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Students Take a Stand

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I teach an elective course at Glenbrook South High School, in Glenview, Il, called Media Collage. The course gives students a chance to explore how to use the internet, social media, and digital technology in positive, creative ways--how to be a producer instead of simply a consumer. And it is definitely student-centered regarding projects. In fact, this past semester, students were really interested in trying out different video editing tools: YouTube Editor, WeVideo, iMovie. After working on a number of different videos, the class decided they wanted to try one final group video project. My main requirement was that the projects needed to revolve around one of our big concepts: having a productive digital routine, crafting a positive online identity, using social media to be generous, kind, and thoughtful.

At the same time we were discussing video possibilities, GBS found itself in the midst of crisis regarding Yik Yak, the anonymous posting site. My students reported seeing and hearing a lot of bullying, ridicule, and destructive behavior taking place. Immediately, they all knew what they wanted to do: respond to the negativity in a way that the Principal's p.a. announcement could not. After a couple of brainstorming sessions, students broke up into groups based on the type of video they were interested in making. One group in particular watched some experiments on YouTube where people tried to bring attention to bullying and decided on this direction.

They began brainstorming experiments/performances they could do force their peers to confront the issue. Ultimately, their plan included having a few of them tied to a particularly busy stairway during passing periods with samples of Yik Yak comments around their necks. One student had "F*** Up" and "burnout" around his neck. Another, a girl, was tagged with "Easy," "Slut," and "Bitch." Clearly, these students had no desire to soften the language being used on the app. Fortunately, the administration agreed that the authenticity of the project required that they use this language. The others in the group filmed people's reactions from different vantage points.

The performance and ensuing video ended up better than they or I imagined. It was really powerful to watch how students reacted to seeing their peers tied up with these awful comments around their necks. It definitely sparked a conversation and made people consider how important it is to be responsible and accountable online and in real life. As for my class, it gave my students (and me) a great lesson in how important is to stand up, use our voices, and leverage social media in a positive way. And an example of what courage looks like.

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