Digital Citizenship, Engagement and Breaking Out of Our Social Bubbles

When you ask teachers their views on Digital Citizenship and how it should be integrated into learning in their classroom, one would definitely get mixed reviews. Part of what I do as a Digital Fluency Consultant is to help provide professional development regarding technology integration, and assist teachers with integrating the Digital Citizenship Continuum into learning. Prior to Thanksgiving, I had the opportunity to lead several Professional development sessions at the Regina Catholic School Division Teacher Institute #RCSDInstitute on this topic from different curricular areas and grade levels.

During a session with a group of High School teachers, many ethical questions were brought up about considerations that have to be made for the digital divide, as well perspectives represented in social media. We went into great depth considering the social media bubble that can unknowingly encase many of us, if we are not aware. 

Bubble 2 by Ali Smiles :), on Flickr
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Ali Smiles 🙂 

Within our discussion a point was made that although social media can be great for connecting with others to explore different perspectives, are we actually doing this? When we follow individuals on Twitter, are we just following people with the same interests and backgrounds as us? In doing so, are we reinforcing the same perspective or viewpoint that we might already hold, thereby not providing the opportunity to see other world views. It was brought up that when someone doesn’t have the same perspective, and it makes us uncomfortable, how does the average person react? Do we consider other opinions, or do we just unfollow these individuals? This question has lead me to wonder, how my views are being shaped and reinforced on Twitter. Although social media can be a great space to see a variety of perspectives to widen our world view, it might be possible that we are not exploring alternate viewpoints and instead are just seeking affirmation. 

#life : #bobbivie + #writes #54 by bobbi vie, on Flickr
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  bobbi vie 

After this discussion I started researching the effects of Twitter and the reinforcing bubble effect of social media. It has become clear that other students in our ECI 832 class have also been spending some time reflecting on  the effect of Social Media and how we engage with the world. Fellow classmate, Laura Hunter, explores in her blog post, “Constant Connections” the impact of social media not only on herself, but on her daughters. She wondered whether social media is just a platform that is allowing us to become superficial as it “allows usall to hone in on meaningless snapchats, Facebook posts, and work emails” Turkle would agree and probably say that these superficial connections are diminishing our ability to really develop meaningful interactions face to face, “because we keep our phones in the landscape” or in our peripheral vision.

Marc Spooner Twitter Post
Other questions I have been considering since my High School Digital Citizenship Session revolve around whose voices are heard in social media. Marc Spooner, professor at the University of Regina, is one of these individuals who creatively uses social media to tweet on behalf of those whose voices are silent due to lack of access to technology. For more than a year, Spooner has been quite active on Twitter sharing issues related to the housing crisis for low-income families. Being a social justice advocate, he is an example of a person who speaks on behalf of those in need and evidently sees the power of people made possible via Twitter.  What if everyone started using Twitter to bring a voice to the silent? If more people made an effort to retweet an alternative, less-heard perspective then this could make a small difference in bringing about social change through social media.

To further ways social media can be used for more than sharing the trite or mundane, an article, by Mary Elizabeth Williams, “UsingSocial Media to Build a Better World: A Culture of Amplification” explores this point precisely. Williams shares an experiment where an individual did a study and noted that men are more often retweeted than women. So as a social experiment, this person made a point of only retweeting women to tip the scale the other way. Did it make a difference? In a small way, perhaps it did, at least in providing a sense of self-empowerment. Williams points out that although the average person cannot make a direct impact Mass Media with the content of magazines and television, they can make an impact at a social media level. William further states, “…let’s remember that when we’re only getting a certain kind of story and a certain kind of perspective, we take it as the norm. Let’s understand that’s incredibly limiting and painfully reinforcing.” For this reason, it is up to us to be aware of who is not being represented, and remember that the dominate voice is not the only voice.

So how does all this connect to education? In teaching digital citizenship, we need to examine with students the social bubble that can emerge when you restrict your lens to circles of “Birds of a Feather”. Yes it can be affirming and fill one with warmth knowing that someone else “gets you”, but how does it stretch or grow a person’s understandings of other perspectives, if your world view is not challenged but instead constantly reinforced? Why is it beneficial to be exposed to viewpoints that make you squirm?

Is it possible that others will pick up on the power of social media for social justice? Apparently in fact it has already happened. In a news story from CTV, “Social Justice Found It’s Voice in Social Media in 2014”. It was reported that “those tuned into the web’s global conversations believe 2014 will be remembered as the time when social justice advocates found their voice.” A point made within the article that resonated with me is as follows:

“We’re no longer looking at social media simply as something that allows us to share pictures of what we had for breakfast or to play games when we go online. We can also use it to do more meaningful things like perhaps improve the world around us for those who might be disadvantaged.”

single 1 by Adg
  Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic License by  Adg’s Screen Caps 

This story from CTV was quite elevating. Maybe collectively people are becoming a little more aware of the power of the people afforded through social media – and that  the voice of those unrepresented can finally be heard. However, my bubble of optimism burst when I was reminded of Sherry Turkle’s article, “Stop Googling, Let’s Talk” from the course readings.  Turkle once again shares all the problems with social media and problems that arise due to our need to be digitally connected in helping us form real human lasting connections. Turkle through her interviews states that people “don’t feel as invested in each other. Even a silent phone disconnects us.” Are all these possibilities to do good in providing a voice for the marginalized, quickly dashed due to lack of manners or etiquette? Although Turkle should be applauded for sharing this opposing viewpoint and being the word of caution in this digitally connected world, I’m getting tired of her soap-box-negative stance. It turns out that I’m not the only one. After reading through reflections from other classmates and their reactions of the course readings, I found a kindred spirit in Amy Singh. After reviewing Shelley Turkle’s video, Amy noted in her post, “Now Entering the Apathetic Age”, that Turkle’s viewpoint that our world is becoming more apathetic due to over-consumption of technology is really just negative and points out that “we can work with technology and be empathetic.  We may need to build these skills, but it can be done.” I would have to fully agree with Amy. Are teens really anymore apathetic today than they were 20 years ago? Hello, hasn’t anyone watched “The Breakfast Club?? Teens are really not that much different than they were when I was young. Many of us I’m sure can relate to being self-absorbed, aloof individuals who were overly connected to friends via the phone. 

Day 50 Occupy Wall Street November 5 201 by david_shankbone, on Flickr
 Creative Commons Creative Commons Attribution 2.0 Generic Licenseby  david_shankbone 

So what’s this all about? Can we be selfish and apathetic as well as social justice activists all at once? Of course! Is social media making people more selfish or self-absorbed. It’s doubtful. One just has to look at the impact the Occupy Movement had on raising issues regarding poverty and the discrepancy between the rich and the poor. How did this message spread? Social media. With any technological change there will be pros and cons. What it comes down to is the character of the individual who wields the device and their understanding of how the device impacts their life and those around them. This fact in itself reinforces reasons as to why educators need to ensure that Digital Citizenship is integrated into learning and is part of the conversation. 

In closing I share a TED Talk, “Youth Activism in the Era of Social Media: Emily’s Entourage at TEDxLMSD”. This TED Talk is a primary example of how social media can be used for social justice among teens. In the video, Julia and Coby Kramer-Golinkoff share how they used Social Media to share the story of  their sister, Julia and her battle with Cystic Fibrosis to “rally people and mobilize change” and create awareness about the effects of CF through Social Media. It’s a great TED Talk and demonstrates the power of social media and how millenials are exploring ways of sharing in authentic, meaningful ways.  

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Exploring and Extending Perspectives of "Adventures in Twitter Fiction" – TED Talk by Andrew Fitzgerald

Critique of the TED Talk presented by Andrew Fitzgerald, 

“Adventures in Twitter Fiction” 

Adventures inTwitter Fiction” is a TED Talk, where the presenter, Andrew Fitzgeraldreinforces the point that Twitter allows for the blurring of fact and fiction, real world and digital world, flexible identity, anonymity – and what these tools provide as building blocks for creative experimentation.
Essential Questions:
Some of the essential questions, examined within the context of the TED Talk include:
  • How can different digital mediums change the way stories and other literary works are not just shared, but created?
  • How does flexible identity, anonymity and engagement with the real world change the way writers interact with their audience? 
  • How can Twitter allow for creative people to push the boundaries of what is possible in this platform, and how will it alter what we define as a story?

Fitzgerald explores in his TED Talk, how the short story is experiencing a renaissance of popularity in a brand new form, primarily because of the affordances made with social media. Many writers today are using the power of social media to connect directly with an audience as a means of generating feedback. In this new format, there is no longer a mediator between the writer and audience, providing a more “organic” mode of natural connection. The lack of barrier allows for more creative experimentation in not only the interaction between author and audience, but the manner in which the story is produced. This new format is created, when there is a combination of the live communication and the serialization of written fiction.


Literary Magazines such as the The New Yorker are even stepping into this new wild and “unmediated frontier” with experimentive storytelling. Fitzgerald explores how many authors are testing the boundaries of this medium in vastly different ways, allowing for a variety of reading experiences. One author, Jennifer Egan, convinced The New Yorker to start a fictional account where her story, “The Black Box“, was composed specifically with Twitter in mind in 140 character “bits”. In addition to the unusual way in which the story was told, for nine days, it was shared in a serialized format as a series of tweets, eventually totaling to over 600. With the story unveiled in such a non-traditional way, readers could tune-in and await in suspense until the next tweet was shared.


Image Source: Twitter Crimer Show

Other examples of fictional writing on Twitter can be seen in the short story, “Evidence” by Elliot Holt.  In this tale, Holt weaves together a story through a series of tweets through multiple Twitter accounts. This format allows the author to capture the voice and perspective of all characters line by line, thereby allowing for greater authenticity. Twitter has also become a platform for parodying television, which can be seen in the Crimer Show. In this case, the Twitter story sounds like a television episode, but told on Twitter. If you wish to tune in, you can’t, as the show is now advertised as being only available through “re-runs”. There are also other examples of non-fiction storytelling which can be seen in RealTimeWWII, which documents real events of World War II day by day – thereby connecting us to the past, like a digital desk calendar. 

What are the Implications?
There are several implications in using Twitter as a platform for not only sharing fictional stories, but for creating them. It is one where the mode in which the story is created and produced, is blended with the platform or the stage on which it exists. Allowing the audience a sense of intimacy and connection not only to the plot and characters, but a sense of community created with this type of sharing.  In releasing a story bit by bit, as in the case of “The Black Box”, audience members could join in the community of readers all awaiting in suspense for the next tweet. With no one able to read ahead, there are further potentials for publicity for The New Yorker and the author, by encouraging discussion in a platform already built for conversation. It conjures up images of old fashioned radio shows where families and communities gathered together to hear weekly broadcasts.  How can this type of storytelling build connections not only within members of the community, made up of followers and readers, but with the writers and the audience? Can this new platform, often criticized for its shallow connections, offer the same sense of connectedness that people would have experienced almost a century ago? 

Although I appreciate the potential for writers to connect with their audience through social media; as well as the opportunities Fitzgerald shares in this “new frontier” for creative experimentation, “where access to the tools is the only barrier to broadcasting”. I can’t help but wonder what are the sideline benefits of broadcasting the story in this form. Is it just a media stunt or opportunity for writers to garner publicity and a following for their writing? Is this a platform merely a space where they can give an audience a taste, in hopes that they will buy the book for the polishedversion of the story later on? Or is it purely just an opportunity for the writer to truly engage with their audience and gain feedback in the creative writing process, allowing fans a sense of connectedness to the formation of a story. One can only hope that for the purity of the medium, that the latter would be the case. It is interesting to note that Egan, author of “The Black Box”, only produced the one story in this form, making me wonder if it really was just for publicity.  Not wanting to be jaded or skeptical, I decided to look for other Twitter serial writers. After a quick search, I discovered other Twitter short stories  One was aptly named, the Very Short Story, which are stories by @sean_hill. He asks followers to “send me a noun and I’ll use the ones that inspire me in a story.” Here is a perfect of example of interacting with one’s audience and engaging them in the writing process. However it is important to note that he is also writing a book of his Twitter stories, and advertises it on Amazon.  Hmmm… purity of form??? Then again, whom am I to criticize, the guy has to make a living. 

Now What? As Educators, Why Should We Care?
Image Source: Mashable 20 Twitter Short Stories Written by Mashable Readers
As I listened to Fitzgerald’s presentation, I immediately started thinking of ways this platform could be used to connect the Connected  to literary works and writing. Would students be interested in exploring writing one tweet at a time, through micro Twitter stories, as shown in the Twitter contest created by Mashable, 20 Twitter Short Stories Written by Mashable Readers? Maybe Twitter could be a way to demonstrate to students that as a teacher, I am trying to connect. Imagine exploring with students the subtle nuances of communication that only can be demonstrated in 140 characters or less. Showing students the skills needed in being deep, while demonstrating brevity
In addition to discussions regarding the medium in which to tell a story, using Twitter in this manner would also lend itself to discussions related to Digital Citizenship. Teachers could revisit Fitzgerald’s comment, how “access to the tools is the only barrier to broadcasting”, as this ties in to the first element of Digital Citizenship – Digital Access. Students could explore who is not able to access this form of writing and whose voice is not present in this wild frontier. Perhaps, students could compose the stories of the marginalized and share them on Twitter as part of a social justice project.  

Part of the Digital Access discussion should also be around the issue of the age one must be to access social media, and why companies like Twitter have Terms of Agreement regarding the age of users (Twitter states you must be over 14 years). So although there are all kinds of great ways one can connect with this form of writing, with younger audiences it would have to be through the teacher as the guide of the Twitter account.  If teachers were interested in engaging students in “fake” writing on Twitter, there are sites such as Classtools and tools like Twister

As a final note, if you are interested in using Twitter for older students, Twitter has a site, Tips for Educators in exploring Twitter Literacy, and would further lend itself to discussions regarding Digital Citizenship. Educators can peruse topics ranging from: what is Twitter, ways teachers can connect with students,  how to keep your account secure, defining personal boundaries, tweeting thoughtfully, and considering the context. Bravo Twitter, that’s definitely showing some responsibility for the medium by providing these tips!



Fitzgerald, A. (2013). Adventures in Twitter Fiction [Video file]. Retrieved from

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Connecting is Good, Yet Why Can’t I Help But Worry?

Photo Credit: Brickdon via Compfight cc

This weeks readings were an exploration of the Digital Immigrants vs the Native users in Social Media. Not only did Prensky miss the mark as rapidly articulated in the video, Do Digital Natives Exist?  the term itself is misplaced. White’s terminology or explanation of the Digital Visitors and Residents makes way more sense. I really like his point in how all individuals regardless of age, can pass into either role based on context and engagement. I really appreciate how Amy Sign, states it in her blog post this week, Digital Natives/Immigrants in Imagined communities and the digital citizenship quandarywhen she says, “One doesn’t have to look far to see that being ‘born into’ a digital age doesn’t equate someone who is able to navigate the muddy waters of ‘digital citizenship’.” She goes on to allude to the awful case of Amanda Todd and how easily things can turn from bad to horrendous.  This is something too that I consider when I think of the Resident vs. the Visitor. Even though students are deemed as “getting it” – it’s evident that often they understand how to use their devices (for the most part, I have more to say about that), but do they understand how to wield them responsibly? Yes kids love social media, but aside from setting up a profile, are they aware of the darker side to social media and how to exist within it’s parameters safely?

In Michael Wesch’s video, An Anthropological Introduction to Youtube he explores the participatory nature of social media, particularly with Youtube, and emphasizes the benefits of “connection without restraint” and the opportunity the platform offers for “tremendously deep communities”. I like the idea of connection without restraint. But as an educator, and the dangers that are often presented with Social Media, can this lack of restraint be dangerous to those who maybe lack self control or the wisdom to behave appropriately face to face, never mind behind the seemingly anonymous perspective behind a computer screen?

Years ago when Charlie Bit Me was popularized (not just popularized, it eventually became the most viewed video in Youtube history), I joined the masses in replaying that video for friends, family, and students (shhhhh… I admit it… I used some classtime to watch a cute video… and I know I would do it again someday!) over and over again – giggling over those delightful and charming British brothers! Although I found the original video adorable, I found the remixes – fascinating… and sometimes annoying or downright ridiculous, as in the remix, Charlie Bit My Finger… Off! (okay, I kind of liked it). What was interesting is how fascinated my students were of the remixes. Was it the connection they made to often other teens who were remixing and sharing the videos? Were they inspired by the creativity of the remix? The daring to take a risk and offer that point of connection? What was it? Other than the fact that the videos were sometimes funny, why would a person watch video after video?  Is the fascination due to the sense of community created, or as Wesch points out, that we all collectively become fascinated by the same thing? Maybe it’s the fact that the average person can be part of the entertainment – not celebrities, not politicians – but average people with a digital device  wanting to engage us in the conversation and this is that authentic connection that draws us in.

So I get why people love it. Maybe it’s for the mindless entertainment and connection we feel or maybe it’s a bit like being a distant observer of other people’s lives. Sort of like what was explored in the movie the Truman Show, which was only made in 1998, yet really personifies a little of what it’s like watching Youtube in our world now. I’m not knocking it and saying it’s all trivial and boring, as I do have my favorite Youtube channels (like Kid-Snippets), but there are some elements that get a little Truman-like or just invasive. Perhaps this preference for a polished show, like Kid-Snippets, is part of the era I grew up in.  Is it a generational or Visitors vs Residents thing?

The question becomes what is entertaining to different groups? When we look what appeals to different interest groups, I can’t help think of a time when my students were begging me to watch “Squirrel Boy in a Tree”. Not trusting a group of grade 8 boys and their recommendations for a Youtube video in front of the class, I of course said no. Later, I checked it out to see what the fuss was.  Basically the video was about a kid yelling in a tree, swearing about a World of Warcraft video while his brother verbally tormented him and recorded the mental abuse. Nice.  It’s aptly named, Greatest Freakout Ever. Interestingly enough, it has 13,143,428 views (unfortunately I have contributed 2 of the views of this pointless video). Let’s just chalk this video up to being a prime example as to reasons why Youtube can be a bit of a waste of time and unfortunately become a platform for bullying. The interactions in the video, are certainly the polar opposite to the fun-loving relationship between Charlie and his older brother. Squirrel-boy probably never stood a chance to his older brother, and the best part is, the world can watch his embarrassment over and over again. Not everything needs or should be shared, and makes me wish that there was more of a behaviour police for family bullying even between brothers.

The part that really gets me though, is that I had students who enjoyed that video (as did millions of others) and thought it was hilarious. So now not only do we have to contend with movies and television shows which push-the-envelop in terms of appropriateness and what we call entertainment, we now have Youtube to do the same. It’s not that I’m against Youtube, but in a lot of ways, Social Media can sometimes feel like the Wild West. Where almost anything goes, as long as it doesn’t break the law. Where are the sheriffs? Yes, there are police who police the Internet for the really dangerous stuff out there. But what about mean older brothers, who polices them? There are parents (and…where are these kids’ parents?), but it’s doubtful that many are on Youtube. So going back to Wesch’s statement regarding, “connection without restraint” and  “tremendously deep communities” – it’s evident that there is definitely lack of restraint demonstrated in this case, and the community is most likely not exploring any deep connections.

Well all this negative talk is diminishing the lustre of Charlie and his brother… That was a great video. I enjoyed being part of the community who also enjoyed those sweet little boys.  Maybe it’s not all bad. If you ever wondered where are they now, check out the clip below.  It’s nice to see that Charlie and his brother still seem like a couple of sweet kids, who get along great except for a little chomp here and there.

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Flipping Over Flipsnack for Communicating Learning

As a recent addition to the Major Project that I’m working on with Genna Rodriguez, I made a digital book. This was to be as a way to share the “other digital pieces” to go with Digital Citizenship. As part of our major project, we will be compiling a continuum for each of the C’s mentioned in my last post, in addition to sharing this understanding with teachers in the Regina Catholic School Division. As part of kicking off the initiative to teachers my division, I shared the scope and focus with Tech Leaders, one of whom is the talented Ms. Jillian Laursen (who tweeted about the session).

The information was presented in PowerPoint, which was good for that context, but seemed a little overly-traditional for the content.  So with the purpose of extending my own learning, and communicating learning in a different way, I made a Flipsnack Digital Book (Which is a free site incidently). Genna and I will most likely be adding to this book at some point, as we hope to develop and narrate the book (or slides) – but at least it’s a start! Now for a continuum…

Please note that much of the work so far is derived from Michael Fullen’s New Pedagogies for Deep Learning as well as the International Society for Technology in Education (ISTE) NETS. We will also be exploring the New Pedagogies for Deep Learning project to examine their work and how it will connect to our own Saskatchewan curricula and school division goals.

So you may be wondering,  what will this Essential Fluencies continuum entail? What we are thinking is that in terms of the connection of the fluencies and curricula is that we noticed that the language for the “C’s” is already embedded in all curricular areas. Meaning, communication is a concept repeated through all curricula, collaborating… same thing. However, with the continuum, we want to explore and expand each of the digital skills for each of these areas from K to 12, modelling the Ministry of Education Digital Citizenship Continuum. We realize that it will not hold a candle to the Digital Citizenship Continuum, particularly in terms of the time factor for us to produce our project.  However, if we focus on the skills and not the tools, we will be able to share this with teachers and change the “tool-centric” focus to instead one that looks at what are the skills students need for life-long learning? How does this skill connect to what teachers wish to explore based on the Curricular Outcomes and Indicators, then what digital tool has the greatest ease of access for the teacher. Noting the differentiated abilities of the teachers in terms of where they are with technology. 

Our overarching goal for the project is to change the mindset of teachers to start looking at essential 21st century skills and the ways technology can leverage currcular outcomes and indicators, and not be the focus of the lessons. (ie: avoid lessons about Powerpoint or Glogster – or creating for the sake of the tool).  As Fullen explores in much of his work, we want to go beyond superficial tech integration, but integration which will allow for deeper learning – through more effective communication with various digital platforms, connections extended because of digital tools, opportunities to further how students collaborate on learning (unencumbered by location and time)… etc. 

Basically this is the plan so far. We will of course have to refine as we go…  

* Please note that although I have this information in my blog post, Genna and I worked on this together.
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