Digital Activism in the Classroom

Digital Activism is using digital communication to raise awareness and deliver information to an audience regarding social or political causes.

Raising money online for humanitarian aid or a political campaign is digital activism. Raising awareness of human trafficking using Facebook or twitter is digital activism.

As an example of the impact digital activism can have on a cause, take a look at how technology was used in 2011 during the political protest in Egypt. Social media contributed to the uprising that eventually led to events that caused Mubarak to leave his position as head of the country. Digital activism led to political change. For more information about just how social media contributed to the Arab Spring, see the article When Does Digital Activism Pack a Punch?

In short, digital activism seeks change. Sometimes it works, and other times it is not as effective.

What does digital activism do for young people?

Opening animation

Photo CC – by Tactical Technology Collective

When we look at digital activism for young people in the United States, we are not looking at political activism on the scale of the example above. It is more about finding a cause and promoting it. A cause such as eliminating cyberbullying, helping people avoid harmful behaviors, or encouraging healthy food choices.

One cause is free and above. Free and above is digital activism that seeks to encourage teens with mental health issues and disorders. It operates on multiple social media platforms and its website provides encouragement and information about mental illness, along with links to helplines. This group of young people, in my opinion, are leaps and bounds above any other digital activism group or individual I saw. I like this site because the teens running it do not promote themselves as saviors, but seek to help in a practical way.

Digital activism allows teens to have a voice in their world. It helps them to inform others about activities or causes that they are passionate about. Digital activism is a way for teens to reach their peers with what is hopefully a positive message.

Some questions I have about digital activism

More Questions Than Answers

Photo CC – by Tom

  •  Are we teaching kids that posting is the same as acting?

This is a big concern for me. If activism is to bring about change, are some of the social activists actually making a difference, or were they just making themselves feel good by saying something? I think that we need to teach kids to act on their convictions. If kids are really concerned about poverty in their community, raising awareness using twitter is good. Doing something to help would be better. Have a food or blanket drive. Serve meals at the local soup kitchen. Volunteer as a peer tutor in a low income school. Talk is good, but it is only a first step in the process of change.

  • Is the cause and subsequent activism based on facts?

We must teach students how to research their causes. Teach them to fact check what they believe to be true. This is the responsible way to raise awareness. Too often false information is used to promote an agenda. If teen activists are to be taken seriously, they must be accurate or they will discredit their cause. Worst case scenario, they will get others to act based on a misrepresentation of the truth. Let us as educators prepare kids to speak their mind, but in a responsible manner.

. . .

At this point I am not sure if I am a proponent of digital activism in the classroom. I believe that activism needs to be based on conviction. Convictions are developed over time and are personal. I am not convinced that I am going into the business of developing convictions in my students. I believe it is my job to help them to learn to think critically and deeply so they can form their own.

One teacher I read about in the article My kids, our cause and a classroom blog talked about how a teacher used digital activism in his classroom to give students the opportunity to be “agents of change.” The students raised money to loan to people in developing countries to start small business, and also started a campaign to promote healthy eating. This teacher chose subjects that matter, and gave kids the opportunity to positively interact with others about issues and make an impact on the lives of people around the world. I can see the positive side to digital activism.

In time, I will decide just how much of a role digital activism will play in my future classroom. At this point I am in the process of developing my opinion on the matter.

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10 thoughts on “Digital Activism in the Classroom

  1. Sarah you brought up a really good point in your blog when you asked if we are teaching kids that posting is the same as acting. I didn’t really think of that before. It is totally different to have a kid posting about bullying online and how it is such an awful thing to do, but at school the next day they see someone being bullied and just look the other way. I wonder how many of the teen activists on the page we saw act on issues that they post about in the real world.

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  2. Thanks, Kayla. I don’t necessarily have a problem with digital activism for people of any age, I just think it is important to pair saying with doing. I was not even thinking about hypocrisy, which you pointed out with bullying and cyber-bullying. I think that was a great point. This goes along with what we were talking about last week, we hide behind a screen to be mean. I think we can hide behind a screen and stand up for something online, and yet not stand for the same thing in front of people in the real world. I guess we need to be consistent with what we say and do in the real world and in the online world.

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  3. I like the point you made about kids knowing that when they post they are acting. I think it is important, especially at a younger age, to guide kids so that they are being responsible. They need the influence of a responsible adult. Good post.

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  4. I think it is good that you pointed out that even if people bullying over the internet, you are still fully committing act of bullying. We need to get as much social awareness out there to let people know that bullying is not okay and those that they bully are still people. Great Blog!

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  5. Thank you! It is so important to remember we deal with real people who can be hurt by our words regardless of what forum we choose to say them in. I think this will become a larger part of our job as teachers as time goes on.

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  6. Interesting question: If bullying online is the same as committing a full act of bullying, why is acting for the positive not a full act of positivity? Some students don’t have a soup kitchen to volunteer at. Spreading around a webpage to make donations on or signing petitions is still an act, regardless of how miniscule it may seem. Viral marketing / campaigns operate on this same basis: sharing isn’t a difficult act, but get enough people doing it, and it becomes a freight train in movement.

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  7. I agree with you, Jeff, that signing a petition or donating online is doing something positive and making a difference. Both of those instances require action, and not only a hash tag. I also think that enough people behind a cause can raise public awareness. Words are powerful and they can make a difference. I just want to make sure that I teach my kids, and my future students, that it is the things that we do that show who we are. You brought up great points, thank you for raising them.

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  8. I was also intrigue about what you said about bullying. If kids do it online is it the same as committing the full act of bullying. I think it is the same as doing the full act of bullying. However, I also feel cyber-bullying takes bullying to a new level of cruelty. Ironically, I just talked to a student who is a senior in high school who still remembers the pain of being bullied in the sixth grade. The sad part apart was the the girls who bullied her were never reprimanded. Cyber-bulling is not only the full act of bullying but it also often encourages more negative behavior since many kids are never caught.

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    • I agree, I also think that cyber-bullying can be worse since perpetrators are rarely held accountable for their actions. In addition, there is no safe place to go where the internet does not reach in and deliver those messages. If the bullying occurs on school grounds the administrations and teachers can help, and the victim is able to go home at night to a safe place. With bulling taking place through texting or social media it, unfortunately, does not ever stop.

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