Digital leadership with Olivia Van Ledtje and Louie DaCosta

Last week, our Y4 students and teachers were treated to a special Zoom session with Olivia Van Ledtje (better known as LivBits) and Louie DaCosta (artfulouie), both twelve years old. Our current unit is about how we express beliefs and values online, and how we can use digital media in positive ways. I wrote about this unit last year, but Olivia and Louie have taken it to a whole new level!

I got talking to Olivia on Twitter about her new book, Spark Change: Making Your Mark in a Digital World (co-authored with mum Cynthia Merrill). With all of her amazing ideas, I tried my luck and she agreed to a Q&A Zoom session with my students about her work on social media. Even better, she was also able to bring Louie into the discussions too. With experts online, it’s always worth reaching out. If you don’t ask, you don’t get! And, in this case, the experts are still young students (all the more impactful). As Olivia continues to promote, #KidsCanTeachUs!

In addition to the Q&A, Olivia and Louie started by sharing slides and some key principles, mostly about the importance of student voice. They encouraged our Y4 students to share, advocate and connect. By sharing their thinking, opinions and stories, they can change the world. Such an empowering message!

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It was a truly inspiring discussion! I would like to share some of the key points on my blog, partly for my readers to learn from but also so that I have a record of it. I’ll continue to refer to this in the future.

The questions below were posed by our Y4 students as part of the signup process, or were added to the Zoom chat as follow-ups. They were used to lead the discussions. The mature responses are mostly from Olivia and Louie. Their mums, Cynthia Merill and Diana DaCosta, shared their important parent perspectives as well.

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How can we become famous?

Olivia shared how she refers to herself as “global”, not famous. Global because of international connections and collaborations, but it’s not about being famous. So, with a slight tweak to the question, Olivia suggested focusing on the audience, regardless of how big or small it is. It depends on how you want to connect. You could start on small, more secure platforms like Flipgrid or, if the focus is to grow the audience, platforms like Twitter and Instagram.

Louie echoed the notion of focusing on connections and the audience. His artwork receives support from teachers and artists around the world, and that’s what matters to him. Like he and Olivia did, he suggests starting on social media before the age of thirteen, leading nicely to the next question.

How do you get started on 13+ social media platforms if you’re not old enough?

With their mums (Cynthia and Diana) alongside them, it was clear that they play a huge role in mentoring, guiding and monitoring. Both Olivia and Louie shared how their parents are always there, checking social media posts and providing important feedback. Olivia shared how that feedback makes her content even better, as well as ensuring that she’s safe and responsible online.

Nobody is suggesting that pre-teens should be on 13+ social media unsupervised and unsupported, but Olivia and Louie have had critical mentorship that will serve them well. As Cynthia pointed out, kids aren’t magically responsible at thirteen anyway! The guidance is essential.

How do you create videos in one take?

This was prompted by Olivia sharing that she makes her videos in one take, but she wasn’t always able to do that. It takes practise. After years of doing it, she can now get her messages out efficiently. Besides, short and sweet videos work best. Olivia shared how people don’t want to watch long videos anyway!

Louie confessed that his first YouTube video (five minutes long) took two hours to record! It was frustrating but he knew that he had an audience and didn’t want to let them down. Now, Louie records his videos independently but it wasn’t always easy! This serves as a reminder that we usually only see the finished products on digital media, but a lot of process takes place behind the scenes.

What dreams do you have?

Anyone who follows Olivia on social media knows that she is passionate about sharks and sea life. Her dream is to be an ichthyologist. Social media allows her to connect with experts in this field and build her knowledge. She believes that her work on social media is contributing to achieving this dream. Louie dreams of being an Imagineer for Disney parks. Similarly, his creative work helps towards this goal (he is also taking a course on Khan Academy).

Adults usually focus on the bad things, Olivia argues. We should consider the fantastic opportunities that social media offers us to learn, grow and connect.

On the topic of negatives, have you ever had to deal with negative experiences online?

Olivia recalled four negative experiences. When these happened, she ignored them and allowed the adults (her “digital crew”) to deal with them. It doesn’t have to be a large group, but young people should have at least one trusted adult that they can turn to online if needed, Olivia suggests. But these four negative experiences are nothing compared to the countless, “probably more than a million” positive ones. We should focus on the positives.

For Louie, it’s hard when people say hurtful things about his videos. It makes him overthink the content and wonder if it really is bad. Constructive feedback is useful but rude comments are upsetting. Still, positive experiences far outweigh.

How has social media affected your life?

Social media has had so many positive impacts on Louie and Olivia. They are able to share their work and receive encouraging feedback from their global connections. Furthermore, social media led to incredible opportunities. Olivia is now an author, keynote speaker and advocate for student voice!

How do you have the motivation to maintain a platform over time?

Both Olivia and Louie shared how positive feedback keeps them motivated to keep creating, as well as the need to keep sharing the messages. Besides, Louie loves to draw and loves to get better at it. When he is proud of his work and gets great feedback, it motivates him to keep sharing!

How do you balance social media and real-life relationships?

Although connecting with people offline is very important and we should balance this, Olivia started by challenging the wording of the question, arguing that some relationships are virtual and some a physical, but they’re all real. When you finally meet a Twitter connection at a conference, for example, you realise how strong the relationship is already. I can definitely relate to that! I shared a quote that this reminded me of:

“Social media won’t replace a handshake, but social media done right will change the first meeting from a handshake to a hug.”

Brian Fanzo

If you know that you are influential, how do you share responsibly?

People follow your work if they share the same beliefs and values, Olivia shared. But, especially as the audience grows and your influence is greater, it’s important to be responsible. For example, giving accurate information. This is a big responsibility when others are learning from you.

Many adults would say that students should not be using social media before thirteen. What do you say to that?

Olivia kindly disagrees, although she understands the concerns, considering how people usually dwell on the negatives. She said that focusing on the positives shows social media in a whole new light. She also pushes the importance of student-led class accounts on social media, stating how they provide training wheels.

At this point, Cynthia shared her thoughts as well. When learning any new skill, students require guided practice. Social media is no different. Prior to Olivia being thirteen, guided practice will help her to be independent and responsible. Diana also shared that this is an opportunity to mentor, learn and work alongside Louie.

We ended on these hugely important points but I would have kept the conversation going all day if I could have!

Once again, thank you to Olivia, Louie, Cynthia and Diana for giving up their time to support our learning in Hong Kong. It isn’t just the students who learnt a lot! It has been great to reflect on this discussion and to share the important points on here. If you have any thoughts or follow-up questions, feel free to leave a comment below.


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