Creepypasta. Have you heard of it? I hadn’t, until a student started sharing about her favorite online spaces. Creepypasta made the cut (they’re internet horror stories, intended to frighten readers and not intended for readers under 13). I felt like I was twice my age, trying to appear at least slightly less confounded than I felt inside- like I was on another planet. That’s not the first time I have wondered if I was speaking the same language as my students (remember the zombie flesh?). These conversations have proven to me just how little I know about the online habits of my students. These conversations, paired with what I am learning in ECI 832, are pushing me to prioritize digital citizenship education in my classroom. There have been many practical applications throughout the term, but I think my shift in mindset will leave the deepest impression on my practice.
The most significant shift in my thinking centres around taking a “one-life” approach to pedagogy. Nathan Jurgenson’s term “digital dualism” reminds me of a similar tension I felt growing up. I was a PK (“preacher’s kid”). We would go to church on Sundays and Wednesdays, at the very least. I attended youth group regularly. I remember, as a teen, feeling like I had little boxes in my life: home, church, school, sports. But I really just wanted to live fluidly and with integrity. I wanted consistency in who I was, regardless of where I found myself… but the boxes were sometimes hard to bust. I used to subscribe to the compartments of the online and offline worlds, too, but that’s changing.
Understanding the virtual world as separate and stand-alone from “reality” downplays experiences and relationships happening online, but also builds a wall between home and school. When we accept a “two-lives” approach (as explained in the Policy Planning Guide for Digital Citizenship Education in Saskatchewan Schools) , we leave our students to fend for themselves in developing the critical and analytical skills needed to navigate online. From what I have observed from my students, they are not yet able to make clear connections between life IRL and life online; they are two separate little boxes of life experience. More and more, I understand the importance of helping my students embrace and live “one life”. Our role as educators is crucial. We need to support our students, in both explicit and embedded ways, to become citizens in every space. We need to come alongside and coach them, giving them skills needed to be safe, responsible and respectful.
How can we help move our students towards a “one-life” approach? I think conversation is the key to tearing down the wall between these two spaces. We need to be engaged. We need to have ongoing dialogue with our kids about how they are spending time online. Like Jenn expressed, it’s really about shifting our conversations and “giving them a 21st century upgrade”. We still care about what our kids are doing and who they are with, but their primary spaces for interactions have changed, and so must our conversations. The fear attached to the unknown cannot slow us from entering into these important conversations with kids.
We need to be willing to step outside our comfort zones and hear about Creepypasta, or zombie flesh in Minecraft, or griefing, or trolling, or Snapchat, or Kik, or Call of Duty… you name it. If we aren’t willing, we can’t truly connect, or coach our kids. In an effort to bridge the gap, I spent some time learning about Creepypasta this weekend. Along with becoming familiar with some of the basics about the site and writing community, I also discovered a very recent fatal stabbing in Indiana by a 12-year-old girl who believed a fictional character from Creepypasta told her to do it. It’s not the first time Creepypasta has been tied to violence; last year there was also a vicious stabbing by two 13-year-old girls in Wisconsin. This isn’t a claim that all of what takes place on Creepypasta is evil, but it’s definitely part of the story and the influence the site is having on young people. It needs to be a part of the conversation.
I want to live one amazing life- one that is consistent and marked by integrity, kindness and love. And I want my students to live one amazing life, too. Being steadily committed to open conversations with our students can begin to break down the walls. By meeting our students where are at and learning about their experiences online, we are then able to come alongside, to guide and equip them with the 21st century skills needed to navigate in today’s society.