I was lucky enough to recently attend a session run by Claire Sutherland for the Alannah and Madeline Foundation around the topic of ‘safe schools‘. I have worked with AMF before in regards to eSmart. Today’s focus was on the trends, policies and resources to support schools around cybersafety. Personally, I have mixed feelings about cybersafety as a topic, as there are some who approach it from the perspective of fear. So here are some of my notes and observations on the presentation …

Issues

When it comes to children and technology, there are a number of issues to consider:

In regards to schools and liability, It is important to understand that if you are aware of an issue, you are responsible. In Victoria, this is covered in the PROTECT Guidelines.

3Cs

For the Alannah and Madeline Foundation cybersafety can be broken down into three aspects:

  • Contact: Do you appreciate who you are sharing with? There is a difference between a ‘friend’ and a ‘follower’, while many of our connections come via acquaintances. We may think that we are not providing much information online, however once we work across multiple platforms, people (and computers) can easily join the dots and develop quite an extensive profile.
  • Conduct: How do you act when you are online? Do you THINK before you post, that is do you consider if what you are sharing is ‘True, Helpful, Inspiring, Necessary and Kind’. Research says that 1:5 students have been involved in cyberbullying online. The challenge is to look out for one another, respecting the rights of others. One suggestion is to ask before tagging, especially in regards to changes in regards to auto-tagging within Google Photos.
  • Content: What information do you share online? Is it personal or private? How authentic is it? How positive is your digital footprint? What is your response to fake news and surreptitious advertising? To plagarism, is it constructive? This can all be challenging as we move into a world that no longer forgets. Something captured by Black Mirror where everyone’s experiences are captured all of the time or we are continually judged by everything that happens in our life.

Associated with the 3C’s, there are four different types of spaces: messaging app, social media, games and dating apps. What entices students is whether they are free, accessible, social and allow experimentation. Constantly changing, these spaces are a part of the yo-yo craze where students move when adults move in.

Challenges

Some of the challenges associated with cybersafety include: raising awareness with parents, teachers and students, monitor the use of technology, building online resilience and empathy, celebrating the positive, as well as empowering bystanders to stand up by providing anonymous reporting systems. To be proactive, schools need to be as explicit as possible when it comes to policy. This means it does not matter which teacher is consulted. Associated with all this, it is important to document issues when they arise.

Resources

Here are a collection of resources – both from the session and some links of my own – to go further in regards to cyber safety and digital citizenship:


So what about you? What are you doing to make school safer? Are there any tips, tricks or resources that you would share? As always, comments welcome.


If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.


flickr photo shared by mrkrndvs under a Creative Commons ( BY-NC ) license

I remember when, while still studying at university, I attended my first educational conference. It was the History Teachers Association National Conference. Being new, I had no idea how to choose what sessions to attend. That is how I ended up in a session reviewing the recent changes to the senior syllabus. To add to matters, I walked in late and the session had already started. There were comments being thrown around left, right and centre. On one hand I felt lost and out of place, but on the other hand it demonstrated to me what was required, both in regards to appreciation of the complexity of the curriculum, as well as the work I still needed to do in order to get my head around the topic. I had a similar feeling reading Cory Doctorow’s book Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free – Laws for the Internet Age.

Author, blogger and activitst, Doctorow provides a vision of now. Along with critics such as Quinn Norton and Audrey Watters, he captures a dystopian side of technology too often overlooked in the mainstream media. Although there are those such as Sherry Turkle who highlight the negative impacts of technology, Doctorow focuses on the choices that are so often dictated onto society by governments and large corporations.

Influenced by Arthur C. Clarke, Doctorow frames this discussion around three ‘laws’:

  1. Any time someone puts a lock on something that belongs to you and wont give you the keys that lock isnt there for your benefit.
  2. Fame won’t make you rich, but you can’t get paid without it.
  3. Information doesn’t want to be free, people do.

Through his investigations he touches on how coding works, including ways it can be broken, and why the use of digital locks, hidden code and DRM is a problem, not a solution. He talks about how with access to the biggest audience machine ever a little bit of fame can go a long way. However, this can also lead us into the trap of handing over rights to our work in the name of popularity and promotion. Doctorow also addresses the place of copyright in a digital age, exploring aspects, such as censorship, remixes, national firewalls and the spread of ideas.

Information Doesn’t Want to Be Free: Laws for the Internet Age does not make the claim, like some, that ‘Google’ is making us dumb, rather that corporations are creating a world that restricts our freedoms and limits our privacy. The concern is not the strangers online supposedly waiting for prey to stalk upon, but 1’s and 0’s mined unbeknownst to us by online companies. Although there is a lot of fear associated with all of this, it does not have to be that way and Doctorow is keen to point out that there is still hope. The question though is what tomorrow are we willing to fight for? This is an important read not only to appreciate the world that we are in, but to build an awareness of the impact of the choices made either by us or for us each and every day.

Here is a collection of quotes for a different perspective on the book:


While for those interested in Doctorow’s ideas, I recommend the following videos:



If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

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?

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

I recently wrote a post reflecting on the apparent ‘failure’ of the digital revolution. What came through from both my own reflections and the comments provided by others is that the reason for this supposed failure lies whole-heartedly with leadership. Whether it be at a local school-based level or at a governmental level, there has been a litany of errors. One of issues that often arises with the use of technology in schools are the ramifications for staff and students as their sense of citizenship has evolved to incorporate the digital realm. One organisation set up to allevate such stresses has been the eSmart Schools Program.
 
The eSmart Schools Program was developed by the Alannah and Madeline Foundation, “a national charity with the belief that all children should have a safe and happy childhood without being subjected to any form of violence.” One of its main purposes is dealing with threat of cyberbullying and child safety from the ground up. Unlike the reactive fear campaigns too often perpetrated in schools, the aim of the program is to be proactive. Instead of waiting for their to be a problem, the goal of the program is to develop a clear framework that sets in place a range of practises and policies that hopefully means there are no problems or if there are that they are responded to in an appropriate manner. All in all there are six domains that make up the framework which all work towards the smart, safe and responsible use of technology.
 
 

At the end of last term, +Catherine Gatt and I had the privilege of being a part of an eSmart Schools forum. The event was designed to get together a range of different representatives from schools around Melbourne to discuss how the program was going. Basically, the purpose of the session was to get as many different perspectives as possible in order to identify what the next chapter would be.
 

Growing Pains

Some of the problems that my school has had on our journey to being an eSmart accredited school include:
 

Ownership

The ideal situation in regards to leadership is to have a flat structure where every teacher and student is responsible. However, too many are still attached to a hierarchical structure where responsibility is carried by those at the top. Whereas the primary classes have had one teacher facilitating the whole program for both staff and students, in the secondary environment, too much is left to too few. Although many of the topics of bullying, digital identity and cyber-safety are often dealt with in Health classes, the message is often missed in other classes where in an already crowded curriculum, various eSmart initiatives are not seen as the highest responsibility.
 

Scope and Sequence

Associated with a sense of ownership, there is the problem of scope and sequence. Although the core issues around identity are often dealt with in an explicit manner, it is areas such as plagiarism, appropriate researching online and attribution, which are too easily forgotten in the hustle and bustle of everyday teaching. The most obvious example is the use of digital images in the classroom. How often do staff, let alone students, actually consider whether they have the rights to use the images that they do? I must admit that it is only something I have started to consider seriously in the last few years. Basically, it becomes one of those situations where everyone and no one is responsible. Without it explicitly written into the curriculum, such aspects are too easily overlooked.
 

Administration

Along with a lack of clear leadership, the ongoing accountability and administration is left to too few. Instead of everyone having a sense of responsibility, it is too often seen as the responsibility of the eSmart co-ordinator. I understand that someone needs organise things. However, that does not mean that they need to do everything. The worst thing with this is that such individuals simply can’t do everything as they are not privy to everything.
 

ICT vs. Welfare

One of the underlying issues I have found with the whole program is where it actually sits within the school. Does it belong to welfare? Or is it an ICT thing? Ideally it should belong to both. However, this is easier said than done. The problem that I have seen is that when it is driven from a welfare perspective, some of the more technological aspects are overlooked, and vice versa.
 

Solutions, Fixes and Becoming Smarter

One the best things about the forum was the opportunity to not only share various hiccups faced along the way, but also to brainstorm various ideas and solutions for making things better. Some of the ideas included:
 

A Letter from Students to Parents about Issues

Too often letters are sent home from staff addressing issues and problems that arise in regards to technology and digital citizenship. A suggestion presented by another school was to get students to develop such letters. Not only do they then own the situation, but such letters have so much more meaning when they come from students. +Bill Ferriter wrote a really interesting post on creating a student advisory board as a medium for providing feedback from those who matter, I think that students writing letters could definitely fit into this.
 

eSmart Licence

An idea that one school put in place was a licence for students. Like the pen licence, the eSmart licence was for students who had completed a series of modules created by the school. It represented some recognition that students were as prepared for the digital world as they can be.
 

A Committee is eSmarter than a Co-ordinator

As David Weinberger suggests, “he smartest person in the room, is the room”. The question then is how many people are in the room? If the group in charge of implementing the eSmart program is only three people, how smart can the group be? So many schools spoke about how the program stalled when it was driven by a couple of individuals. The big challenge moving forward is to create a meaningful committee, that includes a wide range of voices (students, teachers, technicians, parents), which meets on a regular basis. Although a group was formed to review the school’s policy, once that had been achieved, the group soon dispersed. In addition to this, such a program can go into disarray when any one of those individuals moves onto new surroundings.
 

The Next Chapter

Overall, the big question that was discussed at the forum was where to next. What was unknown was what happened to schools that had gone through the process and received their accreditation. There is currently nothing in place to support schools in regards to maintaining their level of standard. In addition to this, the program is currently supported by the government and will soon come up for review. The question that was posed to those present was whether schools would be willing to pay an annual subscription for the right to be an eSmart School and what this would actually include, whether it be support or simply a recognition of a standard. 
 
I hope that there is some sort of solution that will allow the program to continue beyond the five years. For it has provided a great framework to work with. It really makes me wonder though about the answer for ongoing change in schools? You look around education and see so many examples of people offering programs to implement, but too often the system fails to let them follow through with the initial vigour and see it truly blossom. I hope that eSmart can break that mould.
 
Have you gone through the process to becoming an eSmart Accredited School? What has been your experience? The highs? The lows? What do you see as the challenges being in regards to the next chapter.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

creative commons licensed (BY-NC-SA) flickr photo by fredcavazza: http://flickr.com/photos/fredcavazza/278973402

In my previous posts, I spoke about connecting with people both in person and online. The problem that I found with both of these situations is that connections are often only ever as deep or strong we let them be. If we are unwilling to give back, should it be any surprise that people don’t always want to share with us? However, what it took me a little bit of time to realise was that ‘giving back’ was more than just about ideas and information, it was actually giving a part of you. Taking more ownership over my online identify was therefore my fourth marker to becoming a more connected learner.

 
 
 

A Digital Badge

I had known that the only person I was fooling in trying to hide behind some sort of anonymity was myself. The reality was and is that if someone really wanted to piece together ‘who’ I was, there were enough crumbs left lying around to guide them. There were two aha moments that led to me taking more control over my online identity. The first moment was in watching +Anne Mirtschin‘s ICTEV12 presentation ‘The Networked Teacher’.
 
Although I had attended the ICTEV12 conference, I had not gone to Anne’s presentation. However, after signing up for her presentation for ICTEV13 ‘The Changing Space Of Learning!’ I went back and watched her presentation form 2012. In this presentation, Mirtschin discussed the notion of creating a ‘digital badge’ online. Not to be confused with the ‘open badges’ movement, she meant something that we ‘wear’ online that tells people who we are. For Mirtschin,  this badge includes three key ingredients: a consistent image, clear username and detailed profile. Each of these elements is an integral part of branding who we are online.
 
Mirtschin explained why having a badge is so important while discussing nings, custom social networks which require permission to join. She stated that moderators will not allow people in if they don’t give anything of themselves. However, it occurred to me that the same can be said about all forms of connections. Unless you provide some sort of background, then people don’t really know who they are connecting with and are often unwilling to share.
 

Dispelling the Myth of Digital Dualism

The second aha moment that really made me reconsider my notion of digital identity was the interview with +Alec Couros on the +Ed Tech Crew. Going one step further than Mirtschin’s idea of the digital badge, Couros spoke about the power of being connected learner and the importance of fostering a positive digital footprint online. This is particularly pertinent for in today’s world if we do not control what is said about us online, then someone else will do it for us.
 
What was significant about Couros’ message was that he disputed the myth of the ‘second self’. He argues that instead of seeing our online presence as somehow being separate, we need to address it as being one aspect of who we are. For example, instead of isolating our ‘digital identity’ in schools, the focus should be on teaching students to be better citizens with their online presence as part of the jigsaw. For the reality is that our online identity is simply a continuation of who we are into the digital realm.
 
To properly understand what Couros is talking about, he has created a great guide of things to consider when consciously creating a digital identity. In it he goes through a range of tools and questions to ponder upon. Overall, he provides a great starting point for taking back your online identify.
 

Own Your Identity Before Someone Else Does

The lessons I learnt from both Mirtschin and Couros led me to make a few changes. Firstly a reconsidered my badge as Mirthen would put it, in particular my image and profile. I replaced my QR code with a portrait painted for me by an ex-student. Although it has actually created more confusion in itself, I chose this image because to me it represented how someone else saw me, which in an online environment I thought was significant. For my profile, I replaced the ambiguity with some reference to my areas of teaching, interests and location.
 
I think that, like Mithen, if I had my time again I would have changed my handle, but sometimes it is more complicated to change. To be honest though, I had been using mrkrndvs for a long time. As I couldn’t get an email with my own name, I simply dropped the vowels. That is how I got to ‘mrkrndvs’. At the very least, I moved away from hiding behind my initials to at least using my full name. To me that was more important.
 
In addition to improving my badge, I set out to control the information that was out there about me by signing up to such spaces as LinkedIn and About.Me. If someone was going to know something about me, then it may as well come from me. I also created various profiles, with sites including Gravatar and Disqus, to manage my comments across different formats, as well as to develop a consistent presence.
 
Taking some sense of ownership over my online presence has not been easy, but has definitely been worth it. I am sure that there is more that I can do and it is an ongoing process, but it has to start somewhere. So who are the people that have influenced your thinking about identify and what are some of the things that you have done to develop a positive presence online?

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

creative commons licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs: http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13904832413
Voltaire once suggested that, “common sense is not so common.” So to can +danah boyd‘s It’s Complicated: The Social Lives of Networked Teens be seen as an attempt to reposition the debate about teenagers and the supposed scurvy of life in an online world. Boyd sets out to dispel many of the negative and dystopian views that so often fill the news. As she moves from one case study to another, I was left with many aha moments, particular while reading about fear and privacy. Having grown up with the practise of placing the desktop computer in a public space, it had never really occurred to me some of the deeper consequences of such actions. That is not to say that such approaches are wrong, but like every choice, everything comes with a cost. At its heart, the book puts forward many of the issues and arguments that are too often overlooked in mainstream education.
The reality is, living in a networked world is complicated for as Boyd states, it is both the same as, but also different from yesterday. For example, many teens cling to online networks as a social space to belong and just be. Like the drive-in of yesteryear, it is the structured unstructured environment where they can just hangout. However, online spaces are also considerably different to drive-ins though, for unlike the physical world, many of the actions and consequences in a digital world leave a trace and are forever ongoing for others to see.
 
I entered this book not quite sure what to expect. A part of me thought that Boyd would magically provide a breadth of tools and techniques for addressing the supposed dyer state teens on social media. Yet what I was left with was a series of thoughts and reflections about my own world. Boyd shone a spotlight on such issues as the supposed equality online, as well as the media fear mongering associated with addiction and sexual predators. However, the question that I was left wondering about the most was what are the consequences of the ongoing divide now occurring in all facets of life between those whose lives are increasingly embroiled with the online world and those whose aren’t – what Connaway, White, Lanclos, Browning, Le Cornu and Hood have termed as digital ‘visitors’ and ‘residents’.
 
It’s Complicated does not provide the panacea, that magical cure for all the social ills suffered by teens today (and yesterday and tomorrow) who live in a digital world. The reason that it doesn’t provide this is because it can’t, such a thing does not and cannot exist. Instead the book provides what America anthropologist Clifford Geertz described as a ‘thick description‘. A thorough account that not only provides a description of behaviour from a wide range of different points of view, but also an interpretation as to the context that produced such actions. As Boyd herself has stated,

I wrote this book so that more people will step back, listen, and appreciate the lives of today’s teenagers. I want to start a conversation so that we can think about the society that we’re creating.

The purpose therefore is not to provide an answer to societies ills, but instead to provoke dialogue and debate at both the micro and macro level, whether this be teachers in a staffroom or politicians producing policy.
 
Although Boyd’s book is written for adults about teens usually in America, in many respects it is a book that uses teens to confront adults from anywhere about many of the issues that we so often leave silent. I think that challenge that we have is to discuss these matters and from there create a more reasoned approach to the matter. For as I have spoken about elsewhere, it takes a village to find a solution and hopefully together we can create a better world for everyone.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

cc licensed (BY-SA) flickr photo by mrkrndvs:
http://flickr.com/photos/113562593@N07/13713874174
 
Alan Thwaites posted the following tweet and it got me thinking.
Not just what you Tweet Aaron, but watching how you use Twitter has been very clarifying for me. I appreciate it mate.
— Alan Thwaites (@athwaites) April 6, 2014
How is it that I use social media anyway and more importantly, what does it mean to be a connected educator anyway?
 
In a recent post about the benefits of blogging and being a connected educator, +Tom Whitby outlines some of the many benefits associated with sharing online. He states:

The difference between writing a blog post and writing a magazine or journal article is the immediate feedback in the form of comments or responses. Before a blogger puts words to the computer screen the audience and its reaction are a consideration. The blogger will strive for clarity in thought. The blogger will strive for clarity in the writing. The blogger will attempt to anticipate objections.

What stands out to me in Whitby’s post is that the whole process revolves around its reciprocal nature, that is, as a reader you not only take in various ideas, but also respond and add back. One of the big problems though with being ‘connected’ is that for some it simply means lurking in the background. Although they may draw on the dearth of ideas and information out there, there is no impetus to give back in anyway, shape or form. My question then is whether this is really connecting at all?
 
Whilst perusing the net a few weeks back, I got involved in a twitter chat with +Bianca Hewes about the matter of sharing. Hewes was ruminating about the one way flow of information that too often occurs online. Those situations where others ask for resources, but fail to offer anything in return. She tweeted:
It kinda irritates me when I’m a member of a fb group for teachers and people only ever post to ask for stuff… rarely offering stuff 🙁
— Bianca ‘Jim’ Hewes (@BiancaH80) March 12, 2014
If you read the ensuing chat involving Hewes, myself, Dick Faber, Audrey Nay, Teacher from Mars and Katelyn Fraser, there were a breadth of responses provided. Some of the concerns raised included the apprehension associated with looking like a dill and some people’s fear of sharing. A topic that +Chris Wejr has elaborated on elsewhere in his post ‘Not Everyone is Able to Tweet and Post Who They Are‘. On the flip side though, there were some really good suggestions provided, such as lurking for a time until comfortable, sharing something small or even simply re-tweeting something to add to the flow of information.
 
Thinking about all of the these great responses, I feel that there are three clear ways that we can respond and give back. They include the ability to share links and ideas, adding to a conversation by writing a response or remixing an idea creating something new in the process.
 

Sharing Ideas

There are many ways to share, whether it be using social bookmarking, such as Diigo, where you might share with a particular community, or using social media, such as Google+, where you might share out into the world. This is something that I have elaborated on elsewhere. One of the easiest ways I find to share ideas though is on Twitter. Most applications offer the potential to post to Twitter with a click of a button, making it quick and easy to read a piece on Zite, Pocket or Feedly and then share it with the others.
 
There are many different perspectives associated with Twitter. For some, it is too much. How could you possibly keep up with each and every tweet posted by those that you follow? However, +Darrel Branson put a different spin on it in Episode 238 of the +Ed Tech Crew Podcast, where he suggested that mediums like Twitter are great to just dip into whenever you have the chance, not necessarily something to be hawked over 24/7. Branson suggested that if an idea is significant enough it will be shared around, re-tweeted and reposted enough that you will pick up on it in the end. What is important then is actually sharing good ideas and keeping the river flowing.
 
In addition to sharing, Bill Ferriter wrote an interesting piece on the importance of not only sharing, but also recognising whose content it is that you are sharing. One of the problems with many applications is that they allow you to quickly share the title and web link. However, they fail to provide any form of attribution to the actual creator. Therefore, I always endeavour to make the effort to give credit whenever I can. This has led me to use applications like Quozio in order to turn quotable pieces of text into an image in order to fit more into a tweet. To me, this means that while perusing something like Twitter, you are able to continue the conversation with creator, not just the curator.
 

Commenting and Continuing the Conversation

In addition to sharing ideas, another great way to give back is add a comment. Whether it be a video, an image, a blog, a post on Google+ or a tweet, writing a response is a really good way to continue the conversation. Too often when we think about commenting, there is an impression that it needs to be well crafted thesis, however it can be as simple as a confirmation thanking someone for what they have shared. Some other possibilities for comments include posing a question about something that you were unsure about, sharing a link that you think made add to the dialogue or providing your own perspective on the topic. The reality is, we often learn best through interaction and dialogue with others, a point clearly made in Whitby’s post.
 

Remix and Creating New Beginnings

A step beyond sharing and commenting on the ideas of others, is the act of remixing. Using someone else’s idea as a starting point, remixing involves adding something and turning it into something new, an idea in its own right. This blog itself can be considered as a remix, bringing together a range of different ideas in the creation of a new beginning. A great exponent of the remix is +Amy Burvall, whether it be using Mozilla’s Popcorn Maker to mash-up text and videos or using the paper app by Fifty-Three to create images to capture her ideas. Remixing ideas not only allows you to continue the conversation, but also start a new one as well.
 
 
Now I know that everyone comes from a different perspective and have their own view of what it is meant by digital literacy. A topic that I have explored elsewhere in my post ‘What’s So Digital About Literacy Anyway?‘ However, I find it hard to believe that there can be any example of being connected that does not include getting involved and giving back. A point clearly reiterated in Mozilla’s Web Literacy Map. The question then is how are you giving back? Is there something that you do that I have missed? What are the problems that you have faced along the way? I would love to continue the conversation, so feel free to leave a comment below.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

 
There has been a lot shared lately as a part of Connected Educator Month about the benefits of connecting online. In many respects, I agree with +George Couros that ‘isolation is now a choice educators make‘. However, something overlooked in many of the discussions and debates are some of the taboos associated with being a connected educator. Some of the reasons why teachers do make the choice to stay isolated.
 

Teacher-Student-Friend?

In a recent post, Peter Dewitt spoke about how he saw a photo come up in his feeds from an ex-student, whom he had taught in Year 1. She was photographed finishing her last teaching round. It got me thinking, when is it ok to connect with students (and ex-students) online? Another similar example that comes to mind is from +Adam Bellow‘s inspiring keynote from ISTE2013 where he invited people to ‘change the world’. A part of this is utilising the power of social media to connect with students through such mediums as Facebook. In addition to this, +Anne Mirtschin‘s many posts and presentations on connecting online seem to be littered with incidental connections with students in and out of school in a whole range of spaces. Now I am not saying that any of these situations are wrong, but it begs the question, when do we cross the line, when does our relationship with students go from being a professional one to being personal?
 
A few years ago, a friend of mine who works at a different school told me about how his principal directed teachers to remove all ex-students from their social media accounts. He spoke about the threat of images and ideas being spread, the spectre of being sued for negligence and a litany other things. Now I am not sure if the principal in question was mandated by their region to tell the staff this, but what confuses me about such situations is that little attention was given to what teachers actually publish online in the first place. I know some teachers who won’t even connect with other teachers online, let alone ex-students, in the fear of being caught out and incriminated, while there are others who won’t connect with anyone and simply leave social media altogether. I have written about the culture of fear elsewhere. To me, this makes me wonder what are they afraid of? For some, it is a fear of their lifestyle choices outside of teaching crossing over into their professional life. Others, it is a political decision, a refusal to share personal information and ideas with online corporations. Sadly, what is not brought up enough during such discussions amongst staff is what is published online, rather than who we are publishing too.
 

Connecting in the Classroom

Attached to his website, +stephen heppell and his wife, have provided a different take on the social media phenomena. Instead of running from it, the Heppell’s propose that we run to it in a safe and constructive manner. Correspondingly, they have developed a list of some do’s and don’ts associated with using social media safely in the classroom. 
 
Some of their do’s include:
  • Developing a personal and professional presence online 
  • Let students ‘friend’ you, not vice versa 
  • Build groups for your classes and share information and resources 
  • Post positive information 
Some of the don’ts include: 
  • Don’t FB chat 
  • Social networks in school are not places for criticisms or whingeing. 
  • Don’t look at, let alone comment on, pupils’ pictures 
Now in some respect, I think that sites such as Facebook and Google+ have actually come a long way since 2010 when the Heppell’s space was last updated. For example, you are now able to ‘post’ and ‘share’ with different groups and circles, you are therefore supposedly able to maintain different connections within the one ‘presence’ (although I wouldn’t want to post the wrong information to the wrong group, may be a bit awkward.) However, many of the original tenets remain pertinent today. Whatever medium you are communicating in, it is always important to have boundaries. 
 
I think that this is sometimes why some staff have issues with students sending emails to their school email account. For them, this crosses their private and personal boundary. They just don’t expect to have students sending through questions, while they are checking their work email. Whether it is using a school’s student emailing system to engage with students or setting up spaces like Edmodo, the most important thing is to set up boundaries. The problem is though that such boundaries are often left unset or worse, they are set by the habits of other teachers whose classroom culture creates a different set of expectations.
 
A simple example of where a clear set of boundaries has been set up comes from +Richard Lambert. In his school two different email accounts have been created to differentiate between staff to staff communications and student related communications. The school’s Google Apps for Education account email that staff and students get is used to facilitate collaboration and connections between staff and students, while staff’s edumail accounts are left for professional correspondences.
 
Sometimes though there is something even more than boundaries, sometimes the question is what we choose to publish in the first place.
 

Duty of Care … To Ourselves

 
 
Just as there is some confusion at times where duty of care and professional responsibility starts and stops, so too is there a dangerous blurring between our private and professional relations when it comes to our online identify. Often, through social sites such as Google+ and Facebook, we connect with people in the community that we work in. Whether it be someone met at the gym or a team mate at a local sporting club, these online associations often compromise who we are and raise questions about our actions. The big challenge is that we are all many things to many people. For some, this is just too much to handle.
 
I have been privy to many a holiday briefing where staff are warned about how they ‘act’ in public over the break. This fear can lead to some staff almost refusing to go out in the community in which they work in, instead going to great lengths to create a divide between their professional and private worlds. Sometimes though, you can never escape past students or parents in the community. I remember a fellow staff member sharing a story about how she bumped into an ex-student at three in the morning a long way from home.
 
I think that this dilemma of trying to create a divide between our private and public worlds relates to our online identity as well. No matter how far you run, how many walls you hide behind, you still leave a trace whether we like it or not. Often we provide information to corporations whose goal is to make money, they often slip with keeping information and accounts private. Facebook, for example, has a long history of ‘accidentally’ changing users privacy settings, switching them from private to public.
 
Although I clearly don’t agree with what Facebook does, my bigger concern is what we put up online in the first place. The big question, in my view, is that we continue to think that we can really have a public and private divide completely separated from each other? We speak to students about the issues associated with digital citizenship, when in fact many of us fail to heed the warnings ourselves.

In an insightful article, ‘On Best Behaviour: Three Golden Rules for Ethical Cyber Citizenship‘, +David Tuffley suggests that:

Eventually, but not soon enough for some, society evolves rules of acceptable use that become established as standard behaviour.

As various sources of technology becomes a part of our everyday lives, we need to consider what these ‘rules’ should be. Addressing our universal actions online, Tuffley appropriates Kant’s notion of ‘categorical imperatives’. He outlines three suggested guiding principles for the ethical use of technology:
  1. Before I do something with this technology, I ask myself, would it be alright if everyone did it?
  2. Is this going to harm or dehumanise anyone, even people I don’t know and will never meet?
  3. Do I have the informed consent of those who will be affected?
Whether Tuffley is right or wrong, I think that it highlights one important factor, that we need to better self-monitor ourselves when it comes to technology. For in the end, our first duty of care should be to ourselves, for if we cannot maintain our own public identity, what hope do students have?
 

Conclusion

Now I am not saying that all the points and ideas that I have discussed here are right, such as connecting in the classroom, but they do deserve to be given due diligence. If teachers are to become more connected, then these are some of the things that need to be discussed. Instead of young potential leaders going offline in the fear that their digital footprint may hinder their climb or locking themselves within their gated communities, we need to discuss these issues in a more meaningful manner. The question that we always need to be mindful of through all of these discussions is what are the consequences of our choices and, in particular, what possibilities are being missed if we make the decision to stay isolated, rather than being connected.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.

In a recent blog, +Vicki Davis shared about the idea of having an ‘App of the Week’, where she has a focus each week on a particular application. As she suggests:
I want my students to be productive geniuses. They are a human being not a human doing but they carry around a full blown secretary in their pockets, if they’ll learn how to hire it. If you are a BYOD school, you should do everything in your power to help students really “Bring it” using their mobile device and an app of the week is just one way to do it.
Using Dragon Dictation as her example, she shows how she introduces a new program and gets the students using it in five short minutes. This is a great example of how to manage 1-to-1 programs.
 
One of the biggest challenges I have had in being a part of the group implementing a 1-to-1 program is how to get the most out of the devices. I have found one of two things happen, either the devices are rarely used, only when they fit a particular need in the lesson, such as research, or students simply use the programs and applications that they feel comfortable with, rather than the programs that would best address the purpose and audience. Associated with both of these issues is how we see the devices in and out of the the classroom.
 
 
If you follow Ruben R. Puentedura’s SAMR model, ‘tools for working’ that many teachers have in the classroom should not only support learning, which they often do, but also add to learning, with the aim of redefining education and providing possibilities which were previously unavailable. The big question is how do we help this move from enhancement to transformation happen?
 
Having had the experience of being a Lead User for the now defunct Ultranet, one of the problems that occurred was actually developing the habit of use amongst both staff and students. A part of this was finding authentic purposes and having the confidence with the system, but I feel that the biggest challenge was associated with people actually overcoming the hurdle of how to use this. I could list a range of systems and programs where the lack of time and opportunity to experiment and understand them has hindered their take-up. Take for example ActivInspire, Photoshop Elements, student email, Edmodo etc … At some point 1-to-1 programs needs move the focus away from the device and to the learning.
 
In addition to Vicki Davis’ idea of an app a week, another example of a program that I found, which provides students with opportunity to be immersed within digital technologies, not just use them, is Ben Gallagher’s idea of a ‘Digital Sandpit’. Developed as a way to improve some poor Attitudes to School Survey results relating to motivation and connectedness, Ben incorporated a set time each day where students would engage with a range of different devices set up as rotations.
With the support of my Principal and Staff I decided to start the Digital Sandpit at 8:50, 10 minutes before the schools start time and run it to 9:10, a 20 minute activity that only takes 10 minutes out of the regular school day. The sessions originally consisted of 4 rotations, Nintendo DSi, iPod, Nintendo Wii and Laptops. All of the activities were carefully selected and had educational underpinnings, such as the Brain Training and Math Training games on the DSi, Racing on Mario Kart and ordering each other’s times from fastest to slowest and many more.
I think what is significant about the idea of the ‘Digital Sandpit’ is that it is both structured and done on a regular basis.
 
 
 
Finding time within an already busy curriculum to incorporate such opportunities is often the biggest challenge. The Western Metropolitan Region set out a few years ago to increase levels of reading across all levels. One of the initiatives that were introduced was a set reading time each day supported by regular conferencing. Although the initiative hasn’t been smooth sailing, with its speed humps along the way, one of the reasons for its success is its regularity. At my school, the students read from 2:15 til 2:30 each day. Like Ben’s ‘Digital Sandpit’, this could not be possible without the support of the whole staff. Coincidently, as soon as a few staff stop supporting an initiative like the reading program, then cracks begin the appear. 
 
On the flip side, if an initative like the 1-to-1 devices is left to too few, then nothing seems to be ever achieved. One of the challenges for 21st century learning is the integration of ICT within the classroom. Often, however, the responsibility for this change, for the upskilling of students, is left to the ‘ICT’ teacher. Interestingly, when you look at AusVELS, ICT is a form of interdisciplinary learning, yet it is so often spoken about as a ‘subject’ to be taught. One of the negatives to this, other than the fact that it expects too much from too few, is that students often enter such classes expecting to simply learn programs or how to code. Sadly, this is more akin to computer science. Engaging with the various tools for learning is bigger than exploring computer science. Personally, I recently changed the focus of my ‘elective’ subjects from ‘ICT’ to ‘Media Studies’ as too many of my students were caught up in what they did rather than why and how. In reality, whether it is English, Humanities, Media Studies, everyone of my classes is an ‘ICT’ class. Although it may not be the focus, it is often how learning is facilitated and coordinated.
 
One of the other claims that is often made about laptops and technology is that students are digitally native and that they already know how to use it. The problem with this is that they may be immersed in different technology within their day to day lives, this does not necessarily mean that they always know how to get the most out of it. Associated with this, many students lack the ability to find the most appropriate application or program to use, let alone how to get the most out of these them. +Rebecca Davies sums this dilemma up in a blog ‘The Digital Native Myth: Why we still need to teach kids HOW to use the iPad‘ suggesting that:
Students need to be taught how to use the iPad. They need to be taught how they can use it to create amazing things, to share their learning and connect it with the real word, to deepen their thinking.
What is important is that they need to be given the opportunity to explore and experiment. In my view, for such an approach to work it needs to be integrated across the board. Just as we encourage students to share, we also need to provide staff with more informal opportunities to share.
 
 
+Tom Whitby sums up the whole problem in his recent post ‘20th vs. 21st Century Teaching‘ where he suggests that, “What we learn should take a back seat to how we learn.” And how we learn is something that we all have a stake hold in. 
 
I would love to here of any other ways that people are introducing different tools, programs and applications into the classroom. Please feel free to leave a comment below.

If you enjoy what you read here, feel free to sign up for my monthly newsletter to catch up on all things learning, edtech and storytelling.