Wednesday, November 14, 2012

Technology, Social Engagement and Superstorm Sandy

This article is cross posted at the Technology & Learning Advisor blog.

I feel very blessed to be someone that not only lives at the Southern New Jersey shore, but had the opportunity to grow up on one of its barrier islands. I have weathered many storms, and have heard about the really "big ones" from the old timers, but Superstorm Sandy was different.  Needless to say, we knew it was time to get out of town so we boarded up and left.

One thought going through any homeowners mind is, "What will it be like during the storm and what will the town, and our home, look like after?"  Enter the power of the Internet and social media.  During uncertain times knowing how to leverage these resources becomes a life line of information for people when they are away from home. It is also an opportunity to teach our students about the power, and importance, of  social media and web resources.

I know we have heard this said before but, we need to reflect and ask ourselves,"Do we spend the time in our schools teaching our students how to best use technology for social good?"  If it wasn't for YouTube, Facebook, Blogs, Twitter and other resources, I would have had a hard time knowing what was going on.  Through these 21st Century "media outlets" I was able to see videos and pictures of my town during and after the storm.  I was even able to find pictures of my home and my families homes to let them know if they were flooded or damaged.  I was even able to find a video of my street and house during the storm.  Local bloggers and websites provided me with information that was invaluable and even gave me a head start when were allowed to re-enter after the storm.  A 10-minute drive still took 2 hours but it could have been worse.

Social media was used for social change as well.  When one local town reopened and the only bridge in was charging a toll.  So, people went to social media to put the word out, the local news media outlets then heard about it and the bridge owners relented and allowed people back for free.  In fact, they went so far as to take all of the toll money they already collected and donated it to the relief effort.  Now that is a teachable moment!

Some grass roots movements started through social media as well.  One started with a young person creating a graphic that he posted as his FaceBook profile picture.  He received so many likes and encouraging messages to make a t-shirt that he and his friends have started a highly successful fundraising group, Restore the Shore, that donates 100% of their proceeds to the relief effort.  Many large companies have supported them as well as locals dropping off supplies to be distributed. All of this from a FaceBook account!  What an example for our students!

We are in an era of global social engagement and collaboration.  Events such as Sandy are a great opportunity to teach our students how to use social media and technology to create, share and obtain information.  Young people in our society should be developing the skills to use these tools in innovative, entrepreneurial, and socially responsible ways.  We as parents and educators need to learn about them as well to help guide and instruct them.  It shouldn't take a natural disaster to see the importance.

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