One of my goals as a teacher is to increase my students’ interest and awareness in global affairs and cultures, as well as break down stereotypes. I also encourage them to use their knowledge to engage with our leaders and officials by writing letters. Additionally, I try to show them how social media can be used as an effective tool to engage with others in meaningful ways. With all of that in mind, I propose that digital diplomacy offers some great opportunities to combine both of those action pieces (using social media to engage with diplomatic officials and leaders).
I’ve used social media in my classroom for the past two years (since I’ve been on Twitter). Mostly, I’ve used it in the context of giving my students the “dual-screen experience” during political speeches and debates. I would have them watch the speech/debate on television and follow along on social media. In class the next day, it gave us an opportunity to discuss both the content of the speech/debate and talk about how the politicians/parties/journalists were trying to frame those events with questions like- What were they tweeting? How does that shape our conversations about the event? Who won on social media?
I also developed a unit where my students compared the use of Twitter by politicians and parties in the US and the UK over the same period of time. After they examined the tweets, they had to score them on whether or not they- 1) were informative, 2) engaged with constituents, and 3) were entertaining (i.e. snark). To top it off, and to bring in the perspective of somebody from Europe who knows a thing or two about social media in politics, I asked Jon Worth to Skype with my students. Any time students can engage with an expert in a field, they are going to have a more meaningful learning experience.
This brings me to how we might incorporate digital diplomacy into the classroom. With most embassies and ambassadors on Twitter or Facebook, there are more opportunities for engagement and learning about other countries and cultures. Since Facebook is blocked in many schools (mine included), I’m going to focus on Twitter.
First off, teachers would have to find all of those Twitter feeds for their students. That can be a time-consuming process, and as we all know, teachers do not have loads of time on their hands. Thankfully, others have already done that work for us. Diplomacy Matters has created a monthly Twitter Guide with the names of countries, their ambassador to the US, the embassy’s Twitter handle, and the ambassador’s Twitter handle. Additionally, they put the national days for each country that month on the guide.
Now that we have that information, we need to begin asking how we can use it in the classroom. Let’s start with the national days from the Diplomacy Matters Twitter Guide. Students can research the history behind those national days and report back to their classmates. If it’s during the school year, take some time (it doesn’t have to be a lot of time) to celebrate the national day. Tweet what they learned and share pictures of the celebration with the embassy.
Another idea is to have students analyze tweets to see how embassies and ambassadors use Twitter. Do the content of the Tweets differ between the embassy and the ambassador? Are they using Twitter as an informational tool only, or do they engage with US citizens? Do we get any sense of their country’s values? How do their values compare with those of the US?
Teachers can also supplement current events with social media. Besides the traditional news outlets, what do the embassies/ambassadors say about a given event or topic? This a great opportunity to teach point of view to students as well because even though countries might be in the same region, they might have different approaches to the same event/topic. Why might that be? Let’s use Europe as an example and the events in Ukraine. Why might tweets coming from the Eastern European embassies differ from those coming from Western European embassies? What role does history play in shaping current events and policy choices?
Finally, and this is pie-in-the-sky thinking here, but maybe, just maybe, educators could contact embassies to see if they could hold a Twitter chat. This could be with the ambassador or with embassy personnel, but either way, you’re giving students a way to engage with diplomatic officials to learn about another country and its culture. The closest I’ve come to this is when my Model UN team visited the Greek Consulate in Chicago during one of our conferences. They were able to spend about an hour talking with the Consul General, Ioanna Efthymiadou, asking questions about Greece’s foreign policy and its role in the world. Of course, my students had questions prepared in advance, and to make a Twitter chat flow nicely students would have to do the same.
To close, I see a lot of possibilities to bring digital diplomacy into the classroom. This is a great way to increase students’ awareness of the world around them and to teach them how to use social media as a tool for engagement. If you have any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear from you.
Thanks for reading.