Virtual hugs. Cyber crushes. Emojis and emoticons. In this global age, teaching Information Communications Technology may be one of the most enlightening experiences, and definitely one of the most challenging. In my classes at Aspaen Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias, we often discuss topics like the evolution of social media, and when updates to existing applications improve the app or just make it more complicated.
Students debates frequently turn to social media and interactions, like live versus virtual “relationships,” and when to know if an online network is benefiting your needs or draining them (good v. bad). As a teacher and a writer, I value the opinions of these digital natives and enjoy learning from their technology-absorbing minds, while also reminding them there’s no substitute quite yet for the human touch.
It’s been said that kids will tell you what’s hip and what’s not without even being asked. Aside from occasional adorable new baby photos and amazing dog rescue news, it seems Facebook, for many users, has gone the way of gossip, political rants and weather reports. It’s easy see why today’s teens think the once world-dominating social network is now for old people (i.e. anyone over the age of 30).
While it appears more businesses and community organizations are enjoying the benefits of Facebook pages, it seems young people find it lackluster as a means of communicating and staying current, electing instead to utilize apps like Snapchat and Instagram.
A few weeks ago, at a friend’s suggestion, I tried Snapchat, only to find it redundant, with it’s 10 second videos and goofy text-on-image photo sharing. After reading an amusing article about the target age for Snapchat, and growing impatient with it’s color-changing ghost, I deleted it without regret. For the past few years, my preferred app for chat has been Whatsapp. Despite the new addition of Whatsapp’s hit-or-miss free phone service, from Lima to London, the chat continues to work well for keeping in touch with friends around the globe.
Conversely, Instagram appears to be an application worth it’s weight in virtual show-and-tell. Since its release a little over four years ago, this app has captivated millions of users with its photo and video posts, and options to like, comment and share.
Instagram connects people from around the world in all walks of life, including photographers, writers, volunteers, magazines, community organizations, teachers and friends. Although it recently has been called a “body image battleground,” when used in moderation, Instagram is also like a visual playground, ripe with variety in users, locations and vocations.
A few months ago, searching for information on university-level exchange programs from the US to Colombia, I read about twin brothers Ravonne and Ramonne Pious from Columbia, South Carolina, who studied at La Universidad de La Guajira in Riohacha, Colombia. Inspired and motivated by their story, I shared it with my family, bookmarked the page, and referred back to it for details on what US Citizens are discovering the beloved coast of South America has to offer.
Fast-forward to the first week of October when Ravonne, one of the twins, and I exchanged introductions, first over Instagram direct message, then Whatsapp, sharing ideas on travel-teaching, diversified learning, and most of all, our appreciation for the incomparable culture of Colombia. Having recently been accepted for a year in Ecuador with my former volunteer program WorldTeach, Ravonne will surely thrive during his 2016 volunteer service, and hopefully make many posts to Instagram.
Instagram has doorways to dynamic groups in Colombia, like Baqsemueve, promoting growth in Barranquilla, Colombia, or Loves_America, who features incredible photos of North, South and Latin Americas. During a recent encounter with El Universal in Cartagena to support the campaign Dilo! Cartagena es lo Maximo – promoting reasons why Cartagena is the “maximum” – it was hard to resist enthusiastically expressing my love for this beautiful city.
Currently, the 9th and 11th grade classes of Aspaen Gimnasio Cartagena de Indias are participating in a project which focuses on the citizens of their city, with one class under the Instagram ID @humansofctg and the other class under @humansofcartagena. The photos follow the lead from Humans of New York: an organization that went from Facebook posts and a Tumblr feed to millions of followers and the publication of an informative, vivid printed book.
Could these students illicit attention with their campaigns? It’s absolutely possible. When learning is conducive to connecting with others, the world suddenly seems limitless.
While its still true few things compare to actual human touch and interaction, meeting people in it’s far corners of the Earth is working wonders to open the eyes, mind and heart of this traveling teacher far more than Facebook ever did, and in a much cooler, non-old person way.