Digital Communications

  1. Communications have changed dramatically across the past two decades. Social networking, Web 2.0, cell phones and texting have all changed the ways societies and students communicate. Students communicate as easily with others around the globe as next door. Schools have struggled with this new dynamic, and currently there is a breadth of policies and approaches to digital communications in schools and classrooms. Some see learning opportunities and embrace such communications changes; others cautiously do not permit the use of contemporary communications tools in the classroom or school.

    Educators must have conversations about the role of today’s communication tools in our educational settings and seek a meaningful balance in this domain. There are several necessary conversations including: the learning environment, pedagogical approaches, student safety, privacy, global responsibility, identity management and information security – all in the interest of preparing students as digital citizens

  2. Students are able to express themselves to their local classmates and to global audiences in ways never before envisioned. Not only are the potential audiences expanded, but the nature of possible creative expression is also expanded. Text, voice, audio, images and movie clips are all easily within the realm of student expression and creativity.

  3. Asynchronous communications enable the user to communicate or receive communications independent of time. Such communications become a digital record that is maintained and consequently persists across time. This persistence can serve learning as students record insights, share and collaborate. This same persistence can also cause harm to students.

  4. As these communications are typically world-wide, some policy considerations may be desired to distinguish between personal representation and employee/student representation. It may be helpful for employees to give consideration as to whether they are speaking on behalf of themselves, their class, the school or the school authority and whether they have rights to provide such perspective.

  5. Synchronous communications, on the other hand, such as texting or chat services, requires the immediate attention of the communicator. Such communications often have a sense of immediacy, but are not typically on digital record. Such communications can increase feedback from students to teachers and increase home to school communications, but it can also prove to be a distraction.

  6. Inappropriate use can occur across either asynchronous or synchronous mediums. Synchronous texting via a cell phone during class time is disruptive of the learning environment; beyond poor digital etiquette, such behaviour imposes upon the learning of all class members. Asynchronous messages of an inappropriate nature posted to a blog can quietly create significant disruption for an individual or for a class as a whole. Both communication forms present significant learning opportunities and digital citizenship needs

  7. Identity:
  8. As youth communicate, create and collaborate in online digital realms – whether on their own or within school contexts – they are progressively building a digital identity. This identity will remain public across many years – whether positive or negative and whether posted from home or from school. Education can have significant value in guiding youth to build digital identities that serve them and are valuable to their future.

  9. While digital media may benefit identify formation, the types of self-expression, self- reflection and feedback conducted online may undermine identity formation for some learners struggling with a myriad of social roles without a sense of coherency and responsibility. A guiding hand from educators can assist learners in digital identity development, much as the same guiding hand can assist learners in offline identity development. The key challenge is educator involvement and knowledge in the digital citizenship arena.

  10. Privacy:

  11. In keeping with considerations of building an online identity are also considerations of privacy. In his book, The Future of Reputation: Gossip, Rumor, and Privacy on the Internet, Solove (2007) presents a compelling argument that the nature of privacy is changing and that any act in public risks becoming a part of the Internet’s digital archive, a permanent ongoing record of the act – whether positive or negative.

  12. boyd [sic] (2008), in her extensive ethnographic research on practices of teenagers using social media, references three dynamics affecting youths’ experiences in public networks and affecting the nature of privacy: a blurring of public and private practices, producing information for invisible audiences and collapsed contexts wherein the lack of spatial, social and temporal boundaries makes it difficult to maintain distinct social contexts.

  13. boyd’s (2010) work suggest a dramatic change in youths' interest in sharing across a public setting. Once material is published, the nature of the Internet has bearing on the privacy of information through four properties:

  • Persistence (what is posted remains indefinitely);

  • Searchability (easy to find using common search terms);

  • Replicability (one can copy and paste the information into new contexts); and

  • Invisible audiences (there is minimal control over public and private messaging/sharing).

  1. Each of these contributes to a change in the nature of privacy. As well, each also underlines the importance of digital citizenship and discussions regarding varying perspectives and mores in a digital world.
  2. Classrooms are potentially less private than ever previous.
  3. Progressive educators openly share insights and activities in their classrooms (Fisher, 2011; Branigan-Pipe, 2011; Wright, 2011). Perceptions of instruction and schools can be rated and openly shared through today’s Web 2.0 tools. While policy is not a vehicle to control student discussion, policy development can be used to create open meaningful dialog within school authorities and schools on communication issues.

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