Teaching "digital citizenship" via Zoom during COVID-19 was an experience, and I never expected that the topic of ‘selfies’ would have such a profound impact upon my students.
Once schools closed, only about half my students showed up for our online classes, but this small group and I were #InItTogether. As one month wore into the next, their blank eyes revealed a deep need to connect with one another. So the Cyber Civics lesson, “My Self, My Selfie” was just what the doctor ordered. This assignment had the highest turn-in rate of all of our shelter-in-place assignments.
As I introduced this lesson on Zoom, I asked students if they had ever judged someone they didn’t know by a selfie they saw of that person. Most had and were eager to share! After the discussion I explained that while taking and posting selfies can be a lot of fun, it is important to think about what a selfie might say about you, especially when viewed by strangers. (As a side note, even if your social media is set to private, your social media profile picture and bio are public.)
I explained that long before the “selfie” there were “self-portraits.” Famous artists like Van Gough, Frieda Kahlo, and Rembrandt, among others, painted themselves. We looked at many self-portraits by these masters (so easy to do online!) and talked about what was revealed about each person based on their work.
Next, I gave students the assignment: Create a bio picture to use on a social media site you’d like to join, but the problem is... the camera has not been invented yet! Your task will be to draw it!
During my introduction to the assignment, students asked for help with their their selfies, so I started the ball rolling… “Well, Jesse, I think you should use bold colors because you are not afraid to stand out from the crowd and I value that in you!” Students started chirping in about one another too, “Oh I know, Selah should wear a necklace with piano keys because she is so talented! Michael should be dressed as a jester or something, he is hilarious!” This continued until everyone had been given some ideas from their classmates.
As I looked at my students on the screen, I saw they were sitting a few inches taller and their eyes were sparkling. They had just been given what they needed so much during this pandemic...to be seen.
I saw they were sitting a few inches taller and their eyes were sparkling. They had just been given what they needed so much during this pandemic...to be seen.
In The New York Times, Clive Thompson touched on the human need filled by the ‘selfie’ “There is a primal human urge to stand outside of ourselves and look at ourselves.”
When students turned in their drawings, I was blown away. Many had made a departure from what others had told them to draw, revealing a deep connection with themselves.
When interviewed for “Raising Humans in a Digital World,” Dr. Pamela Rutledge said that selfie-taking "puts people in charge of their own self-image. I think selfies play a big role in letting people document their growth and their progress…And think about themselves.”
This lesson let students think deeply about something many of them do every day--post selfies. And many are posting selfies on social media now because social media may be their only way to connect with friends and family. So, it is more important than ever to help them understand the lasting impact of everything they post online and that’s what teaching Cyber Civics does (that and so much more).
As students spend more and more time in the digital world, we must help them view their online presence as a blank canvas that they are responsible for creating a great work upon. Without guidance, they may have a mess on their hands! But with a roadmap, students can learn to view and use the digital world for positive self-expression, empowerment, social change, and connection even during a global pandemic.
Arias Collins is an educator, social media manager for health and wellness businesses, & community manager for cyberwise.org & cybercivics.com. After seeing Diana Graber speak, Arias realized the profound impact technology has on childhood development. After being an art and Waldorf educator for 10 years, she is now dedicated to making the online world a kinder place for her clients and students.