think it was a birdcall, but now I know it is a noun and a verb and a way to cause harm or good. High schools are focused on immediate visible danger like fists, knives, and guns; however, cyber conflicts also spill over into reality. A tweet about the location of a fight will cause students to skip class to watch and cheer as two kids beat the living daylights out of each other. Situations where the Internet is used to cause harm, intentional or accidental, are preventable.
Twitter is also a place where communities can work together to spread positive news. Working as a classroom teacher, I frequently tweet updates about homework, school-related sporting events and tutorial sessions. I am always looking for new ways to be a 21st century teacher who communicates with parents and students using a variety of modalities. Being a member of the Twitter community alerts me when a student is sick, running late for school, in a bad mood, or worse.
At the Educating for Today and Tomorrow conference, I attended The GoodPlay Project: Exploring Digital Ethics workshop. Here, we explored “digital promises” and “digital perils.” I’ve found that Twitter engages my students, because they love to see their work. It offers instant publication and gratification. I tweet because the majority of my students have internet capable phones. They may not bring paper or pencil to class, but they always have their cell phones. Through Twitter, I tell my students to share their journal entries, or send positive messages. For example, “So proud of all the football players! You guys played really well!” Or, I message reminders, “Quiz tomorrow on class this week. Be sure to study!” However, messages may also be easily misconstrued – emotions and tone are often difficult to interpret through digital media. Also, online information should be monitored by parents and teachers through active participation in online social media.
In Howard Gardner’s Truth, Beauty, and Goodness: Educating for the Virtues in the Age of Truthiness and Twitter, he refers to the Internet as the “Wild, Wild West” and speaks about the “compromised work” and ethics often seen among American youth. Twitter can contribute to the demoralization of our youth, if we do not work together to set and monitor parameters. The Internet is a gateway for “digital perils” where tweets are posted with little forethought, but we have to remain mindful of the potential Twitter has to elevate learning. I speak to my students in a language with which they are already familiar – “tweeting” – and use their knowledge to scaffold and build upon their current understandings.
Gardner discusses how youth “know the right thing to do,” but ask, “why should I be more ethical than my peers seem to be?” Could we as teachers expect students to act ethically if schools focused on the “digital promises?” Educators are trying to teach as best they can in a time of limited resources. Many of my colleagues are too afraid to use the new technology, because textbooks and worksheets seem safer than the Internet.
I believe that we need to work together to educate our youth and ourselves to make safe decisions online. The recommended guidelines I propose for online usage in schools begin with teachers: Teachers should discuss the purpose of the Internet for classroom use, set parameters for word choice and stick to posting positive news. Students must agree to act ethically online and receive teacher approval before posting a school related message. Parents need to help students understand the concept of thinking ethically, monitor their children’s social networking, and contact the teacher if an inappropriate event occurs.
We have to start teaching in the 21st century and use the resources at our fingertips. As adults we must cooperate and keep the doors open for discussion – both in person and on the internet. Most importantly, we have to work together to keep our children safe in cyberspace as well as in reality.