creative commons licensed (BY-NC) flickr photo by William M Ferriter: http://flickr.com/photos/plugusin/12859355904
 
A few years ago when I lived in country Victoria I had the privilege of working with my Koori kids alongside the local police to restore old bikes. The purpose of the exercise was to not only show the students that they could achieve something, but also to build relationships between police and the wider population. It therefore made me sad when funding for the program was pulled, to me I thought that it was a priceless experience to have the police involved in a proactive situation, rather than be lumped into the reactive situation that they are endlessly placed in. However, today when a local officer came to speak to the students I was left thinking that maybe not all attempts at proactive interactions with students are helpful. Sometimes, I believe, using a uniform to add creditials actually compromises the message.
 
Although I agreed with many of the arguments made, such as the point that the person you are online is the person that you are in real life, nothing is ever 100% safe and secure online and for five seconds of fame is it really worth publishing material online that maybe offensive or get us into strife. I really question the ‘fear’ approach. With a whole lot of stories about baby monitors being hacked, sex offenders with 200+ aliases and a generation of youths who are unemployable due to their cyber footprint.
 
As much as the threat that the fear approach may convince some to heed and think again, there will be others who will simply big themselves in deeper. Others who will search for other ways. Others who will develop a false facade that doesn’t help anyone. See for example Charles Arthur’s interview with Jake Davis for the Guardian as a case study of someone who went too far. What then are we doing for those people?
 
Coupled with fear is an oft outdated approach to technology. Fine I can understand the purpose of using a nickname, not befriending ‘strangers’ and questioning how much personal data you share online. However, I question the usefulness of suggesting that students should have ‘tech free weekends’. For you don’t really need to be on social media, it won’t kill you, you will survive. In addition to this, students were told that they really must share their passwords with their parents, that it is some sort of right.
 
Now that maybe true, it maybe a right for parents to dictate the rules that occur underneath their roof. However, here I am reminded of +danah boyd‘s message in her fantastic book, It’s Complicated, that for many teens it is one thing to share their passwords with parents, but it is another to have them logging in and snooping around. “Some teens see privacy as a right, but many more see privacy as a matter of trust. Thus, when their parents choose to snoop or lurk or read their online posts, these teens see it as a signal of distrust.” The reality is that friendship and a relationship with a son or daughter is not a right, it is something earnt.
 
In addition to this, I was left confused by the suggestion that students really need to spend more time with friends in real life. Returning again to Boyd, I think we sadly miss the place of social media in the lives of teens. Out of all the different messages presented in her book, the one that struck me the most was why so many teens flock to the virtual. Boyd explains that this is because in the past where teens may have hung out at the drive-in or the skating rink, many of these spaces have been robbed from them due to fear of the unknown, fear of what might happen.
 
Fine there is a place for the police to inform students about cybersafety and tips for dealing with it, such as don’t respond, block the person, change your privacy settings, collect all evidence and share with someone you can trust. While coupled with this, provide some explanation of the legal consequences to online actions. Is there limit to what should be said? As I have described elsewhere, I believe many educators would benefit from reading Boyd’s book for there is a lot being left unsaid in this discussion.
 
As it was suggested in the presentation that it is not about not getting caught, but about being a better person online. Are we really helping them do that when we continually strip teens of any sense of agency and deny the realities of their lives? What are your experiences with cybersafety? How have you tried to reach out to the students in your care?

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This post is a follow up to my presentation at the Melbourne Teachmeet held at the Immigration Museum on the 10th of May. The focus was the question, “are you really connecting if you are not giving back?” This was a topic that I had previously written about in a post of the same name. The one difference was the implications for sharing in the classroom.
 

 
 
I don’t know how many times I have heard Edmodo referred to as being ‘Facebook for education’. Other than the fact that it simply isn’t, the biggest problem I have with this is that so often such spaces are set up as a place for one way communication. Where although the teacher has stepped off the physical space, they have merely stepped into a virtual stage.
 
Now I understand that as the teacher we have a responsibility to manage such spaces. However, should it be any wonder when there is little traction from students when such spaces only allow discussion to be driven from the perspective of the teacher. This assignment is due, complete this quiz, answer that question.  I wonder how much take-up there would be with spaces like Edmodo when the focus is on learning and the topic at hand? 
 
I have heard so many presentations spruiking the benefits of Facebook for education. Usually such discussions revolve around students creating their own pages where they then gather and discuss information and ideas, including homework. Not only are they collaborating in such situations, but they are driving their own learning. So often Facebook works because students have a stronger sense of agency. When it is taken over by teachers and education, it looses its potential, the sheen rubs off.
 
In addition to issues with control, my experience of ‘social media’ of any sort in education (I include the Ultranet in this) often fails to replicate what is happening in the real world. We live in a world of excess where we are given a choice whether to participate, to comment, to view, to consume. Yet how often are students given such choices?
 
One step towards relinquishing this sense of control is to share with students those resources that we often stumble upon while exploring new opportunities. Although on a different level, +Cameron Paterson recently shared a change at his school where student representatives are included in every subject meeting. That means when there is a professional reading for staff that students complete this as well. If this is the case, why not share those articles and videos with students? Not necessarily because they have to read or watch them, but so that they have a choice.
 
In his Ted Talk+Ewan McIntosh questions why teachers rather than students do all the problem finding? This really got me thinking about what else that teachers do that students are missing out on. Short of actually committing to McIntosh’s ‘Design Thinking’ edict – we can all dream? – one step towards a focus on sharing and collaboration is actually sharing some of the messy play that often only teachers engage in. That meandering through websites in search of quality resources.
 
For example, last year I ran an elective looking at 21st Century Learning. Each week I would post links to additional material, such as posts or videos, such as Sugata Mitra’s ‘Kids Can Teach Themselves’ and Ken Robinson’s ‘How to Escape Education’s Death Valley’. This wasn’t about flipping the classroom, but rather supplementing the learning. It was amazing how many students actually watched the videos and came back the next week with other videos of their own to share back.
 
In a post discussing Three Common Myths About Innovation in Education, +Dan Haesler posses the question, “What if innovation in education sought to (genuinely) empower rather than control students?” I would like to think that sharing with students is very much a part of this. How is it that you share with students? What are some of the steps that you have taken to making online spaces safe, but also giving students a sense of choice? Please share, I would love to hear about it.

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