The world of social communications, more and more, has become a “living environment” for many; a web where people communicate with each other, expanding the boundaries of their knowledge and relationships (Esteves, 2013, para. 5).
You may be surprised to hear who is responsible for the words quoted above. Before I reveal this to you, I would like to take a closer look at the social networks that are so embedded in our everyday lives that they now form part of the social and cultural fabric of learning, play and social communication (Ito, 2009).
The prominence of mobile devices and the accessibility of wireless hotspots has inevitably led to an environment that
supports, no… encourages; no… actually DEMANDS extensive use of social networking sites. I suspect I’m not the only one who has had the awkward experience of being with a friend who is desperately trying to get Wifi so they could check-in on Facebook or post a selfie on Instagram. Hell hath no fury like a woman whose photo remains “unliked” or “uncommented” on, on Facebook. It always reminds me of that saying “If a tree falls in the forest and no one is around to hear it, does it make a sound?” I think the contemporary version of this philosophical thought experiment is: “If I stand in front of the Eiffel tower and no-one sees it on Instagram, was I really there?”
However, I digress and am sounding a tad cynical about social networking. In reality I can see its potential, especially as a teacher who knows that 89% of Australian teens own a mobile phone; 73% of them use social networking sites; and 72% go online more than once a day (ACMA, 2014; Lenhart et al., 2010). Whether we like it or not, online activity and social networking are central and indispensable elements in the lives of teenagers. This is particularly pertinent in a school like mine where the “latest phones” take centre stage in the lives of our students. It’s a humbling moment when you realise a twelve year old has better “stuff” than you; …an employed adult.
But what’s that old adage? “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em”. Although, not eloquently expressed, it speaks an eloquent truth. In order to understand and capitalise on students’ frequent use of media, teachers must know how their “clickerati kids” are engaging with media in this digitally driven society (Kervin, Jones & Mantei, 2012). As both veracious consumers and producers of creative information, our society is one based on the “aesthetics of attraction” (Rizzo, 2008, p.7). We all interact with intense distribution, viewing and response systems such as Instagram and YouTube, and most of us do so on a daily basis.
I feel that as teachers we have an obligation to embrace and immerse ourselves in social media culture because it will: enhance our ability to connect with students; help us gain an insight into youth socialisation issues and how they form their identities; and assist us in designing effective pastoral care programs that address the often unspoken thoughts, concerns and issues of youths. Most importantly, it will help us to equip our students with the skills and strategies required to combat such issues.
For all the naysayers out there, I have a confronting fact for you. The quote above, which initiated this discussion … are the words of none other than Pope Francis – Leader of the Catholic Church.
Now, when the leader of the Vatican, an institution incredibly well-reputed for its averseness to change, declares social media is a ‘living environment’ and pronounces that it is “crucial” for Catholic leaders to know how to dialogue with others, in technology based environments and social networks; it is most definitely time for teaching professionals to reassess their view of social media and the value they place upon it (Esteves, 2013; Xt3, 2015).
Australian Communications and Media Authority – ACMA. (2014). Aussie teens online. Retrieved from http://www.acma.gov.au/theACMA/engage-blogs/engage-blogs/Research-snapshots/Aussie-teens-online
Esteves, J. (2013, September 23). Bringing Christ to the Digital Continent. Zenit. Retrieved from http://www.zenit.org/en/articles/bringing-christ-to-the-digital-continent
Ito, M. (2009). Engineering Play: A Cultural History of Children’s Software. Cambridge, MA, USA: MIT Press. Retrieved from http://www.ebrary.com
Kervin, L., Jones, S., Mantei, J. (2012). Online advertising: Examining the content and messages within websites targeted at children. E-Learning and Digital Media. 9(1), 69-82
Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickhur, K. – Pew Research Centre. (2010). Social media and young adults. Retrieved from http://pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults/Summary-of-Findings.aspx?r=1
Rizzo, T. (2008). YouTube: The new cinema of attractions. Scan Journal (5)1. Retrieved from http://scan.net.au/scan/journal/print.php?journal_id=109&j_id=13
Xt3. (2015). Pope Francis: Use Social Media to Promote the Gospel. Retrieved from http://www.xt3.com/library/view.php?id=14742