The world imagined by 1982’s Blade Runner does not exist. Beautiful little details, like the neon advertisements for Atari and Pan Am, which added such verisimilitude to the movie proved to be anything but prophetic; Atari went under before the movie was ten years old and Pan Am followed suit in 1991.
Predicting the future is an inexact science, fun in the hands of creative writers, but often good for little more than a retrospective chuckle. HAL in 2001? I’m sorry, Dave, I’m afraid we can’t (yet) do that.
So without an accurate crystal ball, how should we as educators think about the digital world our students will grow into?
Theirs is already a life enmeshed in technology in ways that make our own childhood (folks like me, anyway, old enough to have taken a typewriter to college*) seem quaint. Mine is the generation who got tangled up in the cord when talking to potential dates on the phone mounted to the kitchen wall.
As technology changed around me, I entertained the truth of that Philip K. Dick quotation:
There will come a time when it isn’t ‘They’re spying on me through my phone’ anymore. Eventually it will be ‘My phone is spying on me.’”
Maybe, though any fears of sentient machines have (so far) proven unfounded.
So too, I think, are some of the fears we educators have of students and technology, particularly social media. Certainly dangers lurk online, as they have lurked at malls and in the places young people have always congregated.
Educating students to become digital citizens (or whatever the most current term might be for navigating a life online) is in many ways an extension to helping them understand how to live in the brick and mortar world we all share no matter what kind of cell phone is in our pocket.
There are lots of resources out there to help educators do this, some better than others, but it seems to me to boil down to a few simple ideas:
Present the best you. The one that doesn’t swear or show off tattoos. The one that doesn’t make that face that says: “Never hire me, trust me with your children, or let me go to your university.”
Don’t share too much. Share the right amount of information to show the world that “best you” that you want to be your introduction, the first impression before you make your first impression.
Think before you talk. If you wouldn’t blurt it out in class or at the dinner table, or if you shouldn’t, then don’t online.
Be nice. Be nice.
Know the rules and follow them. …and know the etiquette too. Learning how to be a positive contributor to an online community isn’t dramatically different than being a positive contributor to your school or in your neighborhood.
Don’t live in fear. Cautious, sure; fearful, no. You look both ways before you cross the street, but you do eventually cross it. Being safe online means being online, and bringing common sense with you just makes sense. Should I say “yes” to this friend request? Would you invite that person to meet your parents in person?
Be smart. Be as smart as you can be. We all make mistakes, and digital goofs can last forever, but thinking twice before posting and keeping the long view of things can help a lot.
Do we need to include digital literacy as part of our school curriculum? I think so. At the same time we need to show students that we believe they can make the right choices. This means showing them how to curate their own digital footprint and not blocking access to the tools they use to create that footprint.
Schools use Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and other social media platforms to tell their stories, and the best schools do so to great effect. Students should have the opportunity to do the same.
Educating students about technology means showing them how to use it effectively, not shielding them from it at all costs.
Sure, students are on their phones …a lot, but then again, many of you are reading this post from a similar rectangle of plastic and glass. I know this. Your phone told me.
*For any younger readers, a typewriter is a machine that allowed users to print words, letter by letter, by pounding on keys and hoping not to make a mistake. Don’t even get me started on whiteout.