By Eliza Kennedy
Simon Birmingham, Minister for Education and Training wrote in his recent article STEM Education – Building Skills for the Future, “Sparking a real interest or passion for the STEM subjects is just as important as simply teaching students these skills. We need to make the study of these subjects really come alive and show children how far they can go in life with proficiency in these skills.”
When the Tech Girl Superhero Competition ran at St. Aidan’s Anglican Girls’ School in 2015, it helped to unearth a team of young tech innovators. The girls from Team PawsOut won with their app that connects amateur dog walkers with local dog owners. Jenine Beekhuyzen, founder of the competition and the Tech Girls Movement, said she aims to inspire young girls into technology careers. She uses social media to put out positive messages about women in technology to engage, inspire and entertain young girls. “Good stuff happens through seeing others doing interesting things in tech and thinking, I can do this too.”
The Team PawsOut students are now #techgirls role models themselves, using social media to communicate, connect and collaborate. The team told us, “We have used YouTube to learn about website design, business planning and branding. We learn a lot about what’s happening for women in technology by following relevant people, groups and organisations on Facebook, Instagram and Twitter. Social media has helped shape our direction, create awareness and reach our audience and it’s made it really easy to connect with people. We are using it now for our crowdfunding campaigns on GoFundMe and Kickstarter.”
When students are being hands-on in designing, building and implementing, it breathes life into their learning. Instead of merely being effective users of technology, they must learn to be the creators of digital solutions to equip them for the workforce of the future.
In response to student stories like these that Be Social. Be Smart have posted on LinkedIn, one teacher commented, “Popular public perception is that social media and young peoples’ use of it is trivial and/or evil. This is an example of the great work kids are already doing in this space and highlights the potential of social media to market real-world innovation and entrepreneurship. If we as teachers don’t leverage this potential, young people will anyway, in spite of us and the schooling system, not because of.”
Be Social. Be Smart meet many such inspiring young people who are truly leveraging digital tools to achieve innovative Science, Technology, Engineering, Arts and Mathematics (STEAM) related goals. As a contemporary social media education initiative, it empowers school and university students to use social media to purposefully and proactively create and use digital portfolios to support communication, collaboration and connection to prepare for jobs of the future.
There is no doubt that prevalent social media education in schools is still fear based and threat focused, rather than enabling, empowering and opportunity focused.
For students to learn the potential of social media to connect them with innovation in action, teachers need to first recognise and harness that potential themselves. For example, following handles on Twitter like @STEMedOZ provides a real-time source of news, achievement and advances of Science, Technology, Engineering and Mathematics (STEM) education in Australia. By clicking on who @STEMedOZ follows and who follows them, teachers can find hundreds more educational leaders, influencers and organisations. STEAM-based hashtags like #STEMeducation can also lead educators to engaging content and keep them current with real-world STEAM developments. Teachers who share their own content can use these tags to reach, connect and collaborate with other like-minded education professionals and communities.
Students’ interest and passion for STEAM can be nurtured, with potential career paths demystified, through the activities that take place on social media technologies like blogs, wikis, Google Apps, image sharing and video sharing platforms, social networking sites, social news sites, instant messaging, file sharing and microblogs; all of which enable the creation of collaborative, shared knowledge.
It is through these platforms that students can access global information, STEAM professionals and find like-minded communities. Introducing career role models who share similar interests and demographics can inspire students to develop their interest in STEAM and it is social media that enables them to connect with those who are actually doing what they may one day like to do and ask them about their work. With guidance, students are more likely to continue actively seeking STEAM information outside of school and become self-taught, lifelong learners.
Here is what Be Social. Be Smart found out about how critically embedded social media is in teen entrepreneurship when they spoke to Yash Dutt and Dunija Ariyaratne, the 15-year-old co-founders of TechFlow (a popular student-run technology community featuring reviews from students’ perspectives): “It all started with both of us being really interested in technology. In June of last year, we had a Science assignment that allowed us to create a presentation through our choice of media. Most people used PowerPoint, but we created a website: http://hpylorii.weebly.com We watched YouTube videos to learn how to make the website. It was fun and we learnt new skills, so we went on to create another website.”
Yash said, “Most teachers aren’t really aware of the benefits of social media. They don’t want us to use it at all because they are fearful of what can go wrong. What’s missing at school is any focus on the beauty of social media.” The girls from PawsOut confirmed, “Most of our teachers will say social media is bad. This is frustrating because we need it for our business and social media is a place where we can be creative.”
These students also recognise that the way they are using social media is not representative of their peer group. They particularly highlighted LinkedIn and Twitter as critical platforms to their start-ups that are rarely tapped into by their age group, who predominantly use social media for peer-to-peer communication. The potential to STEAM ahead comes from connecting more widely than friends and family – it comes from connecting with knowledge and information; connecting with mentors and role models; connecting with influencers and industry leaders; connecting with like-minded communities; and connecting with funding and investors.
Yash continued: “We were following CNET, The Verge, The Next Web, Jonathon Morrison and people like that on YouTube, Instagram, Facebook and Twitter. We’d see what everyone was up to by following these leaders in technology and we had an idea to create a space where young people could share their opinions and reviews on new technology.
Our second site, The Edge was a media tech site with opinion articles and by using Reddit we got quite a big following pretty quickly. It did so well that we went on to create a proper website. We came up with the name TechFlow through a chat on iMessage and then bought the domain name, hosting and started recruiting more writers. Our team of writers are all part of the engineering course at school and into tech.
Our biggest break so far came through an invitation to the Advance Queensland Investment and Innovation Summit in April this year. We were lucky enough to be able to ask Steve Wozniak a question during the live chat and Anastacia Palaszczuk and Leanne Enoch started tweeting about TechFlow and what we were doing. We were also invited to take over the Advance Queensland Twitter feed for a while.
From the Summit and also from the EduTech Conference in May, we have had the opportunity to connect and collaborate with so many different people, like our mentor Jock Fairweather from Little Tokyo Two and other inspiring entrepreneurs like Jane Lu from Showpo and Melanie Perkins from Canva. We got tonnes of business cards and we looked everyone up on LinkedIn and Twitter to connect. If we ever need help on something we have this incredible network we are able to reach out to.”
By developing critical digital literacy skills using social media technology now, teachers can help ensure students are equipped for the workforce of the future. One online tool available to employers, called The Social Index, aggregates and analyses an individual’s digital footprints to determine his personal brand, reach and alignment to a particular company’s brand, culture and values. Founder Fiona McLean said, “I would encourage students to safely connect with people that they find interesting. Connections can show the opportunities you bring to an organisation and how you communicate across different mediums, just as happens in the workplace.”
Educators need to foster the helpful aspects of social media, such as communicating and connecting, information seeking and building understanding, while limiting the hindrances such as unwanted distraction, lack of credibility and privacy concerns. The Director of e-Learning, Micah Wilkins from Mac.Robertson Girls’ High School summed it up best in a statement of support for positive social media education, “Before authentic technology rich learning and collaboration (both off and online) can occur, students need to be aware of the various ways media and technology can be used to gather and share information as well as develop important knowledge and understanding of STEM domains. It is through the power of social media that students will connect and collaborate with experts in the fields of space exploration, innovation, sustainability and communication.”
Eliza Kennedy is a director at Be Social. Be Smart, a national program developed to empower young people to harness their social media skills for good. It partners with secondary schools to upskill students in strategic and effective digital sharing for positive outcomes. The presentations incorporate a mix of storytelling, video and interactive activities to engage and inspire students to use social media to communicate, collaborate and connect for learning, employment and entrepreneurship. Connect with Be Social. Be Smart. on Facebook, Twitter or LinkedIn, or visit www.besocialbesmart.com.au for more information