Posts Tagged ‘Harvard’

At first I was just going to skip over writing a post on memes, it seems so trivial, but the more I have read and learned, the more I realized how important it is to shine a light on the not so frivolous parts of this topic.

This past week I have been struck by the story out of Vancouver and the spreading of offensive “memes” by students. And while this was in Vancouver, and was at an independent school, I think we all know these kinds of activities transcend schools and geographic borders. Media or other commentators who are trying to restrict this conversation to being one about “boys” or “private schools” or “bad parenting” are not following along with what is going on these days on the internet.

This is not my typical blog post, it is more of a call to action in our community and more broadly.  I do think this is all of our business.  We need to do more to collectively focus on ensuring our digital spaces and engagement reflect the same values as our physical spaces – ones rooted in care for each other. And that all of us (students, teachers, parents, community) continually ask ourselves if what we are posting online is truthful, is kind and adds value.

Over the past decade during my time as Superintendent I have taken great pride in our work as digital leaders in education. I see us creating opportunities for learning that are aligned with the world in which our kids live in. It has been incredibly exciting to see the transformation in our classrooms. For example, hundreds of students are engaged in coding and robotics, areas which barely existed five years ago.  I see the relevance to our students learning every day.   It is this leadership that leads me to want to flag this issue.

As an American colleague of mine, Bob Ryan, recently noted in a message to parents, sharing digital content on phones and social media is not a new behavior. But there is an increasingly prominent “meme culture” where posting, liking and saving funny, tasteless or offensive content has become part of regular social life. Unfortunately, too many people can have a difficult time separating what is funny from what is inappropriate, or even horribly offensive. Probably all of us who engage in Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat or Instagram have seen these kinds of examples. The impact that this sharing can have is often lost on people.

This is not brand new,  it was the spring of 2017 when the story broke  Harvard rescinding admission letters for 10 students because of offensive memes they shared in a private Facebook group. This story, which gained attention across North America, saw high school seniors posting increasingly vile content in an attempt to be quicker, more clever and edgier than each other and earn more social clout.

Last month the NPR podcast The Hidden Brain  (also pointed to me by Bob Ryan) took an extensive look into the Harvard story and  interviewed one of the students involved. The hour-long episode is well worth your time and provides valuable insights into the digital behaviours of teenagers and the complicated social waters they are trying to navigate. At the end of the episode, the host Shankfar Vedantam summarized the situation:

Nearly everything that everyone says on social media goes unnoticed. And everyone can see you’re getting no traction. This can drive some of us to come up with the edgiest, funniest, hottest takes. Likes and retweets and fire emojis become currency, signaling our worth to those around us. Sometimes the things we post work, and we become stars. Other times, we fall flat or, worse, my joke sets off your rage. When this happens, it’s no use saying there is even more terrible stuff online. There is only a price to pay. The things we post take on a life of their own, and they can be as permanent as a scar.

I have written recently on this blog a couple posts which also speak to my concerns first on the use of cell phones by parents in schools and then more recently on the important differences between technology and social media.  I encourage parents to have discussions with your children about the apps they use, the photos they have and the content they share. I encourage our staff to continue to find powerful ways to teach using technology and model the power of digital tools. And I encourage students to pause before you share.

Daniel Panneton wrote earlier this year in the Globe & Mail:

Even though memes may appear to be the height of triviality, that’s exactly what makes them such serious vectors for dangerous worldviews. Because they’re often composed of inside jokes and hidden references, the ability to read their subtext is now a form of cultural knowledge itself. Meme literacy, which would have been an improbable phrase just a few years ago, has become an essential skill that must be expected of educators, historians, journalists, politicians and law enforcement.

We are just a small part of a larger conversation that needs to be had about how we treat each other in the digital world. We have seen the best and worst of this in our recently concluded Federal election and in the daily news in our country and others. But just because it is a larger conversation doesn’t mean we should ignore it.  And we have an absolute responsibility in schools to insert ourselves into these conversations.  These are all our kids.

For local readers, know that I have had recent conversations with our District Parent Advisory Council about how we can find learning opportunities for parents around students and their digital activities.  This is not just a school issue, but how we treat each other is an everyone issue.

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With all the discussions swirling around personalized learning, and school reform, I have been thinking a lot about change, and how we do it right.

I found a recent  “Management Tip of the Day” from the Harvard Business Review on 3 Ways to Quietly Promote Change — very reassuring and instructive as we look at our work around teaching and learning in West Vancouver:

  1. Model the change. Demonstrate the way you want things to change through your own language and behaviour. Often, seeing a leader do something first gives people the courage to try it themselves.
  2. Turn negatives into positives. Find ways to reframe people’s resistance as opportunities for change. This requires that you listen carefully, understand the underlying reasons for the opposition, and address them directly.
  3. Find allies. Chances are someone else in the organization wants the change as badly as you do. Find that person and pool your resources and ideas.

This fall, I have been amazed and impressed with the energy in our district around personalized learning and how teachers are using technology to support it in their classrooms.  While it has taken many forms, and actually very few use the term “personalized learning” and opt instead for differentiated instruction, grouping for learning, inquiry-based learning, among a host of other terms, we have profound examples of teachers feeling they have “permission” to experiment and be creative, and students owning their learning in new ways.

Of course, this is not a race.

Earlier this week, we spent some time with all our principals and vice-principals looking at our successes and challenges during the first month, as well as what we want to do during the next 90 days, with personalized learning and using technology.

One theme constantly emerged: the need to continue to focus on learning goals and then, if appropriate, see how technology can support them.  We also discussed the opportunities and challenges of students publishing for a public audience, and how we work with students and parents as we do this in an authentic and secure way.

The discussions we are having may be about schedules, content or technology, but almost all of them come back to being about change – schooling looking different for students than it did for their parents; schooling looking different for staff than it did when they were students.

Our commitment for the next 90 days is around providing more support to teachers around pedagogy and technology, to build greater capacity at each school, and to continue to invite participation from students, staff and parents on this journey.  We all agree that education is changing, and there are some amazing examples in our district of what is possible, right now.

There is not one right answer, and to finish this where I started, it is not a race.

For more on personalized learning, here is an earlier post referencing a presentation I first shared last June on:  Teaching, Learning, Technology and Personalization

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