Social Media and Information Poverty

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    Connectivity is important to all people, but for individuals who are members of marginalized groups, it is a lifeline.  This also goes for marginalized student groups in all levels of schooling.  Being marginalized doesn’t just mean being left out of the main action, it also includes being isolated, alienated, and, to the extreme, ostracized, from belonging to the student body.  Many students who fall into these groups find themselves without the social support to succeed in class and end up doing poorly or failing.  Some cannot even attend higher education.  This is a major social problem and one that can be eradicated with the aid of digital technology.  The accessibility, ease-of-use, global reach, and encouragement of interaction and innovation makes digital technology invaluable tools for marginalized groups.  It allows them access to network of information that can help these groups develop socially, emotionally, and financially.  In other words, they can become incorporated within a secure, supportive social network.  They become enfranchised students in school and life.

     The following are some of the groups who fall under the umbrella term “marginalized.”  However, with the efforts of institutions and social media, these groups can become centralized; hence, receive the ability to speak their identity to the public.  The following are some of the groups of which social media is helping to enfranchise in the educational setting.  This movement is on-going and revolutionary; a crusade of sorts for human rights.

Poverty and Youth:

     Poverty is a social condition many educational institutions do not address properly.  That is not a radical statement.  Students from impoverished and/or poorer domestic situations often have difficulties that other students do not face.  This is a problem which includes students fromCanada and around the world.  The access to social media may seem too financially implausible, yet it is through the collaboration of schools, digital media corporations, and families that can help to provide the necessary tools for students to work with at an affordable cost.  It works financially, but the social changes – many positive – that occur as a result shift power dynamics within the classroom and the communities.  In fact, poverty is often given the silent treatment on purpose in order to maintain a status quo (writer’s personal sarcastic interjection: actually, to maintain I don’t know what, since the situation is often simply ignored).  The following link provides an exemplary situation where social media has revolutionized a school for homeless and disadvantaged youth. Dell University connected with students from different financial demographics and helped their school improve its infrastructure and the social dynamics of the students.


Now, students in Covenant House CaliforniaCovenant House California have the ability to connect with a global educational environment.  Here is the video, entitled “High Tech Hope”.  Laptops and up-to-date computer programs, allows students access to an education at least comparable to university students who come from more privileged backgrounds.


On a global level,  One Laptop per Child, an NGO which provides laptops to schools throughout the developing world. There mission provides a good explanation of this excellent group’s work:

“We aim to provide each child with a rugged, low-cost, low-power, connected laptop. To this end, we have designed hardware, content and software for collaborative, joyful, and self-empowered learning. With access to this type of tool, children are engaged in their own education, and learn, share, and create together. They become connected to each other, to the world and to a brighter future.”

There mission is simple, fund the opportunity to give a new generation of young people the ability to connect to education throughout the world.  In a sense, you have a reverse hierarchy of needs – somewhat convoluted, I know, but stay with me – this reverse hierarchy seeks to provide developing countries with tools for the digital age in the hopes that they will help them help themselves from the ground up.  These tools do not cost very much, do not need to interfere with a country’s socio-political-cultural dynamics, but simply educate and provide marginalized groups within these countries the ability to connect and develop on their own terms.


Native Students:

Reserves and controversy go hand-in-hand.  One issue on reserves is the lack of quality education.  Poor funding and resources leave reserves without the tools needed to help indigenous students successfully succeed with their education.  This is changing, but slowly, and is meeting with many political roadblocks along the way.  Social media can help reserves connect with the larger educational community without compromising their cultural identity.  This last point is crucial because it shows that the accessibility, openness, and interactivity of social media is able to support the individual needs of students from different social, cultural, and/or religious backgrounds.  Native communities often have their own way of learning that traditional, ‘Westernized,’ education counters.  Within their communities an emphasis is placed on community, tradition, and history.  Tribe elders and leaders are often educators in their own right and students seek guidance from them.  These students can use social media to benefit from a public education while also maintaining a connection to their culture’s customs.  Social media also helps non-Natives to learn about Native communities and seek a more personalized connection with these communities.  Below is a link to En’owkin Centre, which helps to integrate culture and education.  Websites like this create online communities that help to build the incentive to work for their identity within a national setting.  For instance, the “Aboriginal Access Program” which is an opportunity for Native students to gain access to university study. This program allows Native students to register in university and/or college-level courses without registering in a degree program or undergoing a standard admission process.  It enables students to learn about and preview post-secondary education, while also providing them with contacts to post-secondary degree programs.  The En’owkin Centre encourages the restoration and preservation of tradition in Native education and attempts to build a gap between community and country.  Once again, collaboration is the key and bridging two worlds starts with conversation.  The medium is the message for helping Native student become more involved in the development of their community and country.


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 (Dis)Abled Students:

     Social media can make disability ability.  Disabled students sometimes are unable to attend class and, due to this, have previously been unable to receive a full public education.  Social media is making this a disadvantage of the past.  The most obvious example is the how social media improves physical accessibility to the internet, which connects students to the World Wide Web – a cornucopia of information that, at its best, can educate effortlessly.  Many institutions have caught on, such as AthabascaUniversity, which offers entire degrees online for students who cannot attend regular university due to particular circumstances.  Also, many institutions offer courses, lessons, and assignments online for students to gather their degree requirements one click at a time.  Furthermore, social media tools, such as Skype, allow students to discuss material with their professors or other students, ensuring they can get all the help they need.

     Social media provides not only accessibility, but flexibility in learning methods.  Not all students learn by simply attending class.  Students with disabilities may have difficulty keeping up with material, finishing assignments, and/or feeling comfortable with their peers.  As a result many fall behind and/or fail to finish their education.  Social media allows students to communicate their needs to their instructors and help shape their own success.  In other words, it promotes accommodation and defends students against discrimination based on disability.  Online support groups and agencies also help a connection to be made and also act as a mediator between students, instructors, and administration.  Here are two to look into:


This site’s link to education provides a look at how education within schools is changing. Also, note this site’s emphasis on open education and universal web accessibility: these two concepts are naturally geared towards students with disabilities and tie neatly in with Tapscott’s five principles of digital media.


An excellent site that covers many issues faced by disabled students.  In particular this site also provides a full explanation of the Human Rights Legislation that prohibits discrimination based on disabilities, also known as The Right to Reasonable Accommodation for Disability.

GBLTQ Students:

     GBLTQ students face unique difficulties that they often feel are exclusive to themselves.  Ostracism, bullying, and the apprehension and fear of coming out to their peers, friends, and parents can make learning the last priority on their list.  Social media is revolutionizing this.  Online communities are available on all mediums and projects such as the “It Gets Better Project” have enabled GBLTQ student’s voices to be heard across the globe.  The ostracism that they face in a social setting is countered online, where online GBLTQ-friendly communities open their doors to new members and advise them on how to build networks in their communities and beyond.  Online help lines, charities, and forums can further help GBLTQ students feel accepted in an environment that is safe and supportive.  If a young students feels accepted in a community with, say, 5000 members, they may be able to build the confidence to make peace with their sexual and/or gender orientation and communicate their identity with their community.

The most exemplary site is Dan Savage’s “It Gets Better.”  The project’s goal is to prevent suicide amongst GBLTQ students; however, this goal has extended to others.  In collaboration with Youtube, It Gets Better has also helped people publish videos on their site, each voicing the promise that “it will get better” to student who feel isolated within their school community.  The project features videos from men and women, young and old, gay, bisexual, and straight, who all promote the message that life improves regardless of your orientation.  The message seeks to end homophobia and help those in need.  What is more, by being able to view such online videos, students can also interact and create their own videos.  Also, videos often feature important, respected public figures, ranging from celebrities, educators, politicians, and sports figures, each confessing their support for GBLTQ youth.  The site also offers a news feed, which reports advancements being made in GBLTQ rights across the world.  The site has published over 50,000 video messages with over 50 million views.


Creative Students (different learning types): 

Different students learn in different ways.  An often over-looked group of marginalized students are who learn through creative and experimental means.  The creative student may prefer, for example, to draw the solution to a problem instead of write about it.  They may also wish to express their response by acting it out, as opposed to presenting it in a formal presentation.  Creative students exhibit different traits than their peers.  They are often naturally gifted in some area, whether it is the visual arts, performance, music, or creative writing.  They also may be techies, gamers, and/or inventors who engineer unique solutions.  Creative students are easily misunderstood as unfocused, troubled, irrational, and/or disruptive to the normatives and standards of teaching and learning.  The situation can lead to greater problems for the creative student, who often is sensitive to criticism and takes the advice of their instructors and peers too personal.  Social media can help students express their individualistic ideas in order to showcase their talents to others.  This can help students communicate their individual learning needs to instructors, who can then gauge ways to help them learn the material while also allowing the creative student to express their views on it, or experiment with solutions.

It should be noted that creative students exist within all disciplines, from the sciences to the arts (and somewhere in between).  Creative students often bridge these two oppositions and allow for the inter-accessibility of both.  Thus, communication becomes fluid because of students who are willing to push boundaries and cross lines demarcated for exclusive groups.  These rebel artists are invaluable to educational institutions, since by bridging gaps they can develop new solutions never before imagined.  Below is a link to Ryerson University’s Digital Media Zone, which is a collective effort amongst students of all disciplines to use digital media to collaborate in research, engineering, and the presentation of new findings for the public.