Cover Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay
As an instructional coach of technology, I get the opportunity to sit down and plan with many teachers. It’s fun to be able to chat about so many different topics each day and help teachers find creative ways that students might express their understanding.
Lately I’ve been working on a unit with a 7th grade Individuals and Societies teachers about cultural norms and expressions of culture. He and I planned a unit together about in which his students would show their learning about various norms around the world and how humanity has similar values to one another. I was able to influence the direction of the unit’s implementation of technology by utilizing Instagram. The idea being that the kids would start to notice that the internet has its own culture much like other countries have their own cultures.
To make his unit relevant to his students and to practice their use of social media, we decided that the students should have purpose-made Instagram accounts that they would make with their school emails; the students would make their accounts private as well. Students were tasked with staging 3 different scenes on a make-believe vacation in which they encountered a different culture with 3 different cultural norms to their home culture(s). The students would then caption the images and discuss the significance of the image. Finally, the students would showcase their work to one another by sharing links on a Google Doc and then commenting on each other’s images/videos.
The teacher and I read Like. Flirt Ghost: A Journey Into the Social Media Lives of Teens; it came just in time in the COTAIL Course 2 reading material. We were both particularly surprised at the specific interpretations of emojis and how frequency can communicate something nonverbally (i.e. without written language). After we read the article, we held a discussion in his classes in which we asked the students a few questions to hopefully consolidate their thinking and make connections between their learning in the unit with their lives. Below are a few of the interesting things students said.
Question 1: “What are the social norms of communication online?”
Student A: “Today most people use a smartphone and are on social media.”
Student B: “It is a norm to like and comment on [your friends’] posts. If you see a picture that someone posted a long time ago and it is not on the top of their timeline, people usually wouldn’t like it and just ignore it because they might think we are stalking them if we do like it. Many people also really care about their followers and show off how many they have like ‘Oh I’m so popular,’ and stuff like that.”
Student C: “Sometimes people will swear in the comments or posts or their story and that’s considered normal.”
Paraphrased: Today we all are online and many of us have access to technology. When we are close to someone, we like to engage with their recent content; maintaining friendships online is just as important as maintaining friendships outside.
Question 2: “how and why are social interactions and communication changing?”
Student D: “Social interactions and communication have been changing because people use different types of social media, so it will be easier for them to communicate. There also have different emojis to express our feeling. We also shorten up words now.”
Student E: “We can use to communicate whenever and wherever.”
Student F: “A way that social interactions and communications is changing is by evolving as our society grows. For example, a while ago, it wouldn’t have been a norm to talk the way we talk like now. I think this is because people are bored of something that is common and they want to try new things.”
Paraphrased: Today we communicate in different ways because of the availability of various technologies that allow us to communicate with anyone we want at any time. Technology is changing rapidly and people like things that are new.
Bringing It All Together
To distill the students’ ideas down: as technology changes rapidly, so do the ways in which we communicate.
I wonder– since we have concluded together that tech influences communication, might we also ask how the changes in communication might affect our relationships? Our creativity? Our learning? Our collaboration? Or other aspects of our lives.
As an open-ended questions, there really isn’t a single answer; by asking ourselves these questions, it really pulls me back to this blog post that I made earlier this year which makes the point that it’s essential that we know what we believe and then we can utilize social media accordingly.
In essence, what this blog post boils down to is the idea that as technologies change, we are changing with them in more ways than we might be aware of. Are we showing what we believe when it comes to our communication and relationships on social media? If we value relationships, is social media the best way to express the feeling that we have about others… or is it a norm to maintain relationships online because it’s the most convenient?