Encouraging Students to Speak Out

Can you think of an instance in which you saw a reversal of power in the name of democracy? The writer Paulo Freire, whose book The Pedagogy of the Oppressed is commonly drawn upon in the field of education, alludes to this frequent occurrence as he comments, “But almost always, during the initial stage of the struggle, the oppressed, instead of striving for liberation, tend themselves to become oppressors, or ‘sub-oppressors.’ The very structure of their thought has been conditioned by the contradictions of the concrete, existential situation by which they were shaped” (para. 8). Conditions that remain unchecked — beyond the individuals ruling — can perpetuate oppression. Freedom, as Freire will claim many times, demands a new way of life. Maintaining a society in which everyone is empowered will require being uncomfortable at times. For all citizens, the willingness to be uncomfortable may include the responsibility of speaking out against bad practices when you see them performed. “Things are the way are” is no longer a valid response. As such, the first step to realizing your power as an equal is recognizing situations in which you are told to respect the power; the second step is using your right to speak out with the knowledge that you are providing the potential for a better world.

The notion of “taking your place” is a complex one because it can have some truth when in the right context. Many mindfulness experts will speak about acceptance being the key to an easy life. Sometimes, letting things play out as they are is the best approach. It will always remain constant that a respect for another person’s life and freedoms should be observed. But, as those with the upper hand may use their power excessively, there can be opportunities to speak out in protest to bring about further justice.

Unfair working conditions  do not have to be accepted. Sometimes, garnering attention to the issue is enough. Other times, writing to the organization in request for change may at least spark the possibility of future change down the road.

In the classroom, the opportunity to protest can bring about positive social change. A curriculum applying Freire’s Pedagogy of the Oppressed conceptual framework by means of dialogue, as Freire advocates for, would give students opportunities to interact with the world and remind students that they can change the world. For an activity, students could have a choice in what organizations, issues, and ideas they will examine. They can be graded not so much for the knowledge they gain about the topic as for how they engage with it. Ideally, students will never have to hear “that’s the way things are.”  What distinguishes the workplace, common room, and classroom as a liberated society is that students have a role in change. A liberated classroom space would allow students to have, as it would for Freire’s conception of the oppressed, “the freedom to create and to construct, to wonder and to venture. Such freedom requires that the individual be active and responsible, not a slave or a well-fed cog in the machine…” (para. 87). Students must accordingly be put in positions where they can offer new knowledge. Being able to do so requires as much liberty in discussion as possible. The student’s function becomes not only to follow assignments but to become an involved member of society: in the classroom and out.

Fostering Mentorships through Social Media

The role of an educator often involves mentoring students. When class ends, social media can help keep the professional mentor-mentee relationship going whether that is through email, Facebook, Twitter, or LinkedIn.

Students and professors have commented that social media makes keeping in touch easier.

Social media is no longer juvenile nor exclusive. Social media has become a medium where people find jobs, make jobs, and keep jobs. Naturally, social media is professional and it can be used for your career.

Some people have two Twitter and two Facebook accounts – a personal and professional one. This is one option if you would really like to draw the line.

Others use one account for all connections since everything on the web can be made public anyway.

And some people consider one platform (FB) for personal contacts and other platforms (i.e. LinkedIn) for professional contacts. You can do what works for you.

Email is given less consideration, but it carries equal weight as a social media tool if both parties feel most comfortable using it. Like Facebook and Twitter, email involves exchange.

Forbes Magazine has a great article by Jacquelyn Smith on being a great mentor. In mentor-mentee relationships, Smith emphasizes that both parties are learning from each other. The article mentions that great mentors give their time; being connected on social media demonstrates availability. As platforms are converging, the many dimensions of our lives are combining as well.

Of course, the ability to successfully navigate the mentor-mentee professional relationship will involve all goals lining up.  For the professor, the role of being a good professor should naturally come first. Likewise with students.

Social Media as an Information Source

Have you thought of social media as an information source?

What sources to use for a research project depends on your research question. For primary research, social media analytics may very well enrich your project.

You can also find great secondary research articles from other people’s tweets and posts. Hashtag searching would be the equivalent to navigating the Dewey Decimal System.

Some psychologists are already using it for archival analysis. Writer Maria Konnikova from the New Yorker has a great article on social media serving as an online diary of our lives.

Social media explicitly provide data on sentiments – what we value, what annoys us, what scares us, what we hope for.

Implicitly, social media provide data on behaviors – how active or inactive we are on these platforms, how we interact with others, what we search for, etc.

Since personal identity is a huge part of joining many of these social networks, we outwardly put information about ourselves like our hometown, age, gender, religious preference, political beliefs, and favorite quotes. Accordingly, it can be a useful tool for information.

Of course, in doing research, we must always consider the limitations. It is important to keep in mind that social media are public. Since there is an audience, people will naturally post content and pictures that makes them look good. Social media posts cannot reveal everything about us, but they can reveal a glimpse of our lives, including our efforts to appear great. So even if social media tends to depict a biased, favorable picture of us, we can still learn something from that.

Google Classroom as an Alternative to Blackboard

For some educators, Google Classroom may be exactly what they have been looking for in terms of organization and social connectivity. What is Google Classroom, you may ask? If you are familiar with Blackboard and Facebook, Google Classroom is the hybrid of these two platforms. Through a clean and easy to navigate site, Google Classroom provides one space where educators can post assignments, provide grades, and field questions from students.

The ability to interact with students is what makes Google Classroom a social medium.

It is also very transparent, meaning that the educator can see when students are working on their assignments, how many students are working on their assignments, and how many students turn them in. In turn, the student can view the teacher’s edits.

I was introduced to Google Classroom by a middle school teacher working at a gifted school. After she showed me all the features, I thought: “Wow, I could totally see my university professors and classmates being happy to use this.” It is so content-friendly, any moderator of a group can use it.

Some educators are trying to enhance the learning experience by providing the class with an opportunity to contribute outside of the classroom via Facebook. There are mixed reviews about this practice. On the one hand, research suggests that you are more likely to contribute to platforms with a strong emphasis on personal identity. On the other hand, Facebook can get clunky with comments fast. This dilemma is why Google Classroom may be a better alternative for Blackboard and Facebook users alike.

How to Use Twitter in Different Kinds of Classrooms

It may be easy to imagine Twitter in a social media class, but would Twitter be an effective way to gain critical thinking skills in every academic subject? While it certainly depends on the professor’s preferences and teaching style, school environment, students etc., Twitter certainly has the potential to be compatible in the academic classroom. Here is a list of ideas on how to enhance learning with the use of Twitter across a multitude of academic subjects:

English Literature: The beauty of English literature is the study of how words matter. Since tweets have a limit of 140 characters, Twitter users are challenged to make an impact with their words, hashtags, and punctuation. Accordingly, professors can assign students to: 

  • Write a poem.
  • Create a fictional Twitter profile for a character in a book the class is currently reading.
  • Find examples of books, plays, and poems referenced into modern movies, TV shows, and ads.

More examples here.

Mathematics: To those who love math, there are many math educators active on Twitter who post about computer programs, business, achievements, math problems, and puzzles. Assign students to:

  • Connect students to BestCollegeOnline.com’s link to 50 math-related Twitter feeds.
  • Graph their Tweet stats.

Philosophy: To supplement in-depth readings and discussions of philosophical texts, assign students to:

Environmental History: the study of ecosystems on a natural, economic, and cultural level involves many academic disciplines. In addition to a research-based paper exploring the evolution of a commodity, assign students to:

  • Track how the many parts that go into their selected commodity (Egyptian cotton, coffee from a farm in Columbia, Montblanc pens, etc.)  are used around the world.