Like many people, I used to take for granted posting to friends on Facebook and sharing with relatives those cute family pictures. Then an event took place which changed my thinking of how information - real-time information - is shared and how that has impacted our ability to be "in the know" and the ethical responsibilities that have evolved.
When Hurricane Irene hit Vermont, I was sitting in my living room looking outside thinking that this storm hadn't turned out to be as bad as they had thought. At my house, it didn't seem to be so dangerous. To pass some time, I went on Facebook only to find out that others were not faring well and just how bad the storm was. My friends and family were posting pictures of what was happening around them as well as pictures from the news on the Internet. I was horrified. Some members of my own family were fleeing their home for higher ground. I checked my tweets and I learned all about what was not only happening in Vermont, but from all over the storm area.
This personal real-time reporting is powerful. We now see real-time reporting used commonly in the news and people who are in the middle of an event are tweeting and otherwise reporting out what they see, hear and feel in very personal ways. This type of news is made up of first-hand accounts - a new kind of primary source has emerged.
Being a teacher, I began to think about how this new kind of powerful real-time information could be of use in student research. My mind traveled through scenarios of students learning about elections using Twitter to see how the elections are going in any given country at any given moment or searching for information on any modern event they may be learning about in class. All they would have to do is use a hashtag or just simply search a topic and find out about anything they want to know that is going on in the world right now! Talk about a way to learn about and live history.....
I began working with teachers to share these ideas and to demonstrate different apps and web tools that would help them create new learning environments for their students. Teachers were generally amazed at what could be found out in a few seconds of a search on Twitter or Facebook. Even texting can be very useful especially if you can create a network of people willing to pass along and relate back information. Modern technology is really a miracle, but not without a downside. What if people lie about what is going on around them in real time?
I challenge you educators out there to teach your students to use social networking in ways that will further their education, satisfy their curiosity, communicate with experts, and understand this new powerful and important means of obtaining modern primary sources. They themselves could become a primary resource and understanding the ethical responsibility of that possibility is crucial. We must not only teach them about what they can do with technology, but what they should and should not do with it. Like it or not, we must teach them digital citizenship and ethics. With the miracle of technology, comes great responsibility as well. Just like evaluating resources on the Internet, students need to remember to not just look at one piece of real-time information as if it is gospel, but to look at many sources to sort out what is going on with a given event.
Below are some tools that may assist you in using social networking as a means of research with your students as well as some resources for teaching digital citizenship and ethics.
Flipboard - absolutely an amazing app to gather all kinds of information and put it into "magazines" on any given topic from multiple sources. Available for computer, ios and Android
Twitter apps are widely available in all kinds of platform.
TweetDeck is an app as well as an online tool.
Facebook apps are widely available in addition to using it on the computer.
Paper.li - is an app or an online tool that allows you to create a real-time newspaper based on the information that you want to know.