A Safe Internet Environment for Responsible Learners

The Australian Communications and Media Authority (ACMA) have numerous resources to help schools develop plans which promote responsible and critical use of the the internet and social media tools. They recommend a ‘holistic approach to cybersafety’ wherein they recommend that schools establish a cybersafety group and provide 18 points to consider when guiding the group to take a holistic approach.

Stephen Harris (2010) writes that ‘Today’s students are immersed in a world of technology from birth. It is natural for them to live within the internet, rather than using the internet as is likely the case for their teachers and parents.’

Innovation and change can produce fear of the unknown in some people. There are views that the internet is ‘bad’ because ‘bad’ things van happen on the internet. This contrasts with the view that technology is value-free and that it is how technology is used which determines whether it is a positive or negative influence on students’ lives. Tom Johnson has created  a blog ‘Adventures in Pencil Integration’ where he parodies the integration of Web 2.0 tools with that of using pencils in classroom settings. It serves to highlight the fears some may have about the social nature and inherent possibility for danger in Web 2.0 tools.

Given that the internet and social networking tools can provide both support and danger for students, it is important that schools develop policies which promote students’ learning and independence, while at the same time protect them and give them the skills to deal with inappropriate content or communication.

Cybersafety Policies

ACMA list available National and State cybersafety policies here. In the section on strategic planning, they list the important factors to consider when developing a plan.

‘Schools preparing an ICT plan need to understand:

  • their overall strategic plan, including its vision, objectives and priorities for teaching and learning
  • their administrative needs
  • the opportunities offered by ICT for supporting and improving teaching, learning and school administration
  • the strategic priorities and policies of the school system or sector to which they belong
  • their current level of readiness against the appropriate ICT planning framework
  • the financial, human and other resources available to them.’

Cyber Bullying poses a threat to all students. ACMA describe cyberbullying as:

  • ‘Abusive texts and emails
  • Imitating others online
  • Excluding others online
  • Tagging others inappropriately
  • Posting unkind messages or inappropriate images on social networking sites‘ (2011)

Because the person who is bullying does not need to be in the same physical space and time as the person being bullied, it is contended that this makes bullying easier to accomplish. The threat of cyberbullying should be made explicit in learning and pastoral programs, so that students can relate their experiences and develop skills to deal with it if it occurs to them.

What does social media afford  students?
‘Here Comes Everybody’

Clay Shirky’s 2008 book ‘Here Comes Everbody’ has a central argument that social networking tools make group action possible in ways that were not previously available. By utilising the ‘anywhere, anytime’ nature of social networking tools, individuals can communicate and form groups in much faster time and over greater geographical distances than was previously possible. This means also that groups can form and act in response to an event or initiate action very quickly. Clay Shirky elaborates on these ideas in this presentation:
http://video.ted.com/assets/player/swf/EmbedPlayer.swf

Conclusion

Given the ubiquitous nature of internet-connected devices, and students access to them, emphasis should be placed on helping students develop their responsible and critical use of the internet and social networking tools. Schools may implement web filters, but any students with a 3G enabled device can bypass those filters.

Cybersafety programs should be an integral part of learning programs in schools from Kindergarten onwards. Learning and pastoral programs should have an emphasis on developing students who are aware of the benefits and dangers of the online world, and can make responsible decisions when encountering inappropriate content or communications.

References

Australian Communication and Media Authority. (2011). ACMA. Retrieved August 18, 2011, from http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/

Harris, S. (2010). The Place of Virtual, Pedagogic and Physical Space in the 21st Century Classroom. Sydney Centre for Innovation in Learning.

Johnson, T. (2011). Retrieved August 19, 2011, from Tom Johnson’s Adventures in Pencil Integration: http://pencilintegration.blogspot.com/

Creative Thinking and Authentic Instruction

One definition of creativity, from the video series ‘Everything is a Remix’ – the path to creativity is to first copy, then transform, then combine.

Everything is a Remix Part 3 from Kirby Ferguson on Vimeo.

I find this useful as it leaves behind the idea that creativity is some kind of magical inspiration, only available to a few of us. By developing copying, transforming and combining skills, students can develop their creativity. Ford (2010) refers to Csikszentmihalyi who states ‘we can no longer think of creativity as ‘a luxury for the few…(as) by now it is a necessity for all.’ ‘

Funcke (2009) supports the notion of creative thinking as something that can be developed over time. He identifies five phases in the creative process: Preparation, Incubation, Insight, Evaluation, Elaboration (p 14 – 15).

Authentic Instruction

Challenge Based Learning (CBL) is one tool used by some educators to combine creative thinking with authentic instruction. In ‘Challenge Based Learning: An Approach for our time’, Johnson, et al state ‘challenge-based learning brings relevance to class work . By giving students the opportunity to focus on a challenge of global significance, yet apply themselves to developing local solutions, challenge-based learning creates a space where students can direct their own research into real-world matters and think critically about how to apply what they learn.’ (p 7)
There are educational communities which explore the connection between creativity and technology. The ACM Conference on Creativity and Cognition is one example: http://dilab.gatech.edu/ccc/

There are many educators who take up the challenge to help students make their learning relevant to their lives now. Chris Lehmann is one. This is his blog post about his closing keynote address at this year’s ISTE Conference. Technology can facilitate authentic learning by ‘flattening’ the learning environment – allowing students to be able to learn, share and collaborate beyond the confines of the physical classroom and the 9am – 3pm time constraints of traditional school learning.

In my own current experience, I’ve just seen Year 5 students conclude a unit of human rights by having a ‘Night of the Notables’. They each bring together their learning by assuming the character of a notable human rights activist, preparing a booth with artefacts associated with the person, and remaining ‘in character’ while members of the school’s parent community move amongst them, asking questions and engaging in conversation with them. As a follow-up, students may look at how they can convert their learning into action in their own lives.

References:

Everything is a remix Part 3 by Koby Ferguson http://vimeo.com/kirbyferguson/everythingisaremix3

Ford, R. (2010, November). Teaching the Three Rs? Try using the three Xs. Teacher , 20-23.

Meusberger, P., Funke, J., & Wunder, E. (2009). Milieus of Creativity: An Interdisciplinary Approach to the Spatiality of Creativity. Springer.

Johnson, Laurence F .; Smith, Rachel S .; Smythe, J . Troy; Varon, Rachel K . (2009) . Challenge-Based Learning: An Approach for Our Time.    Austin, Texas: The New Media Consortium