Instagram, adolescent girls, and the importance of evidence

Instagram, adolescent girls, and the importance of evidence

I’ve written on this blog before about irresponsible fearmongering when it comes to technology. It’s one thing to judiciously weigh the pros and cons when it comes to technology and our children. It’s a whole ‘nother to just throw claims out there that lack evidence.

In today’s New York Times article, Does Instagram harm girls? No one actually knows., Dr. Laurence Steinberg, Professor of Psychology at Temple University, said:

… there is a growing scientific literature on the links between social media use and adolescent mental health. But as yet it is not possible to draw any firm conclusions from it, in part because very few studies have the characteristics listed above. Of the better studies that have found a negative correlation between social media use and adolescent mental health, most have found extremely small effects – so small as to be trivial and dwarfed by other contributors to adolescent mental health [emphasis added].

 

Complicating matters further is that in the Facebook surveys, twice as many respondents reported that Instagram alleviated suicidal thinking than said it worsened it; three times as many said it made them feel less anxious than said it made them feel more so; and nearly five times as many reported that Instagram made them less sad than that it made them sadder.

 

We should be just as skeptical about correlational research that links social media use to reports of positive well-being as we are about research that reaches the opposite conclusion. But given the widespread eagerness to condemn social media it’s important to remember that it may benefit more adolescents than it hurts.

Facts matter. Truth matters. It may be that Instagram actually is more harmful to teenage girls than helpful. But until we have better evidence, let’s be careful before we make wide-ranging claims about youth and technology, okay?

Unthoughtful consumption

We spent the last 200+ years (at least) pushing consumption models of learning on most of our students. We asked them to be passive recipients of whatever information came from the teacher or textbook. We gave them few opportunities to question the reliability or validity of the information that we spoon-fed them. We trusted that someone else did the filtering for us and them beforehand. And in many cases, we actually punished kids who dared to ask questions or present alternative viewpoints.

So we shouldn’t be surprised that we now have an information / media literacy problem with our adults. We shouldn’t be surprised that most of our citizens have trouble determining the validity and reliability of digital and online information sources. We shouldn’t be surprised that we are easy prey for those who spread misinformation, deception, and outright lies.

It’s going to get even worse as new tools for creating and spreading falsehoods proliferate. We should be more alarmed that we’re not doing more about this issue in our elementary and secondary classrooms. But we don’t seem to be. Not yet, not in most school systems. A few token ‘digital citizenship’ lessons from a teacher or librarian and we seem to think we’ve addressed this concern. A few conversations that in no way prepare students for this:

Our new information landscape

When will we take seriously the challenge of preparing our graduates for our new information landscape? And what are we going to do about all of our graduates?

How school leaders can combat ‘filter bubbles’ and ‘fake news’

Fake news

Information literacy has been a hot topic of recent conversation. Many folks believe that web sites that traffic in false information and ‘fake news’ may have influenced the last United States presidential election. Traffic on the Snopes web site, which debunks false rumors, has never been greater. Ideological separation also is being driven by the ways that we sort ourselves in our schools, neighborhoods, friendship groups, political affiliations, and faith institutions. Already often isolated from the dissimilar-minded, we then also self-select into individualized news media and online channels that can result in walled-garden ‘echo chambers’ or ‘filter bubbles.

To combat our growing concerns about fake news and filter bubbles, we’re going to have to take the task of information literacy more seriously. And that means rethinking some organizational and technological practices. As I noted in a previous blog post, our information landscape is changing both rapidly and drastically. Today we have a digital, online, hyperconnected, interactive, global information landscape that often is free or low-cost, fosters decentralized creation and participation and sharing, is frequently real-time, and has exponential reach. This landscape stands in sharp contrast to our older analog landscape that relied on ink on paper rather than bits in the ether, was expensive and thus primarily oriented around experts, fostered consumption and scarcity, and was fairly static and slow to change. As learning institutions bestowed with the societal charge of preparing informed citizens and knowledge workers, schools must help their students and graduates master the dominant information landscape of today and tomorrow, not just yesterday. And right now most schools are struggling…

School leaders can do several things to foster information literacy, combat fake news, and increase students’ information and technology fluency. One critical leadership behavior is helping educators understand that information literacy is everyone’s job, not just that of the librarian or media specialist. Being an informed citizen, being a critical thinker, being able to deeply and thoughtfully analyze complex texts – these have all been traditional student roles in schools but they are taking new forms in our emerging information spaces. Given the complexity of our new information landscape, we no longer can trot students down to the media center a few times a year to learn from the librarian about trusted voices, credible sources, and appropriate citation. All educators now must integrate information literacy in authentic and meaningful ways into ongoing digital and online work with students. Using our disciplinary expertise and experience, we thus can appropriately contextualize critical discernment. In other words, we must help our students dissect and understand subject-specific media such as false videos about the environment or websites dedicated to political untruths or viral myths about health care while they have us available as content area experts to help guide them.

School leaders also must recognize that in order for students to be actively engaged in – and critical consumers of – digital and online information channels, they must have access to technologies and online environments that often are heavily filtered or completely blocked. We can’t help our graduates be citizens and critical thinkers within spaces to which they don’t have access. This is particularly true if we want students to be actively involved within political, scientific, and other digital spaces rather than passive recipients. For instance, teaching online information literacy by pre-selecting a small handful of resources for students to analyze is vastly different from teaching students to navigate and make sense of our vast, complex online information commons.

School leaders also must create safe spaces for teaching and learning about controversial topics. Imagine, for instance, a high school government teacher who asked her students to follow the primary social media channels of the two primary political parties here in the United States. On the Republican side, students could follow GOP websites, Twitter feeds, and YouTube videos and subscribe to conservative blogs such as RedState, HotAir, Instapundit, and Michelle Malkin. On the Democratic side, students also could follow relevant websites, Twitter feeds, and YouTube channels, along with liberal blogs such as Daily Kos, The Huffington Post, Democratic Underground, and ThinkProgress. Sprinkle in a few other sites such as The Hill, Politico, FiveThirtyEight, Fox News, and CNN and we can see how real-time social media could be an incredibly powerful lens through which to view, discuss, and understand government in action, not just as abstract concepts from a dry textbook. I’m not sure how many teachers would be willing to try this, however, given schools’ traditional aversion to anything controversial. Principals and school systems must be willing to buffer a few anxieties in order to enable these kinds of meaningful learning experiences.

Schools also have to stop treating students as ‘digital natives’ who already are knowledgeable about and proficient with technology. Youth fluency with social and gaming technologies may imply certain levels of technology comfort but does not mean that students have the ability to use digital tools in academic- and work-productive ways. Not only is the ‘digital natives’ concept disproven by research, it also seems to grant us permission as educators to avoid the difficult challenge of fostering technology- and information-fluent students because we supposedly have little to teach them. Schools’ reluctance to own this challenge – perhaps because of our educators’ own lack of technology fluency – results in findings like the recent study from Stanford University that showed that students’ current information literacy skills are abysmal.

Finally, school leaders should recognize that those teachers who enable youth to actively interact and create online also are creating opportunities for students to learn essential lessons about responsible participation, sharing, contribution, etiquette, and digital citizenship as natural extensions of their classwork. This approach is far more meaningful and impactful than a few isolated media literacy sessions or digital citizenship lectures. We say that we want engaged citizens and critical thinkers. So let’s do a better job of preparing our students to be thoughtful consumers and active contributors within our new technology-suffused information spaces.

What is your school doing to help students with fake news and filter bubbles?

[cross-posted at Front and Central]

Image credit: Fake news figure, Stuart Rankin

Technology questions to ask students during advisory period

Question mark cookies

Here are some questions that you could discuss with students during a 20- to 25-minute advisory period. These might be particularly apt for middle and high schoolers. If each advisory took notes and then you compiled the responses at the school level, I bet that you would learn some interesting things about the youth that you serve and spark some useful conversations with your teachers and administrators.

  1. What are some interesting or surprising ways in which you use technology at home to connect, share, and/or learn? (examples might include making videos on x topic, participating in a learner community around y topic, posting stop motion films, hacking their Minecraft server code, setting up and selling items in their own online shop, sharing their original artwork or music or writing or photography, participating in community or charity or political work, highlighting their athletic or crafting skills, gaining skills in a new area of interest, or…)
  2. How is your technology use at home different than your technology use at school? Which seems more empowering to you and why?
  3. How is your technology use different than that of the adults around you?
  4. How can we close whatever gaps exist between home uses of technology and school uses of technology?

What would you add? Let me know if you do this!

Day 3 and 4: The End.

As Worlds came to end, I realized something: experience is everything. In your life you will feel an endless amount of emotion and all of it will have been caused by the experience. We ended up only winning two matches and loosing the rest. The floor mats were squishy because they were new and so the wheels on our robot would sink into the ground. There was a team (The Pandas) and a group that was there (a sponsor) who let us borrow their wheels so that we could drive a little bit better. The rest was just being paired against teams who were better than us, and that’s completely okay. Robotics and the FIRST program isn’t about winning. Yes, it is nice to get an award for being the best but there is so much more to it.

Aside from the arena, there is also the pit area. Think of it like NASCAR for a minute and you will understand. In between matches, if something really bad happens to the robot (Linda,) she will come to the pit to get fixed…and quickly. The pit area is also a place for judges to come talk to us and a place for us to present ourselves to the general public/other teams. We decorate our pit area pretty heavily like many other teams there. It attracts many little kids and a lot of adults too… our theme is pretty much “any-age-friendly.” Gillian and I decided to mix things up this time and we would dance and sing for teams along with statue standing. We had stamps, buttons, key chains, stickers and pamphlets to give out. The team was interviewed twice while down there. Once by the people of FIRST and another time by Student News Net! The FTC played our interview on the live stream and Student News Net will publish our story tomorrow (Monday!)

At closing cerimonies Dean Kamen, Woodie Flowers, and many others gave speeches, handed out awards and introduced new technology to us. They gave a senior recognition and a small speech to all of us…we got to stand up. In a stadium of thousands it was intimidating. It was exciting and made everyone jittery for the next couple of years. It got me pumped up for the next couple of years. After that, we had the “after party.” We got to hear Christina Grimmie perorm along with BoysLikeGirls a pop punk band. We didn’t end up getting back to the hotel until around 11 PM-ish and I got home about 5 minutes about (6:00 PM.) It’s really nice to be back in Iowa around familiar things…like my bed. It has been a long but extremely successful week for the Sock Monkeys. We hope to do this all over again next year-even though I nor Logan, Caleb, and Giovanni will be there.

A HUGE thank you to Scott McLeod for letting me share the experiences of FIRST again and a HUGE thank you to my community/school for helping us get to where we are now!P1080582 P1080590 P1080581 P1080582 P1080583 P1080584 P1080585 P1080586 P1080587 P1080588 P1080590 P1080589 P1080592fP1080603P1080613P1080616Screen Shot 2015-04-22 at 9.08.28 PM P1080626 P1080627 P1080628 P1080629 P1080630

Worlds Day 1 Part 2: Sock Monkeys

As the day continued, they started matches. If you were watching on the live stream, you would have seen us in action! If not: You will see photos at the bottom and I will start to explain. The pit area is set up and ready to go! We will take some video tomorrow of what will be happening and why. It will you guys a more “behinds the scene” look of how much work it actually takes!P1080588(in the photo to the left, we are talking to Dark Matter…one the three teams from our Iowa Trio at the North Super Regionals. The three teams together were Finalist Alliance Award)

Our Qualification Matches are: 9, 25, 47, 57, 78, 91, 101, 122, and 132. Tune in tomorrow to the live stream. ‪#‎Support‬ Lets do this!

We only got to play the first two with the time allotted and we are currently in 8th place! We are 2-0 and extremely excited for tomorrow. Tomorrow will consist of many more matches, scouting, and going to the big dome (we are currently at Union Station)! At the  Edwards Jones Dome we will have opening ceremonies, a college/scholarship row, and we will be able to see the FRC (First Robotics Competition) and the FLL (First Lego League)… We will also be able to see the companies who helped sponsor this event and get a lot of one on one information from them.

I don’t really have a lot of information except for good news. The robot is still working great as well as the team members. Just remember: Gracious Professionalism and Continuous Improvement!

Thank you so much to the community/business’s who helped get us here! You guys mean SO much to us! #MonkeySwag #WorldChampionship #International #SUPERCOOLP1080583P1080584P1080586P1080587P1080589