Week of Conferences: Part 1

So this past week, Shara and I have been to a few conferences. When I say Shara and I, I really mean that Shara went to the biggie conference (NAJDS) and I went to a smaller scale one (Common Sense Media’s “Gender & Digital Life” conference).

So, this will be a two-part post.

The Common Sense Media Conference
We’ve been fans of the San Francisco based Common Sense Media for awhile now.  We use their Test Before You Trust worksheet with the students when we talk about bias and researching information on the Internet (more on this later) and have found it to be very useful in the classroom.

That’s why I was excited to attend this workshop.

While the backbone of it was a kind of explanation and validation of mainstream sociological and psychological theories (gender as a social construct, etc.,), it did raise a few questions for me: Are gender stereotypes online exacerbated by the Internet or are they a reflection of the students’ reality?
What are some ways that we can make students aware of gender disparity and shift their behavior? Are some of the ways that our students self-objectify on social media harmful for their developing psyche? How can we engage parents in a meaningful conversation about how students can use social media in a responsible way?

And most importantly: How do I apply my new knowledge to my classroom/school?
Common Sense Media has a curriculum for this, but I wonder if it is possible to integrate some of their ideas into what we are doing already.

My Big Question:
The big idea that I kept thinking about when I left the conference was not necessarily about gender and social media, but social media itself.

When I went to the conference I had just come from teaching a class where the students make pretend Facebook pages (using Edmodo) for four founders of the United States: Jefferson, Hamilton, Madison, and Adams. Students then collaborated in teams trying to figure out what to post from the perspective of Thomas Jefferson/Alexander Hamilton/James Madison/John Adams about important issues at that time (the Great Compromise, the Three-Fifths Compromise, the National Bank, the Federalist Papers, etc.).
And then they commented on each other’s posts:



My question: we kind of encourage the students to argue with each other–respectfully–on these topics (as the characters, of course) in order to help them to clarify their person’s perspective. This activity could end up mirroring the negative aspects of social media. In the picture, Thomas Jefferson is calling Hamilton “pig filth.” While this may reflect the tone of the discourse of the time, it is certainly not representative of how we want students to talk to each other in real life or on social media. After, we stopped for a moment and talked about the line between argument and attack.

Is it ethical to do this activity? Even though the students are more engaged than they usually are when discussing content?

I was thinking that maybe we could use a student analysis of this process to bring up some of the issues that social media brings up in terms of relationships and how the students speak to each other. This could be a jumping-off point for discussing digital citizenship. 

Does anyone have thoughts or suggestions?