How Toronto’s York School students are navigating the digital world

Brought to you by The York School

Schools have always seen themselves as being responsible for helping to develop engaged citizens who go on to become positive and contributing members of society. Since the birth of the internet and the platforms that connect it, we have come to understand the powerful role it now plays in the maintenance of a functioning democracy.

One only needs to watch the news for a moment to see evidence of this in action. Tweets, posts, hashtags and updates now take centre stage alongside what leaders say in person. Facebook, Instagram, Twitter, etc. are powerful platforms that have been responsible for governments falling and injustices exposed as well the acceleration of positive change. Conversely, social media platforms have also been manipulated to spread misinformation.

Photos of the 2018 cohort

The students at The York School soak all of this up on a daily basis, and as a community, we have to help teach them how to interpret the flood of information, stick to their values and apply a critical lens to facts and opinions. As the adults our students look up to for modelling both good and bad behaviour, we have to help them to make sense of it all. It can be confusing and strange at the best of times.

It is clear that schools and teachers must now include “digital citizenship” when they consider the attributes that will best prepare students for the future. The conversations around online safety, security, etiquette, privacy, copyright, permission, interpretation and trust must now start at a much earlier age and be woven into the fabric of an evolving curriculum. As the tools and platforms change, so too must the conversations.

Five years ago, we were talking about Facebook and Instagram; today Snapchat and TikTok are top of mind.

The York School has had a rich tradition of embracing technology across its curriculum going as far back as 1999.

As one of the first schools in Canada to adopt one-to-one laptop learning, we have learned much along the way. One of our most significant takeaways has been that, when it comes to teaching these skills, young people learn best from digital natives who are fluent in the digital landscape.

Photos of the 2018 cohort

We recognize that students’ lived experience of the integration of digital tools into the fabric of their social lives makes them uniquely able to guide younger students. Rather than expecting young people to intuit how best to navigate this complicated digital world, we need to take time for explicit instruction and be open to the idea that our senior digital native students offer a more nuanced and authentic understanding than some of the adults in the building.

At The York School, carving out time during the school day to unpack and explore online interactions through conversation has been facilitated through our comprehensive Grades 6 to 12 advisor program. We learn alongside our students and have come to see them as our greatest resource in helping understand this ever-changing and interconnected world.

Article exclusive to TRNTO