Although I now work as a teacher, I used to be a librarian, and I am happy to post book reviews as I find interesting books.
Danah Boyd has written the book "It's complicated - the social lives of networked teens" in which she describes young people's usage of social media. It's an exciting and complex world that opens up as you read the book. A lot has happened since I was a teenager, but at the same time, everything is pretty much as it has always been in the world of young people.
Boyd's ambition is to describe the teenager's use of social media from their own perspective, and she does it brilliantly! We get to come into a world where teens try to create their own identity, where the friends are essential and where various dramas occur every day.
First of all, Boyd wants to punch holes in the term "digital native". It is an expression sometimes used about the young generation that has grown up with digital tools and social media. She believes that the term indicates that these youngsters are born with some kind of "superpowers" when using digital devices - and they are definitely not!
On the contrary, she believes that we need to pay attention to all the young people who cannot keep up with the digital world and which problems many teens actually face. She describes it as a "digital divide" that has arisen between those who have access to digital resources and those who do not. When schools increasingly assume that students have the technical knowledge, it might increase social inequalities, which was supposed to be what digitalization should counteract! In this matter, schools have a great responsibility to work against inequality and offer everyone the same opportunities.
One more thing that Boyd contradicts is that social media would increase bullying at school and that they should, therefore, be avoided. She believes that bullying is not increasing through social media at all. She believes that the posts and "attacks" that occur should instead be described as "drama" because they rarely live up to the definition of bullying. Teens write posts that are sometimes cryptic or hidden, and their entire social interaction is a complex social game of "likes" and comments, but this only reflects the relationships young people have in real life. They don't change the structures that already exist.
Boyd's recommendation to teachers who want to enter social media is to get a teacher's account on social media and then let students add you as a friend. In this way, you don't get directly involved, but you give the students the opportunity to quickly socialize on their own terms. It's a great way to reach your students and let them reach you as a teacher. Whether you choose Facebook, Instagram, or something else is up to each one.
In conclusion, I think the book was a wake-up call, and it opened my eyes to how complex the lives of the teens actually are. The book also made me remember my teenage years in a fun and almost embarrassing way. The secrets, the desire to be seen, the intriguing. . . . . .
It feels good to know that not that much has changed after all. Teens will always be teens, I guess. . . .
Today I was working on an interactive lesson on adjectives with the students. The students see a "Powerpoint" on their Chromebooks with an assignment, and there is a collaborative part included. After the session, I may see how each student solved the assignment, their answers the and how far they've got during the day. Great! . . . or is it really?!
When I look at the results something just doesn't feel right. Have we taken it too far? I wouldn't want my boss to see how I was working on my tasks, how many mistakes I have made, and how much time I've spent on every task. I'm not so sure that my students want it either. One advantage of having an old-fashioned piece of paper is that it is always private!
We need to talk about balance. On one side is the teacher who wants plenty of material for assessment and grading. On the other side is the students right to privacy. This is an important issue and I'm not so sure that more is more when it comes to supervising the students work. Not sure at all!
The students must be given a choice of what they share and what they keep to themselves, and we need to create an awareness of what is shared and what is private on the internet. I remember my notebook when I was in high school. It was mine, and I would have been furious if anyone had read it. The notebook wasn't really that personal, but I thought of it as private, it was mine! The creators of digital classroom material just want to provide the teachers with every kind of information one could ever ask for, and I believe that it must be the teachers' job to hit the breaks and start to say no sometimes. For the privacy of our students!
The past year, the internet has been bubbling with articles about the so-called Momo challenges. Some claim that they don't really exist, others try to warn that these challenges show up everywhere. The Momo challenges aim at children and they gradually get worse as the child plays along in the "game". The last step of the challenge may be to harm yourself or others or to take part in a criminal act. This happens behind the parents' backs and the children are warned to tell anyone what's going on.
The important thing here is not whether the challenges are called Momo or not since it is quite clear that children and young people are tricked into interactions, chain letters, and social contacts they can not handle. All adults surrounding the children have an important task in guiding and leading young people when they start using digital on there own. The text below is intended as a story for young people who do not always see the dangers one can face online.
Getting your first mobile phone and starting to explore the internet is in many ways a bit magical. A brand new world opens up, almost like when the stones are moved behind the leaking cauldron and reveal a whole new world. You may learn to turn the light off and on using your voice, not by saying "nox", but with a clear a "Hello Google, Turn on the light!". The entire room lights up as long as your wan. . . phone is just within the hearing range.
Just like in Harry Potter's magical world, some dangers may threaten. Sometimes you come across apps or accounts that seem just a little too smart. They are very difficult to distinguish among all the smart, fun and fantastic apps and features a smart device has, but you can learn to recognize them. Those that are too smart almost seem to communicate with you personally. They want to know a lot about you. Remember the diary that Ginny found in the "Chamber of Secrets". It behaved differently from the other magical things at Hogwarts. Among all the magic objects that Harry Potter and his friends came in contact with, the diary was different since it seemed to have feelings of its own. It appeared to want to have a conversation with you! They can never understand what you're saying or come up with decent answers. If they do, there is a human working behind them and if you do not know exactly who it is, you should immediately close the app and delete it. It's usually okay to talk in games chats when you play online games, but talk only about the game and never, never about yourself. You do not know where the information ends up or who you are actually talking to. Anything that is capable of answering you is controlled by a human, and not all humans are kind. You can meet someone who says they are children, even though they are actually adults. Some apps are humans even though they look just like any game.
Unfortunately, it does not always end with small talk. The app may ask you for a small favour and since you do friends favours sometimes you agree to do it. It soon gets worse and just like Ginny Weasley, you can eventually lose control and be forced to do things you absolutely don't want to do. In real life, it's not about losing the ability to think as Ginny did, but you can face threats and blackmail that make you too afraid to do anything but obey. Only in the very last step do you get to know who you actually were in contact with and then it may be too late. It sounds scary and it's scary, but there are ways to protect yourself so that you needn't be afraid!
A digital app (or a magical object!) can't ever have a conversation with you! They can never understand what you're saying or come up with decent answers. If they do, there is a human working behind them and if you do not know exactly who it is, you should immediately close the app and delete it. It's usually okay to talk in games chats when you play online games, but talk only about the game and never, never about yourself. You do not know where the information ends up or who you are actually talking to. Anything that is capable of answering you is controlled by a human, and not all humans are kind. You can meet someone who says they are children, even though they are actually adults. Some apps are humans even though they look just like any game.
I would like to end this text with the same advice that Dumbledore gave Harry Potter when the Chamber of Secrets had opened:
"Never trust an object that seems to be able to think on its own <br> if you do not know exactly whose mind is behind it."
This is a good piece of advice and if you really remember it, your journey through the digital and magical world of the internet will be so much safer!
I am a teacher and I work a lot with digitalization, but I am also a parent and I see how children can at worst behave towards each other in digital worlds. What worries me is how little other adults care about what's going on. When you don't understand, you dismiss it by saying that "they had a fight in some game". Here, the whole adult world must stop turning a blind eye and dare to enter the digital world where children spend so much of their time. It is very much as real as what we call the real world.
This week it happened again! A crying child called and told me that her house in Minecraft had been destroyed by other children that she thought she could trust. I didn't need to ask why she called me and no other adult. I'm simply the only adult in their lives who listens and takes this kind of problems (this kind of bullying!) seriously. I'm no expert in Minecraft, but I made a decision to try to understand what had happened. The conversation sounded something like this:
The girl (crying): They have destroyed my entire house that I had built in my world in Minecraft!
Me: What house?
The girl: I had built it myself. You build all the houses yourself in Minecraft.
Me: Did it take a long time to build?
The girl: I had been working on it for probably a month and made doors and secret chambers and curtains and everything! (At those words she sounded really desperate and cried so hard she could hardly get the words out. I felt that I had to get to the bottom of this).
Me: But how could they get into your world and destroy it? Can anyone enter into other people's worlds?
The girl: I let them in to show them how pretty I had made it. Those guys are my classmates and they play Minecraft too. I wanted to play with them and so I let them in, but then they started to break everything and laugh in the chatroom!
Me: Is there any way to get your house back. Can they give it back?
The girl: No, it's gone forever.
Me: I'll talk to these guys! They can most definitely not do that! I can not recreate your house, but I'll really talk to them, you can be sure of that! It's not okay to destroy anything that someone else has created and they will hear about that!
The girl sounded grateful that someone cared about her and thanked me for listening.
When I got hold of the boys, they were first and foremost surprised that any adult reacted at all. After a while, they admitted that they actually did destroy the house, but they didn't find it so serious. I had to spend some time explaining that it is as wrong to destroy something that someone has created on a computer as it is to destroy something that someone has created in any other way. It does not matter if it is a house someone built in Lego, a model airplane that someone is proud of, a pearl necklace, an embroidered cushion or a house built in Minecraft, it is simply not okay to destroy other peoples belongings! And that's a fact! The time the other person spent on what they created is just as real no matter how they did it.
The two guys looked ashamed but if I did not imagine it, they were actually a bit impressed at the same time! Here was an adult who knew what they were doing and took it as seriously as they did. They did not expect that and that is exactly why we have a problem!
When the adult world treats the digital arena as a place you don't really want or "could" enter, it becomes the adult-free place that does not really follow the same rules as the rest of the world. That is why it's not quite as wrong to send a hateful text message as it is to say something mean to someone. The digital life becomes a parallel life where the adult world stays at a comfortable distance and the meanest unfortunately often wins.
That's exactly why cyberbullying is such a big problem! The adults who surround the children must step up and start to take place in the kid's digital lives and get to know their games and interactions. There will only be tears otherwise. And the tears are just as real even if it "only happened in some game"!
Get back to the blog. . .
I am the technician who became a librarian, but who got tired of the quiet and peaceful life at the library and started working as a teacher. I brought with me everything I knew about databases, information retrieval and networks and soon I was an ICT-educator. Today, I work as a teacher at Komvux in Norrköping.
I have always had a nerdy great interest in technology. I can find interest in everything from robots to model railroads or the steel industry of the industrial revolution. Technology should take us forward and prevent us from everything boring. You need to dare to be somewhat lazy and ask yourself if there is no easier way to get something done. The human desire to get away is what has driven the technical development and find time for other things. Like model railroads, for instance!
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