Facechat, Snapbook, and Instatwit – A Shared Journey


Four years ago almost to the day, I wrote an article for our school's weekly newsletter. It was about travelling with students. It was inspired by the negative reaction of a person to the fact that students on a trip to Washington were using Instagram and Snapchat to take and send photos at the Lincoln Memorial. They weren't the only ones doing it, but they stood out in the school uniforms they were wearing on account of the fact that they had participated in a music festival earlier in the day. The point of the article was that our students were thoughtful, respectful, and engaged travellers almost all of the time, whether riding on buses, participating in activities, listening to tour guides, or taking pictures - not perfect individually or as groups, but pretty good. Here is a link to the post: Mirror Article - Road Trips with Students

I was back in Washington on the music trip again a few weeks ago and was at the Lincoln Memorial again. Some things were the same - it was a beautiful spring evening, it was crowded, and there was a lot of excitement. Some things were different - it seemed that the majority of people were seeing the site via a smartphone screen. Sure there were some cameras, but most were clicking and posting. The person who looked askance at our students on that spring evening in 2013 would have had a hard time figuring out who to be miffed with in 2017. My guess may have been the Pokémon Go players. I didn't notice them, but a fellow trip chaperone did. I may not have noticed it because I was trying to track down and shoo our students - sans uniforms this time - toward the rendezvous point as the light faded. As well, I was snapping photos and posting too...

Yes, I was posting too. After a long stint away from the cell phone community, I came in from the cold earlier this year on account of some travelling I was doing. I got a fancy phone with lots of bells and whistles. My family was bemused after years of listening to me speaking of freedom and railing against the prices and policies of the telcos (e.g. Why, exactly, do you have to pay a connection fee when you get a new phone with the same phone number and service provider?) When my last contract expired, I felt like Jean Valjean bidding farewell to Javert at the prison gate in Les Mis... Hum the tune of "Look Down" here...

Javert - played by Bell/Rogers/Telus:

Read the fine print of the contact you sign
This sheet allows us to gouge you by design
It warns you not to be reckless, Dan!

Jean Valjean - played by me:
I made a local call.

My students were always shocked that I didn't have a phone, wondering aloud how I managed to navigate through the world. I used to tell them it was quite easy if you weren't looking down at a screen while walking - fewer collisions and you can actually see stuff. I used to tease them about things like the apps in this blog entry's title - Facechat, Snapbook, and Instatwit. I may claim title to the last one, especially when one considers how much trouble people get themselves into with Twitter, regular folks and even people who have access to the nuclear codes...

Anyway, I got the phone and see the benefits alright. Without a phone, I struggled mightily to keep up with colleagues in the neat CIS Ontario learning program, @Cohort21. Some of them might recall my awkward use of my laptop to take a picture of my work during an early session. I was a Luddite in a world of technical wizards who possessed rectangular wands that could make instant magic. It was the same thing with Twitter during that program - it was never open on my laptop or home computers, and I missed great streams of interesting thinking. With the phone, I could now take quick pictures or videos of student work. During trips with students, I could now post images and updates. There is nothing like a nine-hour bus ride with students who are eager to bring you up to speed to help one rocket into the present! So I get it, the phone and the tools it comes equipped with are great. I surrender...

However, as a science and social studies teacher who has the very good fortune of travelling a fair amount with students, I do have a few wonderments... How do we invite students to take a break from games, videos, and photo filters and encourage them to look up and see, to look out of the windows of the bus as they travel through Flanders, along the Beauport shore, or amidst the rolling hills and farms of eastern Ontario or southwestern Pennsylvania? How do we help them to appreciate and, if needed, to re-activate the original heads up, 4D display system that we naturally possess - our eyes, ears, noses, even the skin on our cheeks and foreheads that allows us to feel the warm sun or the cool mist coming our way at a place like Montmorency Falls? How do we help them to see and notice and reflect before they rush to snap and post?

I offer these wonderments with a caveat. I may be vastly underestimating students and apologize here if I am. They are digital people who are used to this technology in a way that I am not and perhaps may never be. I only ask because I am so interested in the sights, sounds, and scents of a place, the feel of a place. I only ask because I wonder how much I have missed as I have monkeyed around with messaging, Instagram, and Twitter of late. As with most things I guess, the key is finding the right balance. Time to talk to fellow travellers on this shared and digital journey...


2 thoughts on “Facechat, Snapbook, and Instatwit – A Shared Journey

  1. Adam Caplan

    Hi Dan. You make such an interesting set of observations.

    I often find myself on both sides of the issue - wanting to capture that view to share with others, to hold its own place on my personal timeline narrated by my own camera roll, to practice my amateur photography skills. But simultaneously I am annoyed by people who stand like pylons, fiddling with settings, literally pausing the flow of a moment, blocking traffic, turning their backs to the magic, holding their screens in a way that blocks my view, too. It is interruption, distraction, manufacture, but I get where they are coming from. Sometimes, in our hallways, when I judge students to be 'killing time' on their phones, I ask students what they are up to. They always have an interesting answer for me.

    I don't agree that they are 'digital people', but we certainly aren't working with unidimensional characters - they have rich interpersonal lives, and youth culture runs deep! We have our work cut out for us if we're hoping to influence kids to place strong value on IRL (in-real-life) experiences, and you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar, if you know what I mean...

    1. Post author

      Hi Adam,

      Thanks for your thoughtful comments. I have seen a lot of movement over the years since the advent of the smart phones. Like you, I have found the students to be using their phones very effectively - whether it be to record their science observations using slow motion settings or to keep track of their homework assignments digitally because the paper agenda does not work for them. I myself have moved a long way on this too as I am figuring out the balance. When I wrote that students are "digital people," I meant that they are really immersed in it in a way that I am not. It wasn't meant to be a value judgement as much as a recognition of the world they are growing up in and the tools at their disposal. It is more clear in my mind than in the post! In any event, learning through teaching, travel, and tech on our own and with our students is a winding and fascinating journey...

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