Before you speak, THINK!

A picture of a wall in one of the Learning Support rooms at Nanjing International School. In this day and age, maybe “speak” should encompass all forms of messaging? Written or spoken, academic or not, digital and face-to-face?
Photo by Luiz Mello (CC BY-NC 4.0)

The Student Affairs department at Butler University put out this page to ask faculty members to consider what they share online. No doubt, the idea, also shown above in a face-to-face environment, should apply to all messages regardless of their mode of transmission. If that’s true, should we be teaching students to THINK all the time, and not just when sharing online?

The only group that shows a difference in social media usage is age. Check out Pew Research Center’s survey data from 2005-2019 on social media usage here.

Humanity will soon be completely present in the digital world. Can you imagine? If the trends above hold, we should see the three bottom lines join the blue line at the top. Due to efforts of bridging the digital divide and including everyone in the participatory culture of our times, data from other countries are likely to follow suit.

In these studies, the one trend I have not noticed is the use of instant messaging apps. WeChat and Whatsapp are massive harbors of fake news, and, in my opinion, where they travel the fastest.

Not knowing someone on Facebook or Instagram also makes their content or opinions carry much less weight. But when my father or brother share something in our family Whatsapp group, I am much more likely to react and, if I didn’t know any better, share without hesitation.

Story time. During the COVID-19 pandemic, surgical masks were in high demand. As a work-around, many people resorted to making DIY masks. The issue, I find, is that many methods were creative, but not always effective, giving people a false sense of security. This now-retired shared document was the scientific community’s attempt at guiding DYI-ers in making safe masks, but that’s not as sexy as an Instagram video, or a guy making masks out of a pair pantyhose, which is what my family was sharing.

Knowing my family was going to disseminate false information on Whatsapp, I had my DP Biology class review literature on DYI face masks to inform themselves and my parents. I gave them a real audience. They found that they’re never effective on their own, must always be used as a last resort (i.e.: when there are no masks available) and always in combination with other protective equipment, such as face shields. By that time, most of the 8 other people in the group likely had already forwarded the pantyhose guy’s video.

When I learned more about how my advisory uses social media, I discovered that they are most active on instant messaging apps (in the “Class of 2021 group”) than on traditional forms of social media. They’re also active on Snapchat, but that’s more of a ‘stay in touch by sending each other videos’, possibly trying to keep their streak going. On the WeChat group, is where you might find the “I’ve asked Mr. X to change the test to next week” becomes “Mr. X agreed to change the test to next week”.

It is hard to think of a time where students are quick to share in an academic context. Face-to-face interactions are possibly a good place to start. In the digital world, however, we are not face to face with the recipient, which increases the chance of a misinterpreted comment or rash decision. I wonder if a a place to start would be to model in the classroom how to respond to comments on a Flipgrid video. I might give that a go with my TOK class!

3 thoughts on “Before you speak, THINK!

  1. Hi Luiz,

    A thoughtful post Luiz. If you don’t mind, I’m going to remix your idea of using an acronym to start paragraphs!

    I’d be interested to see how your TOK class takes to a lesson on how to respond to comments. There are so many connections with Language as a WoK (esp. with ambiguity in the case of language – written or spoken), or Perception, or Ethics, but the roles of interpretation, certainty, context etc… So many avenues to explore! I like incorporating fallacies and cognitive biases throughout (no doubt you’ve seen or nothing like an appeal to authority to get a comment or other media to go viral!

    The ease with which we can like, share, or subscribe with a click magnifies any misunderstanding, but I wonder the extent to which we can leverage technology to increase understanding?

    p.s. love the shredded cheese humor!

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