Course 2, Week 2: Social Connections Then and Now

This week’s focus was on ways that we connect socially with each other. While the articles for this week discussed teens (not the elementary age students who I teach) and how they use social media, I had a few connections to what the articles said.

In the article Like, Flirt, Ghost: A Journey Into The Social Media Lives of Teens from wired.com, the author spent several months talking to teens from diverse demographics about how they use social media. One of the questions the author asked each teen was about the peer rules they follow when posting to social media. The teens had a difficult time verbalizing the rules that they follow. The author said, “As for the rules? Well, the other thing that becomes clear after hanging out with teens for a few months is that everyone is making up the rules as they go.” I think this is a result of how quickly social media is evolving in today’s culture. Because of this, I feel that it is our job as educators to teach our students how to use social media safely.

Today’s teens are connecting socially in four overarching ways, as listed on page 8 in the article Confronting the Challenges of Participatory Culture written by the John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation. One way that teens are connecting is through affiliations, which are “formal and informal memberships in online communities centered around various forms of media, such as Friendster, Facebook, message boards, metagaming, game clans, or MySpace”. Another way that teens are connecting socially is through expressions, meaning “producing new creative forms, such as digital sampling, skinning and modding, fan video making, fan fiction writing, zines, mash-ups”. A third way that teens are connecting is through collaborative problem-solving, where they are “working together in teams, formal and informal, to complete tasks and develop new knowledge (such as through Wikipedia, alternative reality gaming, spoiling)”. The final way that teens are connecting socially is through circulations, which are “shaping the flow of media (such as podcasting, blogging)”. While my Grade 2 students are too young to participate in these social groups, they are just a few years away from starting their social media journey.

During my morning meetings with my Grade 2 students on the second to last day of distance learning, I asked my students how they stay connected with their friends now that we all must stay in our homes and with their families who live back home. A few said that they talk to family with a regular phone call, but most of them use one form of messaging or video calling app (Messenger Kids, Portal, Skype, WhatsApp, FaceTime). Out of my 17 students, only 3 have their own phones, which I was happy to hear and not surprised about. One student said that he and his friend had been using FaceTime to play Legos or a video game together.

I am glad that today’s technology was not around when I was growing up. To communicate with my friends, we would send notes back and forth, learning cute (and sometimes elaborate) ways to fold the paper.

If I wanted to get together with friends or my cousins, we would call each other, using the landline phone, and convince our parents to drive us to each other’s house. My cousins were my closest friends, and we would spend hours doing Mad Libs, watching movies, talking walks around town, and talking about anything that popped into our heads.

Now, as an adult, I use social media regularly to communicate with my friends and family. I video chat with my family each Saturday – we started with Skype, but that kept having glitches so we now use WhatsApp and Google Hangout. I scroll through Facebook daily, to see what my family and friends are doing now that I live halfway across the world from them. I also use Facebook Messenger to send messages to my family and friends – this way we don’t have to factor in the time difference.

Social interactions and communications are changing rapidly because there are many new apps being created. The technology industry is booming – it seems that it is growing exponentially. We are using technology more and more in our lives, not just socially but in our professional lives too. Distance Learning has shown us this, and how successful Distance Learning is for a school or district depends on the access to technology and the social interactions it creates.

There are two types of social media that I use with my students, Seesaw and Google Classroom. Before Distance Learning, I had used Google Classroom to post the weekly homework directions, with minimal interactions from students. During Distance Learning, Google Classroom was one of the ways that my students and I communicated with each other – I would post their daily assignments there and the students would post comments if they needed help with something or if they had a question about something. Before Distance Learning, my students had only used Seesaw a handful of times, to post end-of-unit work (projects and tests). During Distance Learning, Seesaw was where the students posted their completed school work. I gave feedback about their work as comments on their posts. The students wrote messages to each other on their work too, especially those who really missed the in-person social interactions we would have in the classroom. For my students, Seesaw is the most age-appropriate way they can socially interact with their classmates.

my class’s Seesaw stats for the last week of Distance Learning (top) and for the whole year (bottom)

In order to support my colleagues and other educators in understanding the effect social media has on our communications, I would encourage them to notice how much time they spend on social media and how it affects their moods. I would also remind them to set boundaries and limits on how long they spend on social media each day.