Once we said good night, I retreated to the guest room where I broke out my iPad and surfed in and out of apps. I started with traditional news feeds (via Pulse, Feedly and Zite). Basically, what I already knew was reiterated here from these traditional sources.
Next, I turned to Feedly and then Twitter. I was looking for what might be termed "Primary Source Material" in a classroom. I wanted real stories from real people. And I found them. Links from Twitter provided the most un-edited documentation about the #BostonMarathon attack. Examples include a link to Reddit which had a page dedicated to the incident with updates and links being added by the minute, a link to the Twitter Feed of a Boston resident who left his apartment to ascertain what happened after his building was shaken by the blasts. With his Smartphone he photographed his way to the scene. Using Twitter, he uploaded each photo and wrote a short description. Later, he wrote a reflective blog post which included these photos. The effect was that of a photo essay.
I read many of these reflective blog posts and saw many photos that were not being shown on traditional news (for better or worse). As raw as some of this was, I felt closer to humanity and the horrible reality that Boston and the victims were dealing with.
Other examples of non-traditional news sources that allowed a closer look:
- You Tube was where Boston Marathon attendees uploaded videos of the scene.
- An informational Map of the Tragedy was posted on Imgur
- Google created a Person Finder (now expired) for people looking for loved ones
- With open hearts and minds, using a Public Google Form, strangers offered a place to stay for anyone in need.
- Restaurants/Business offered services and food for free . They used Twitter to spread the word.
- Social media humanized the victims. It enabled anyone who was interested to get a closer look at victims of the blasts- learning their names and stories .
- More examples: We learned that the Runners scheduled to marry at the finish line DID tie the knot. We learn that the runner who was thrown to the ground by the 1st blast is 78 years old, his name is Bill Iffrig and he was unhurt and finished the race.
- Individuals who attended the marathon posted their photos as a way to help get answers. An excellent example comes from hahatango at flickr In his words: "Please share away as I'm hoping my series of photos might somehow help puzzle who, what, how this tragedy occurred."
As the delivery system for raw, unedited information, our student's 'friends' and social websites in general connote a different kind of "Primary Source" and it is instructive for us as Educators. For those Teachers or Parents that rely on traditional news sources, it may be easy to dismiss or ignore that our students/children will use applications on their mobile devices to "learn" about their world- for good or for ill. But they will and they do. The (hyper)social as part of this learning also means that 1-They potentially learn the details of events before that information is available on traditional news networks and 2- Information is spread quickly among online social groups. Social applications amplify tragedies for ill or for good.
Talking heads on news programs are increasingly irrelevant to millennials (and to those of us who have embraced social media/applications) as a way to stay connected and informed about local, regional and national news/information. The information is often "late" and is also delivered through a particular lens-the one most advantageous to the network which edits and potentially politicizes information.
The same kind of skepticism is brought to the classroom. Students are increasingly wary of a single talking head in a classroom. They are used to information being presented and discovered in multiple formats and often in unique, creative ways. Many social applications allow for this kind of informational remixing.
At the least, I believe it is time to embrace social media and applications and use them as learning tools in the classroom-once and for all. We should be steering the ship that guides intelligent, critical use of these new tools. By doing so we can engage with our students and help them bring a sober, thoughtful lens to the information/media/images they encounter. We can help them learn better. Why would schools and teachers forego this opportunity? A Paradigm and Mind Shift is underway in our students as well as citizens. Our students, literally, Think Differently. Like it or not, they connect with the world through their smartphones, tablets and laptops. They want unedited, 'real' information, right now. They want to be involved with it and to share it. Let's help clear the path to 'primary source material' past and present for our students and let's model how to analyze,criticize, use and synthesize it using the very tools they use themselves. Unless irrelevance is our goal.