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Owning Up

Learning to use online forums, be they social network services like MySpace and Facebook, blogs, or wikis is not a sexily contemporary add-on to the curriculum – it’s an essential part of the literacy today’s youth require for the world they inhabit.

I hear teachers and parents complain about receiving emails and text message that sound “mean” or “harsh.” I have received the same time of communication, but rather than jumping to thinking that the person is upset with me, I consider that maybe it’s because they haven’t been taught or haven’t discussed the genre expectations of digital literacy.

We can’t complain about students that don’t know how to use social media and communicate effectively online if we aren’t willing to allow the conversation about digital literacy and the unique genre expectations into our classroom. We are holding students to a standard that they don’t know and frankly that is a little fuzzy to most of us.

I started teaching social media to Berkeley and Stanford students five years ago when I realized that the answer to the question I’ve been asked by readers, critics, and scholars about my own work over the last 20 years – “are personal computers and Internet-based communications good for us as individuals, communities, democracies?” – is “it depends on what people know about how to use these tools.” Whether digital media will be beneficial or destructive in the long run doesn’t depend on the technologies, but on the literacy of those who use them.

As Harold Rheingold stepped back and questioned whether he was asking the right question, he realized that the answer to whether students are going to be able to communicate effectively through social media and online was largely dependent on whether he was willing to open his classroom to those discussions.

So rather than blaming students for online blubbers, maybe we need to take the blame.