TORONTO, May 25, 2015 /CNW/ - Building on its gritty #Instafame research released in November, Centennial College's kidsmediacentre is launching lesson plans for students in grades 6-9+ to teach them to critically reflect on the role of social media and how their generation is portraying themselves online. Teachers are provided with activities that probe subjects such as privacy, personal content strategies, the pursuit of online fame and posting for personal gain versus posting for social good.
The kidsmediacentre research focused on young people's selfie and personal brand-building practices, and discovered a significant community of kids with hundreds of thousands of followers on Instagram, YouTube and other social platforms. The research shows that many youth have given up all privacy online in their quest for fame, validation and remuneration.
"We want to bring our research results into the classroom where students can critically examine the 'whys' behind our selfie-driven, ubiquitous posting behaviours," says Debbie Gordon, Director of the kidsmediacentre, a research centre and think tank focused on children's media.
"Students should be able to analyze how they and their peers represent themselves online versus offline, and the influence of celebrity in our social media practices. With the torrent of new social media platforms targeting youth, we want to encourage them to pause, reflect and evaluate key concepts such as privacy and virtual reputation."
Digital literacy ignored: The need for education
#Instafame and the Epidemiology of Youth's Selfie-Curated Culture is a year-long research study about youth, celebrity and online culture by the kidsmediacentre at Centennial College. The research goal is summarized in the hashtag #askingthehardquestions. Researchers discovered a complicated, multi-causal matrix of reasons driving this fame-crazed, recognition-seeking youth cohort.
Of importance: young people have played a critical role in the current celebrity hierarchy. They've clicked, liked, hashtagged and "favourited" many of the Disney stars and YouTubers who have grown their brand and achieved celebrity status on the social Internet. Watching their generation climb in social media rankings combined with the largely unfiltered social media sex ed curriculum – including the naughty brands of Justin Beiber and Kim Kardashian – have resulted in some important lessons learned by young people. The new metric for success and #shares is the less filtering there is, the greater the following.
Centennial College researchers talked to middle- and high-school students who confirmed that despite years of digital literacy encouraging students to think about their "digital footprint" and privacy settings, the lessons are being ignored as youth adopt social media marketing strategies to brand themselves and gain recognition. Youth described provocative posting behaviours like #toolpick and #spamforspam as #thirsty practices and say this behaviour is now more the norm than the exception in youth-colonized social media spaces.
"Media literacy and life literacy go hand in hand and we know teachers are struggling to stay on top of digital trends and social media," says Gordon. "With facilitated lessons by teachers, students can review our research findings and make educated choices about what they post online and how they represent themselves."
In addition to unpacking the sociological underpinnings of some young people's "#Instafame" behaviour, the lesson plans explore the impact of cyberbullying, family monitoring and reactions, and future career prospects. A separate series of lessons asks students to think about how social media can be used for social good and to advance an important cause.
About the researchers
In addition to principal investigator Debbie Gordon, co-authors of this research include Centennial graduates Kayla McNally, Jess Westlake and Felix Chan. The mission of the kidsmediacentre is to explore children's media futures. Research funding was provided by Centennial College's Applied Research and Innovation Centre as part of a fellowship grant. This research initiative is an example of how Centennial College is leading the conversation regarding issues of importance to its students and its community, as articulated in its Book of Commitments.
SOURCE Centennial College
For further information: Media contact: Debbie Gordon, Director, kidsmediacentre, Centennial College, 416-289-5000, ext. 8770 or 416-518-3514 (mobile), [email protected]; Mark Toljagic, Communications Officer, Centennial College, 416-289-5000, ext. 7142 or 416-605-6012 (mobile), [email protected]