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/

3 thoughts on “A Safe Internet Environment for Responsible Learners”

  1. Hi Mike,

    I agree totally with what you are saying about policies being put in place to teach the students to use the technology appropriately. Having the pastoral policies as a basis for this is essential.

    Some of the issues we are still grappling with are the Pastoral Coordinators not seeing this as part of their role. They still see issues around technology as being separate from their ‘job description’. Their argument is usually around the fact that they do not have enough time to deal with the issues around the technology and the usual issues which arise. Overcoming these views can be quite challenging!

    At the end of the day you can have all the policies in the world in place but it will not ensure that your school is capable of teaching students to be responsible cyber-citizens.

    I also loved the Pencil blog. Great stuff.

    Thanks for your thoughts and the great ideas on Twitter.

  2. I worry when teachers start rolling out the “it’s not my role” comment when they are asked to be a part of something new, or when it looks like there might be work involved.

    What I notice at my school is that there are significant issues that arise for Pastoral Coordinators in action, regarding appropriate and inappropriate use of technology. In some cases the students are unaware of the legal ramifications of posting sledging comments online, or in one case, of forwarding around indecent material. If the whole school can take interest in education students about proper use, then the workload is spread and hopefully the students get a better, overall experience and education.

    I like the closing thoughts of your post Mike, “… 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…” and I also agree that this should be one of the key roles of educational institutions in the 21st Century, but I wonder if it is like an unrealistic goal, can teachers ever get there?

    1. I know what you mean re people with roles that some perceived as being isolated from ICT. Now with social media being pervasive those ideas are no longer useful or helpful. Where, for example someone involved in a pastoral role doesn’t see ICT issues as being relevant, discussion needs to start about what is the core issue. If the core issue is pastoral, then it must be part of that person’s role. Where the difficulty may arise is if that person has little or no experience in social media. The task of ICT staff then becomes one of assisting that person to gain skills and knowledge in using social media.
      I think it’s an occupational hazard for those involved in change in education to deal with the ‘transfer of ownership’ issue when an innovation or change has been implemented. It’s beneficial at the outset of such a change to be explicit about who will manage and maintain the change once it has been implemented.

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