Tuesday, October 30, 2018

Solving the Problems of Social Media, Part 1

This week we began a new unit in the Digital Literacy class that I am teaching; I called the unit, "Social: the new media". I curated a playlist of videos on YouTube for creating flipped lessons and giving students opportunities to explore sub-topics of interest to them. I consulted the lessons and ideas published by the Stanford History Education Group (SHEG), Google's Applied Digital Skills, and the Sift from the News Literacy Project. Clearly I had lots of stuff I could ask the students to do, but I was owning it and that didn't feel right.

So I put everything to the side, cleared off my desk, and got blank paper and some sharpies. I started to think about problems with social media. Not because I want to make a case for my students that social media is rotting their brains and they need to do something healthier with their time. Frankly, that would be quite hypocritical of me! Instead, we are setting out to solve the problems. To the right is my lesson plan for the first two days.

Here is how it worked in practice.

First, I covered tables with paper, piled a bunch of sharpies and markers in the middle, and let each student claim a spot as s/he arrived. In the center of each table I had written this:

The lesson on the first day unfolded in four phases.

Phase 1: Defining
Round 1: write your definition of social media on the table where you are sitting.
Round 2: rotate clockwise, read what you find, and add to or amend it. Do not cross out or cover anything you find.

Phase 2: Pros
Round 3: rotate again, read what you find, make a list of the "pros" of social media. What are the benefits?
Round 4a: rotate, and, once again, read what you find and add to the list without covering or removing anything you find already there.

Phase 3: Cons
Round 4b: now start a list of "cons" when you think about social media. What are the drawbacks or detriments?
Round 5: rotate one last time, and now you are back where you started. Read what you find. Add anything you want. And then, circle the pro that matters most to you and the con that most bothers you.

Before moving to the next phase we discussed the process we had just used and how it mimics social media posting and commenting. We considered why I asked them to only respond to previous comments and be sure to not write over or cross any out. We also talked about how or whether they filtered what they wrote because it was on the table where I could see it and it felt "permanent" doing it with Sharpies. A little nod to digital citizenship.

Phase 4: How Might We
Round 6: Write your "how might we" question. How might we preserve (your pro) while fixing (your con)?

Here is what a table looked like at the end of the lesson:

And here are some of their How Might We questions:

  • HMW preserve a way to connect and share ideas while fixing a false sense of success?
  • HMW preserve the connection between others while fixing the distribution of hate?
  • HMW preserve the freedom of being able to share what we want and being able to connect with others while fixing the consumption of time it takes?
  • HMW preserve social media's ability to connect us with varied communities while fixing the way it encourages dangerous comparisons?
  • HMW preserve connecting with friends while fixing the spreading of hate and false information?
Day 2 was all about growing empathy with social media users other than ourselves. The students started this process by thinking about someone they know who has experienced the social media problem they are addressing. They listed all they know about that person: what they do, what they say about themselves and about social media, etc. Then, they wrote three open-ended questions they could ask that person to learn more about that person's experiences with social media. And then they conducted interviews. Some students called people on the phone and discussed their topic that way while taking notes on what their subject said. Others went to other parts of the school to find people. Others sent emails.

At the end of the class, they all came back to our classroom to review their interview notes. They highlighted anything that their subject(s) said that was interesting, enlightening or new information that they didn't already know about the person.

Later this week, they will refine their HMW questions to more accurately reflect the needs of the people they interviewed and we will begin the ideation process. Stay tuned to learn about the brainstorming techniques we use and the ideas that the students will begin to prototype.

Remember all of the resources that I collected in preparation for teaching this unit? They now will become relevant as the students begin to research possible solutions to the problem they are tackling and they will have a vested interest in reading, watching, and unpacking the resources I curated for them. This learning process, over which the students have agency, is much more meaningful and empowering than any teacher-directed instruction I could have created. I can't wait to see what they create!

Here is Part 2: Ideation

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