After six years of using social media in my classroom, I found it created a community within a community. The little arts/photo tribe went deep, and long. I loved how alumni would come back and post, it added 'cred' to what we were learning in class.
Then, as in many struggling districts, we had administrative upheaval. After the changing of the guard, I was told that Flickr was blocked, and that's how it was. I sent them the link to my Flickr advocacy video, the video I made for teachers in districts driven more by fear, and not by vision, as part of my masters thesis about how an online component deepens and strengthens a classroom community. No response or change. I doubt they even watched it.
I have many students who have gone on to become art teachers. others have gone on to degrees and careers in the arts. Others have used the skills in related careers. But most have just used art and photography as part of their daily existence, making life more meaningful. It was important to me that all of these students learn to save their work not on a school server, but in a public place where they could own it, and come back to it, whenever they needed it for any reason.
So. Why will I miss Flickr? What will my students miss? Here's a story I've never put out there before. The first year I used Flickr, one of my students, Shawna, had leukemia. She was very conscientious, but she dropped photo the second semester because it was too tiring for her. That was the semester she started spending more and more time in the hospital. Although we saw her at school less and less, she was still posting to our group. As time went on, the photos she posted were from the increasingly restricted arena in which she found herself. Finally she was posting the flowers that were being sent to her in the hospital, from her hospital bed. She also documented them dying. She was clearly processing what was happening to her. And she shared it with us in real time.
A couple of years later, Shawna's younger sister was in my class. When I opened the group in class, and searched for tags to show examples of a given project, Shawna's work might come up. Her sister, far from being upset, warmed to the idea of being part of this little community that had also held her sister. She was pleased to see the mark her sister had made. She was here. She had done something. She would remind me how short Shawna was for example, and she too, warmed to the class and was enthusiastic.
Many alums who have moved on to a photo class at the college level have emailed me to excitedly share that their professor *required* them to open a Flickr, account, but they already had one, and were now adding their college work to their high school work. I love that they have that ownership. I have always thought of it as a way to contribute to their own future. But there is always an unanticipated use.
Today we celebrated the life of a former student, Sean. In an effort to comfort his family and friends, I found his Flickr stream and posted it where they could see it. I was so glad I was able to do this. Although online, this is another powerful purpose that a real community, digital or otherwise, has: to say "Sean is still here", and is a part of a live document, an unfolding story. He is still a part of the six year collection of postings, of 6,189 items, and countless comments and likes and discussions that is still there. Although it has now ground to a halt.
Now that our district has blocked every photo sharing service online, I am flummoxed. I was told that although they know *I* don't let the kids do or see anything bad, other teachers aren't so watchful, so they have to block everyone. I have to offer my students less, because other teachers don't step up their game, or admins don't make them. The fear that a high school student might see a breast, or that they might meet a pedophile (I doubt it) eclipses the real and human good that made my class so much more than a class.
I am tired of lessening in the name of progress. It's very disheartening.