This week during our EC&I 832 Zoom session, we had an excellent presentation and conversation with Mary Beth Hertz, author of “Digital and Media Literacy in the Age of the Internet” and current high school art/technology teacher.
We shouldn’t be teaching kids to be afraid of social media, or that technology is bad for them. We should treat these tools like any influence in their life and help them manage the responsibilities connected to these tools effectively and ethically. – Mary Beth Hertz
There were many takeaways from our conversation, but for the purpose of this post I will focus on my top three:
- Learning how the Internet works
- Validating what our children/students are doing online
- Understanding bias
1. Learning how the Internet works
Hertz explained that part of her high school technology course begins with teaching and learning about how the Internet works – from IP addresses, Wi-Fi, and cookies. This discussion made me realize I vaguely know what is going on, but not enough to explain it to my students. Hertz believes it is important for students to understand how their devices connect to the outside world, as well as privacy and safety with the devices. For example, what are the concerns with using the free Wi-Fi in a coffee shop vs your password protected Wi-Fi in your home? What are the safety concerns with being connected to an Alexa or Google Home? Hertz explains that part of being literate in a digital world is understanding the implications of technology, even if you don’t understand the functionality.
Takeaway? We (as educators) need a basic understanding of the Internet to guide our students in a digital world!
2. Validating what are children/students are doing online
In a discussion of some popular apps like Snapchat and TikTok, we highlighted the obsessions or unhealthy communities young people find online. Hertz focused on the idea that kids are not necessarily addicted to social media, but instead addicted to each other. We also talked about Manoush Zomoradi, who dedicates an entire episode of her podcast, ‘Note to Self’ about the pressures of maintaining Snapstreaks. I encourage you to listen to the relatively short episode to understand the phenomenon (especially if you are obsessed with streaks, like myself! Going on Day 1038 with my niece…)
That being said, Hertz believes it is possible to teach young people self-regulation and reflection when it comes to technology use. Another comment she made was that preparing our students to use their time wisely used to be a technology teacher’s job – but now everyone needs to be involved. How to use technology responsibly (and further discussions of digital citizenship) need to be included every time we use technology in the classroom or with our children. Hertz explains that we should understand that there is value in what they are doing online, and we can validate this by acknowledging the digital divide among our students. Amanda and Daina provide excellent descriptions of Digital Equity and that young people fall into three categories when it comes to technology use. They are described in an article shared by Hertz as Digital Orphans, Digital Exiles and Digital Heirs.
Takeaway? We need to build relationships with our students so we can understand and appreciate what they are doing online.
3. Understanding bias
Hertz described bias in a way that was very easy to understand and I immediately started using it with my students this week. If you are reading something (like “news”), and it makes you feel a certain way (an emotion), then you likely have bias as the author is trying to influence how you feel. She also explained that bias is very difficult to teach because nothing is just news anymore and articles often lack context. There is so much media bias and fake news online, how do we teach it as educators? One suggestion from Hertz was to use AllSides.com, a website dedicated to providing balanced news. We also need to look at where these biases originate, like from parents as inherited preferences (especially related to politics) or in our own cognitive biases that influence decisions. This discussion lead towards the importance of fact checking and how ‘Reading Laterally’ helps our students fall out of the trap of not trusting anything. We need to be a little be skeptical when we read online, but we can help our students by giving them the tools to understand how to avoid being fooled online and how to make sense of bias.
Takeaway? We need to help our students understand bias and how it influences what we read online.
As an arts education teacher, I have started talking about digital citizenship and how we use technology with students, even if it feels unrelated to arts ed. Mary Beth Hertz helped me realize that if you are using technology with students, these conversations about technology need to take place. It is not only the classroom teacher or the parents’ job – we all have a part in shaping mindful technology users and responsible digital citizens.
Until next time,