Ghosts of Virtual Identities Past, Present, and Future

Past Digital Identity

I am in the fortunate position to be one of the younger people who was still old enough to not have Facebook in my teens.  As a result, my past digital identity is fairly mild.  By the time I got a Facebook account, I was already into my second year of a Bachelor of Social Work Degree.  I think this very much impacted my past identity.  I was passionate about social justice and already cautious and aware of how my online presence could affect career opportunities which were a very really idea only a few years away.  Today’s teens aren’t so lucky.  They see what their friends are posting and often post comments and meme’s to get the most “likes”.  Often these are not even a representation of their views, just something they see as pop culture and they just hit the share button.  I think the debate of “should young people have an opportunity to edit their digital identities once they reach a certain age” will become increasingly relevant.  

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Present Digital Identity

I feel that my present digital identity has been very influenced by the past decade I’ve spent taking university classes.  The constant fear of online postings somehow coming back to haunt you as a teach is something I’ve had drilled into me countless times.  As a result, my present digital identity feels like a ghost of myself.  I have thinks out there but it is such a small piece of who I truly am that I put forth online.  I remember attending quite a few bachelorette parties as a young teacher and being super adamant that all the pictures people were taking couldn’t even end up online.  (Which is a decision I don’t regret).

Presently, when I google myself, I see someone who is involved in a variety of professional platforms and someone who is in karate and soccer.  This is an identity I don’t mind sharing with the world and one that I feel presents quite well as a professional.  


Future Digital Identity and Children’s Digital Identity

What does my future digital identity hold?  Reflecting on my digital identities I’ve come to appreciate that for better or for worse, my digital identity was influenced by my decisions and my decisions alone.  In the future, I think I need to be most present in how what I’m posting as part of my digital identity will affect the young people around me.  Friends of mine have made various decisions in regards to their children’s’ digital identities; some well informed and others seemingly less so.  I’ve witnessed the full range (as I’m sure others have too) from the compulsive over-sharer to the friends who you would be unaware they even have children if you didn’t know them in real life.  I hope going forward to be somewhere in the middle.  Being a new auntie is a super important part of my identity and something that I want to share with the digital world.  When I have my own children I’m sure I’ll feel the same way.  It opened up a whole range of questions around where your identity starts and ends and where the younger generations begins.  

I think unconsciously with very young children we post about them as if they were extensions of ourselves as they are unable to give consent.  I think there has to be a conscious thought of “would they like their 13 year old classmates to be able to google them and find those pictures?”  I know that I plan to be very selective when posting pictures of the younger generation of my family but I would still like to post and include pictures with them being involved.

In the future, I would like to be more involved in my student’s digital identities.  Until this class, I have seen my student’s and my digital identities and two entirely separate entities.  I do my thing online and they do their things.  As long as it doesn’t’ affect school I haven’t looked into it that much.  Now I’m seeing that as a gap in my practice and so many missed conversations with students.  Even though participating in this final project and opening up conversations with students about Snapchat and Instagram I have been brought into a world I knew very little about.  I still would like to have separate professional and personal digital identities online as it’s nice to have some boundaries between work and home, but I feel I can do more to interact with my students online and help influence them in creating more positive digital identities moving forward.

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Technology: a way to tune out or tune in?

How is my digital identity changing and evolving through the exploration of my major project?  Through my personal apps, one of the biggest changes I’m finding in myself is the amount of time I’m spending accessing Social Media and the different levels of connection I’m feeling.  Using a twitter account and specifically seeking out content that relates to digital learning has made it so that in my downtime, instead of scrolling through Facebook, I am more likely to be clicking on a related news story or article that someone in our class has shared.  I’m also finding that I’m posting more to social media than I was before.  For a long time I was in the habit of simply lurking online not really feeling like I had much to say.  I’m trying to put myself out there more now in terms of Instagram photos, Snapchat, and Facebook but it’s still hard.

On the website Digital Citizenship, Mike Ribble discusses nine elements of digital citizenship: digital access, digital commerce, digital communication, digital literacy, digital etiquette, digital law, digital rights and responsibilities, digital health and wellness, and digital security.  In terms of which of the nine elements my personal social media journey is teaching me, digital communication and digital literacy stand out as key.  I’m really starting to shift my focus away from technology being a way to turn out towards it being a way to tune in.  Every morning, our staff who arrives early all gather in the staff room to read the paper together and talk about what’s going on in the world.  The other day, instead of reading the paper, I was on my phone and one of my colleagues made a  comment about how I was “so technologically addicted” just like the kids.  Instead of reading comics in the paper, I was reading our classroom twitter feed and learning more about digital learning and the different challenges we face as educators.

The article What Kind of Citizen? – Joel Westheimer talks about the three types of citizens education produces: personally responsible citizens, participatory citizens, and justice-orientated citizens.   I feel that throughout my undergraduate degrees, the idea of limiting our online presence and the idea that everything we post will be used against us was constantly talked about.  As a result, I’ve fallen into posting very little controversial content online.  My graduate studies, particularly this class, is causing me to re-evaluate this.  At this point, I am barely a personally responsible citizen I am more of a ghost.  I’ve been working hard to push myself into becoming a participatory citizen with the hopes of moving into justice-orientated as my comfort level increases.

One of the apps I’ve been exploring with professionally is Google Hangouts.  I created a class google hangout group as well as established links with my students’ google accounts.  My hope for this is to combat times when we need to communicate and either they or I are not there.  I’ve used it a few times already to reach out to students when I know they are going through a hard time and they aren’t at school.  So far the results have been overwhelmingly positive.  Creating a classroom hangout was one of the stepping stones I’ve used to begin speaking to my students about digital citizenship. I’ve found that even informal conversations have prompted good results as the idea of being a positive digital citizen is not one that students really want to argue with, they would like to aspire to even if they sometimes don’t know how.

In The Secret Social Media Life of Teenagers, Ana Homayoun talks about how teens can get “caught in a “all-about-the-likes” loop and I’ve definitely felt this play out in my classroom from time to time.  Though Homayoun speaks to teens fear of getting caught, she also talks about how many secretive features are being placed on different social media accounts which makes it harder for parents and teachers to monitor.  These sorts of ideas are one of the reasons it is so important to model and teach our students how to be good digital citizens and ultimately hold them accountable for their own actions.

The three areas of the nine elements that I’ve been addressing through the use of google hangouts are digital access, digital communication, and digital etiquette.  In my classroom, every student has their own desktop computer so establishing a google hangout community was relatively simple and easy to ensure that everyone has equal access within the classroom.  One of the reasons I love this idea is because it is a way of communicating that builds upon the google tools we have already been using in class so it integrates fairly well.  Another thing I love is it begins to deal with digital access and digital communication.  All of my students have some sort of handheld device (usually a phone) but they often don’t have minutes to call the school if they are absent or need a ride (our school offers pickups to students when we can as they live spread out all across the city).  This way they can communicate with me anytime they have access to wireless internet.  And as teenagers, are they ever good at scoping out places with free Wi-Fi.

cogsLastly, the other app I’m exploring professionally is the use of Google Classroom with my classmate (and sister) Jocelyn Carr.  I currently have a google site, having progressed in the past through a classroom wiki site.  I feel like my google site is ok but in my desire to push for increased technological literacy I really wanted to learn about and explore this platform that it seems everyone is talking about and using in mainstream schools.  Another appeal for me is something that we talked about in class about copyright and how modeling proper digital etiquette, even if we don’t expressly talk about it, models its importance for our student.  On my current site, I pulled pictures and content from wherever, not really giving it much thought because it is a closed site.  I’m regretting that choice now as I never really stopped to think about what not citing my materials shows my students when it comes time to do their own work.  This is something I’m starting from fresh on the Google Classroom platform and slowly working to update on my Google Site as well.

What Does Education of the Future Look Like?

The Future of Education and the Internet
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What does the education of the future look like and how can we, as teachers, best prepare our students for it?  What does digital citizenship look like in our classrooms and what are our roles?  Emphasis has shifted in education away from memorization towards the ability to acquire knowledge but is it enough?  How do we create and deliver the education of the future when we are so stuck in the institutions of the past?

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One of the more difficult problems we are running into and I think will continue to run into is that we were all schooled in past systems.  Most people struggle leaving their comfort zones and this is very evident in the current state of education.  There are some teachers, sure who seem to be excelling in their field.  But for every teacher who is doing a phenomenal job moving forward, there seems to be two holding tight to past systems and refusing to implement change.

Even our buildings reflect the need for change.  In the past few years, many new school have been built to try to accommodate this different style of learning and they are met with various degrees of success.  However, they do not meet their fullest potential when teachers themselves are unwilling to push forward.

This is not a slight on any teachers in particular but rather on us as a whole as we are all certainly guilty of remaining in our comfort zones for too long instead of pushing for the next great thing.  It can be frustrating for some to try to teach with new technologies when it feels like the students have so much of a better understanding than the teachers.  As we move towards the future, this idea of teacher as knowledge keeper is one that has to be put aside to allow for greater learning to occur.  I like to think of myself more as someone who is there to help and guide students in their learning rather than the person who has all of the answers.  As technologies progress, I think this will be our role more than anything else.  Students will be more accountable for their own learning and will seek out teachers to help them develop the tools as they see fit.

Hopefully in order for this to be accomplished schools themselves will undergo a major restructuring.  No longer will we sort and teach children according solely to their ages but instead create flexibly groupings based on their passions.  As their passions change and evolve, have the groups able to change and evolve as well. Imagine as teachers being sorted according to our same age peers?  We would have to teach the same grades as them, facilitate the same extracurricular, and be expected to have the same strengths and weaknesses.  It seems insane as we can all picture colleagues we have who are much older or younger than us with whom our passions are much closer aligned. I believe that students would be better served if we were to shift away from same-age groupings with them as well.

DIGITAL CITIZENSHIP: THE CRITICAL CALL TO EDUCATE AND PREPARE 21ST-CENTURY LEARNERS calls upon society to “run parallel to the way students learn in the 21st century”. It is our job to learn alongside students and ensure that we are up to date and teaching them the skills that they will need for an ever evolving world.  By the time our young students are working, there will be completely new technologies than what there are now.  However, that doesn’t diminish the need to learning the current technologies but instead increases the urgency for it.  All new technologies build off of some sort of old technological understanding.  It is in our student’s best interests as 21st century learners that we as teachers strive to have ever-changing lessons and do the best we can in becoming digitally aware and engaged citizens.



Connected But Alone?

On Friday my class and I watched the TED Talk “Connected but Alone” by Shirley Turkle.  We talked after about what they thought about the video.  Was she right?  Did she provide both sides of the argument or just one side?   And most importantly, do they agree with her statements about technology usage or disagree.  Here’s what they had to say:

“I agree with most of it as I can’t talk to my parents without them staring at a screen and say “I’m listening, I need to do this!” All they are doing is watching YouTube, Facebooking, or playing a game on their phones.  I like to go to the counsellors office now to talk, I often feel lonely but I am not alone.  I think that technology is good for work and research but not for connection.”

“I disagree.  I feel that we need technology to live our everyday lives.  If people ever got rid of X-Box I would loose my mind.  We use it for school, we use it to have fun, and we use it to talk to people.”

“Yes, I agree with her on most points.  I believe that technology is an amazing privilege our world has, only up until we abuse it and don’t know how to communicate with each other.  Some are so connected with their phones or devices that they don’t know what’s going on in the real world enough to care.  Which I think is going to be a problem when something serious happens.”

kid connected

“I was on mat leave when all of this technology stuff happened…” (EC&I Final Project Proposal)

When my father-in-law was in charge of technology for a school division this is a comment he received one day from a woman overwhelmed by the sheer amount of new knowledge she was attempting to learn.  When he tells this story everyone laughs as we all know that “technology” didn’t just happen in the span of a few years.  However, as someone who has been out of the loop for a sustained amount of time, technology does have a way of moving on at quite a rapid pace.

When I began at Cornwall 6 years ago one of the skills that gave me an edge was my skills in technology.  I had a wiki site, I was using Mathletics for Math, all sorts of interesting tech ideas that no one at this school knew about.  I am one of four teachers in my school and we are an independent school which means we have no movement of staff in or out. This is great for creating a very close team environment but terrible for the passive input of new ideas.

What I’ve come to realize through this course (and indeed, before as it partly prompted my motivation for taking the course) is that my complacency in my position and not keeping up with new technology trends has put me much farther behind than I realized.  I often feel cut off from other educators which has been one of the best parts of participating in the masters programs.  But with the development of online PLNs as well as you know, the internet, my lack of knowledge falls squarely on my shoulders.

In deciding what I would like to tackle as part of my personal media journey, there is a huge part of me that wants to say everything!  I just want to become instantly adept at all of the latest trends.  However even I know this is an unrealistic goal.  What I am thinking would be a good place to start is by first of all increasing my posting on the social media sites I already use instead of usually lurking.  I am the person who will go to type or share something and then delete before posting because it makes me uncomfortable.  The other step I would like to take on my personal media journey is to create an Instagram account.  This is something both personally I feel I could learn from and one of the apps my students suggested I should learn.

Professionally I would like to begin using google classroom and the other google tools that can go with it.  I think that this would be a good place for me to begin as they seem to be well made and designed to integrate well together.  I have a google site currently but it is fairly minimal and outdated. My site is private and only shared with myself and my eight students.  Therefore I never really thought about providing proper credit for images, etc.  I have been thinking a lot about what Alec was saying about modeling digital citizenship for our students.  I plan for this to be a focus when I work in google classroom to create something that I can feel proud to share.

Lastly, I want to find a tool to utilize for communication with my students.  I want a platform that I can monitor as my students being teenagers who sometimes struggle with behaviour I am anxious around creating something that can run away from me.  My students don’t always have minutes on their phones or access to the internet but are fairly good at knowing all the good free wi-fi places.  Some have personal devices and some don’t so it would be best if it could be something that could also be access from a desktop computer (which they all have at their spots at school).  If anyone has any suggestions for a fantastic tool that would be awesome 🙂

Where Were You?

Our connections and our relationships with our students are so important.  Sometimes we are unaware of the impact we are making or how vital our continued presence is in their lives every day.

One of the mandates of my school is to try to improve students’ attendance.  This in itself comes with some ups and downs.  Last week was a crazy week in my classroom.  Monday and Tuesday progressed as normal, with some students attending but a few missing both days.  On Tuesday night, our city was covered with a blast of freezing rain.  This lead to our public transportation for students being cancelled on Wednesday due to safety concerns.  Now, many of our students rely on public transportation to get to and from school every day.  This resulted in no students coming to school on Wednesday in my class.

Thursday and Friday I was away from school and due to the absences I hadn’t had a chance to inform my students that I would be away.  Now, even though my students often miss, I haven’t missed a day all year.  Many of them showed up Thursday and Friday completely out of sorts that I wasn’t there.  Some of them hadn’t seen me for over a week.

This has prompted me to thinking about how a digital connection can help with some of that anxiety when I’m unable to be in the classroom.  I know that I have to miss two weeks of school in April.  Before that time I would like to experiment with some apps and new technology that will allow me to better communicate with my students digitally while I am away.

Children of the Corn-wall

Children of the Corn-wall was a joke that started  few years ago when I was fortunate enough to be on an outdoor ed trip with my grade 10 alternative education students.  We were in our 15 passenger van crawling down a grid road in Cypress Hills with the lights off and only the stars to light our way.  At first, the students were mesmerized by the wildlife and nature all around us but things soon took a turn.  “What if someone was all of a sudden standing right in front of the van?”  “Omg, I think I saw something!” followed by shrieks of laughter.  “It’s like from Children of the Corn”.  “Hey wait, that’s us, Children of the Corn-wall!”  It’s moments like this that stick with me and it’s this positive side of alternative education that I am choosing to focus on in this blog.