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Finding Common Ground

A former K-5 public school principal turned author, presenter, and leadership coach, DeWitt provides insights and advice for education leaders. He can be found at www.petermdewitt.com. Read more from this blog.

Education Opinion

Engaging In Global Conversations Through Social Media

By Peter DeWitt — November 25, 2012 4 min read
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Twitter is not just about sharing blogs or articles it is about engaging in conversations.

• Do you watch House Hunters International and wish you could instantly go to the destination on your television?
• Perhaps you’re more of a period piece type of viewer who likes to watch Downton Abbey?
• Do you watch B.B.C. News just to get a different perspective on the world?

We no longer want to just read about other places, we want to experience them. Our world has changed. It’s more fluid. What used to seem like distant possibilities long ago are actually within our very grasp. Decades ago a phone call from the East Coast to the West Coast took planning because we needed to know the person on the other end of the telephone was going to be home. Now we can see that they are on-line or we send them a text and talk back and forth that way.

Social media has allowed educators to delve into global conversations as well. Why is this important? It opens up our worlds and helps us, as well as our students, understand what is happening in other countries and helps us connect to our greater world. It also allows us to make connections to educators in other parts of the world that may be experiencing the same educational issues we are undergoing. It allows us to work together so we can collectively change education for the better.

On any given day educators can have conversations with colleagues who live half way around the world or with someone who lives in the next town. Those educators can help us find better methods of instruction or help us negotiate our way through a problem we may be having. This past Saturday on #satchat, which brings together teachers and administrators from all around the world, we delved into a conversation about helping new leaders negotiate their way through their first year. Our collective wisdom provided good advice so those in their first year don’t make the same mistakes some of us made in our first year.

Grandpa...Tell Me About The Good Ole’ Days
We have gone from playing our CD players, which was the coolest thing ever, to getting our own music on our iPods. If we want different versions of the same genre we go to Pandora. It has been amazing to see this happen because many of us know what it was like to click through an 8 track or listen to the radio hoping for our favorite song...or at least a good one.

Most of our students haven’t experienced life this way. These choices have always been a part of their lives, which is both good and bad. They don’t know a time without the internet. They didn’t have to “sign-in” and wait for the buzzing...I’m connecting to the internet sound to stop so they knew they were on-line! They didn’t have to wait for a voice to say “You’ve Got Mail.”

For the naysayers out there, I’m not saying students shouldn’t relax and read a real book or that teachers should use technology just to use it. Students should disconnect from time to time and go outside. What I am saying is that we, as adults, do not always have to resist the changes either. We should try to be a part of their world like they are a part of our world when they walk into our schools. As much as the internet has a dark side (i.e. what we say on-line, bullying, etc.), the benefits outweigh those negatives.

Embracing Social Media
Embracing social media helps us experience a whole new world of possibilities. We no longer just have to show pictures to students of Australia in a book. We can connect with teachers and students in Australia who can help us better understand their country. We can Skype with Aussie’s and listen to their awesome accents.

I’m not going to lie and say that everything you read on Twitter or Facebook is worth your time. But is everything you read in newspapers or watch on television worth your time either? Twitter is not just about sharing blogs or articles it is about engaging in conversations, which is why all of the #chats are so important.

Social media has played a vital role in the lives of those who live abroad. Technology has become a way to connect authentically. I have seen it within my own family. My nephew-in-law is from Kenya, brother-in-law is from Beirut and my brother lives in Bahrain. Skyping and Facebook are not extras that they like to do from time to time. These social media outlets help them stay connected with family and friends because they are away from one another for many months or years.

It All Sounds The Same
One of the other benefits to social media, and one that we can teach our students, is the idea that we seem to keep getting exposed to the same type of news stories if we watch the usual media outlets. I’m not saying that news isn’t important but it is one-sided. Even our Facebook pages expose us to what we like. However, if we belong to diverse groups we can expand our view on important topics.

According to Eli Pariser (Beware of Online Filter Bubbles) there are algorithms that filter our choices based on previous choices we have made. This means that our Google searches are not as diverse as we would like them to be if we haven’t stepped out of our comfort zones. In order to prevent that from happening we must connect with people who think differently than we do, and pay attention to their comments and the blogs/articles they post.

We can all learn a great deal from this and expose our students to the issue as well. Social media can help us see the world from a more global view, and as long as we are practicing our own media literacy, it may help us change our realities for the better.

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The opinions expressed in Peter DeWitt’s Finding Common Ground are strictly those of the author(s) and do not reflect the opinions or endorsement of Editorial Projects in Education, or any of its publications.