As a first-year education student, the young ones that I will be teaching in the future will never know a world without the internet and social media. They will have digital identities before they step foot in my classroom, and in some cases before they are even born. In some cases, I don’t think it would be a stretch to assume that some of our students will know more about technology, social media, and the internet in general than we will. So, how do we, as teachers, educate them on the importance of creating and maintaining a digital identity, when it is already intrinsically woven into their existence long before we are?
We have to think about where the line between what should be taught by a teacher and what should be taught by a parent lies. Growing up, my parents had neither the resources or know-how to teach myself and my siblings about digital identities. They had grown up in a time where no such thing existed and even when I was born in 1999, there wasn’t the same culture surrounding the online world. (For those of you who may have had the chance to explore the early internet days, I think it would have been hard to imagine a day where we could go from this to what we have now). Because of this lack of knowledge and resources, they were not equipped to teach myself, my siblings, and my peers about the permanence of the internet, and I don’t even think they knew the word digital identity. The education system recognized this lack of knowledge that students were receiving and took it upon themselves to try and teach it to us from an institutional level. Classes were dedicated to learning about sexting as part of the health curriculum; presentation skills taught in English classes; even the creation of classes dedicated to educating students on social media management. And, those are just examples I could see in my very small K-12 school. Now that students have younger parents who do have that knowledge and access to resources, how much time should be dedicated to the same type of education? At the same time, is it responsible of us to assume they will receive this crucial knowledge elsewhere?
The Consequences of Permanence
We are often told that what goes up on the internet stays there forever. For younger kids, this can be a hard concept to wrap their head around. With apps like Snapchat that boast disappearing messages, young people may become misinformed. Of course, as teachers, it should be our goal to make sure that our students are knowledgeable about this fact, and help them learn how to be safe. It is impossible to monitor their every move online, not to mention an over-stepping of boundaries, but it is more effective to teach them to be safe. As stated in Nathan Jurgenson’s article, “The IRL Fetish,” many kids today are still forced to sit through “abstinence-only smartphone education.” An approach that is proven not to be helpful in almost any circumstance.
Not only are interactions solidified on the world wide web for the rest of time, lack of education on the connectedness of the on- and the off-line world often lead to cyberbullying. Bullying is an issue among students in the physical sense, and now with new technology and social networking sites, it has been brought onto the web as well. Teachers should always be looking out for their students and protecting/educating them on bullying, policing the internet is not possible, however, so we must figure out a way to protect our students online as well as we do off. We must also recognize that our students may never learn better and continue their life as a bully. In both “The Price of Shame” and “One Tweet Can Ruin Your Life“, Ted Talks by Monica Lewinsky and Jon Ronson respectively, we are able to see cyberbullying among situations involving adults (something we often forget is that adults are not immune to bullying.) Do we really want our students to grow up to be adults that mindlessly participate in the culture of humiliation and “getting someone”?