Online Safety and Responsibility

As I’m working through the required posts for our CoETaIL, course 2, I (happily) have realized that I’ve already written one of the posts (originally titled Social Networking and Responsiblity in February 2008). Lucky me, I’m always thinking one step ahead.

So here it is again, with a reflection about what (if anything) has changed since then:

After an excellent session with parents about cyberbullying and an equally excellent session with our staff discussing the Frontline documentary Growing Up Online, I’ve been thinking a lot about responsibility. As in:

  • Whose responsibility is it to teach students about the dangers of social networking (not only physical danger from online predators, but the danger of getting college applications rejected or the danger of getting kicked out of school)?
  • Whose responsibility is it to help parents stay informed about these new methods of communication?
  • Whose responsibility is it to ensure that students learn how to have successful, productive, and educational online experiences?

I’ve been noticing that many teachers are happy to be ignorant of what goes on online – that “out of sight, out of mind” mentality – which really worries me. I mentioned to Miguel in a twitter a few weeks ago that some really appalling student behavior has been going on for quite a while now, which actually made a little bit relieved to see that cell phone scandal hit the press in the US. On one hand, I can understand just how damaging that kind of press can be to a school trying to implement progressive learning practices, but on the other hand, aren’t these things we need to be talking about? Aren’t these issues that parents need to know about? And aren’t these issues that students should be learning how to stay away from?

I wonder how many schools are talking about this as a whole? Justin, Dennis and I were just discussing how great it would be to watch Growing Up Online as a whole faculty and then have some smaller break-out sessions to discuss what we saw. How many teachers are going to say: “our kids aren’t doing that kind of stuff!” And how many are going to say “that’s a parenting issue, not a school issue”? How many are going to say: “I need to embed authentic learning experiences into my curriculum which help students build their understanding about online safety and appropriate behavior”?

If learning has become increasingly social, and networked learning is on the horizon as the future of education, as so clearly described in the recent Educase article: Minds on Fire: Open Education, the Long Tail, and Learning 2.0:

The most profound impact of the Internet, an impact that has yet to be fully realized, is its ability to support and expand the various aspects of social learning. What do we mean by “social learning”? Perhaps the simplest way to explain this concept is to note that social learning is based on the premise that our understanding of content is socially constructed through conversations about that content and through grounded interactions, especially with others, around problems or actions. The focus is not so much on what we are learning but on how we are learning….

This perspective shifts the focus of our attention from the content of a subject to the learning activities and human interactions around which that content is situated.

Then we need to be aware, actively involved, and responsible for teaching students and parents how to participate in these new communities – even if so much of their activity online has been for purely social purposes until now. Isn’t it our job to teach them how to take this social environment and use it for educational purposes? When I think about how powerful my PLN has been for my learning, I can’t imagine not including those experiences in my teaching. This is truly the Future of Learning in a Networked World, isn’t it?

At the beginning of this school year, when I was still adjusting to life in elementary school, I remember realizing just how lucky I am to have switched to elementary. This is the time when I can really make a difference. Students are excited about learning, they haven’t developed many bad habits, they still adore their teachers, they still enjoy having their parents watch over them while they play online, and they are still open to asking questions and discussing the possible outcomes. It is so essential to reach our students before they begin to pull away, to become more independent, to become more reluctant to share all aspects of their lives with the adults around them, in essence, to become teenagers.

This week I worked with a grade 3 class on our BlogPals project. We are using this project to develop our reading and writing skills – through the lens of connecting with others, creating a social learning environment. We are taking the time to teach them about online safety and appropriate behavior, and our third graders are responding with energy, excitement, enthusiasm, inquiry and understanding. This is the time to start developing appropriate behaviors, and I believe it’s our responsibility to teach them.

May 2009 Reflection

After reading through this post a little over a year later, I’m pleased to say that this class has really brought many of these issues to the forefront. I see my passionate colleagues speaking out about teaching online safety and how we can help students develop responsible behaviors and habits. I see more and more parents attending our Technology Coffee Mornings and making a sincere effort to understand their child’s digital world. I am meeting more and more teachers around the world that are ready to (or already) building in these essential skills into their classroom practice.

I still believe it’s our responsibility as educators to teach students how to be safe online. Ever so slowly, teachers are becoming better and better equipped to take over this task. Unfortunately, what I don’t see in many places, is schools, as institutions, acknowledging the need to fulfill this role. Why aren’t we offering PD about online safety? If it’s in our AUP (and it is in ISB’s) it’s ultimately seen as the parents’ responsibility. Therefore, it easy for school’s to say that if it’s the parent’s responsibility they don’t need to spend PD time training teachers. A dangerous game, isn’t it?

Every time I work with a teacher on a global project, we spend a few days working with the students to understand this online environment. We talk about safety and appropriate behavior, we make class guidelines, we sign a permission slip and we practice our safety skills in context. I believe this should be happening every time a teacher begins an online learning experience – even if it’s not something they need a technology facilitator’s support for. How do we get this to be common practice in classrooms if we don’t spend our PD time building those skills with teachers and placing online safety as a high priority?

Schools are quick to filter and block, to make attempts to stop students from seeing “innappropriate” things, but what we really need to do is teach students how to make those decisions for themselves. For the times when they’re online, unsupervised, at a friends house (without a filter), or a Starbucks, or in the public library. They need to know, individually, and deeply what is safe online behavior and what’s not.  Student’s need to be taught to use the “filter between their ears” in any and all online situations, and the best way to do that is to utilize authentic learning experiences within a safer environment, the classroom.

What do you think?

11 thoughts on “Online Safety and Responsibility

  1. Hi Kim,
    I appreciate your post especially because it prompted me to fine tune my opinion. I believe, as you do, that we should be teaching students to use the “filter between their ears”, but I’m still glad that the Board filters, and the restrictions are in place. This is a change for me, because I used to feel really frustrated that our board wouldn’t allow many of the Web 2.0 tools that I wished they would such as access to You Tube.
    A couple of years ago, my board spent quite a bit of time and money disseminating information on the adolescent brain and how it develops. We had experts in the field for guest lectures, and for a while, it felt like we were getting handouts every week.
    One bit of information that stuck in my head was the one about how an adolescent brain develops, and how the mechanism for impulse control, and making thoughtful, reasoned decisions, is one of the last areas to develop; thus the reasoning behind why children don’t get their license when they’re twelve. So, I started thinking about the use of technology; Internet research, social networking, responding to emails, writing a blog, using Twitter etc. and I realized that based on their nature, many of those tools deliver or require immediate, almost impulsive responses. So then I started to think that perhaps middle school students don’t have the ability to make those kinds of decisions. So… while I still believe we should teach students how to filter their responses, and to think critically before they press send, I’m also a bit more realistic than I used to be, and have come to realize that, in spite of my best efforts, some students just will not be developmentally able to use those critical thinking skills by the time they leave my classroom. As a result, I have certain things put in place to help with those situations. For example, they compose all responses on a talking word processor, which they use to listen to what they’ve written. They know that they should be prepared at any time, to share their words outloud through speakers. I always moderate comments, even with my most trusted group of students, just in case the passion of the discussion overrides their manners. If someone writes something fierce, I make sure that it is passionate rather than scathing. I guess what I’m trying to say is that I strongly agree that Internet safety/etiquette/good decision making IS something we should be teaching, but I don’t expect or trust it to be there yet with my middle school students.

    These are great questions, by the way:
    * Whose responsibility is it to teach students about the dangers of social networking (not only physical danger from online predators, but the danger of getting college applications rejected or the danger of getting kicked out of school)?
    * Whose responsibility is it to help parents stay informed about these new methods of communication?
    * Whose responsibility is it to ensure that students learn how to have successful, productive, and educational online experiences?

    My response is that, if I’m using the tools in an educational setting, then it is MY responsibility to make sure the students are aware of the dangers, and the consequences of their actions.
    Like anything else I introduce in class, it would be my job to let parents know what tools we’re using in the class, and why we’re using them, and again, if the online experience is happening at school, then it is my job to make sure it is successful, productive, and educational. I can’t be responsible for what they do at home, if, as in my case, the board blocks access to those sites. How can I teach students about Facebook, or You Tube, when I can’t access the sites?

  2. Kia ora Kim!

    I think the vigilance has to start in the home, frankly. I have two teenage daughters. I sit with them and they sit with me when we are at the computer accessing Facebook or Bebo or Blogger or MSN Messenger. I simply do not go along with any idea that a parent should not have anything to do with what their offspring ‘get up to’ on a computer. For one thing it makes little sense. For another it is dangerous.

    I use the analogy of road safety. What parent would let their 2 or 3 year old out on the street unsupervised. The logical thing to do is to instruct on road safety from an early age. They should also be well supervised, during their formative years, when walking on the walkways adjacent to road traffic. Sooner or later they learn to use pavements safely by themselves. the same applies to the use of computers.

    What is the alternative to this? Prohibiting children from walking to school, as a blanket rule for road safety, is not an option in my mind. Why should there be any difference when it comes to using computers with access to the Internet? Surely the same principles apply.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  3. @Janice,

    Thanks so much for your thoughtful comment. Here’s my concern, eloquently stated by Stephen Heppell at the Hong Kong Summit a few weeks ago: “If you want to teach children water safety you don’t keep them away from it and then toss them in when they’re 16.”

    If we believe that learning is constructed by each individual, than we have to give them opportunities to construct their understanding from an early age so they can continue to build their knowledge over time.

    I really do believe it’s critical for school to actually *be* the “real world,” especially considering the unfiltered access they have outside of school all the time. How will they know what to do in those situations if they’ve never been taught?

    If we just turn a blind eye to realities of the internet (and our student’s outside of school use of the internet) it’s going to be even harder to teach appropriate and responsible behavior once they’ve internalized their own unsafe and irresponsible habit. What’s that saying about the old dog and the new tricks?

    @Jim,

    Thanks for the links!

    @Ken,

    Agreed. Parental supervision and understanding is absolutely the first step. One thing that worries me a lot is that so many of the parents I meet don’t actually know what online safety and responsibility looks like and they’re worried about not knowing.

    Your analogy is perfect, but there is something about technology that is just so intimidating to so many adults and the response is often to stick their head in the sand and hope nothing happens. This is why we are having our Parent Technology Coffee Mornings and why I think it’s very important for schools to ensure that online safety and responsibility is taught in every online experience. This way we make sure we’re reaching both the students and their parents.

  4. Kia oar Kim

    I think the effort to reach parents is a good one. In October last year I left a comment on Will Richardson’s post, “It’s the Parents’ Fault. Not”.

    It is interesting the huge range of opinion on this topic, as was brought out on Will’s post in the comments. Frankly, I feel that it is the responsibility of all in the community when it comes to educating the parents, not just the schools’.

    Catchya later
    from Middle-earth

  5. @Ken,

    I agree about the community responsibility, however this becomes a little more complicated in an international school environment. Often the only community that can communicate (ie: speaks a common language) is the school community. Therefore, many more community roles fall onto the school, this is especially true in developing countries.

  6. Pingback: Understanding The Mind Of Online Predators | Baby & Parenting Information

  7. Pingback: Tips For Children’s Online Safety | Baby & Parenting Information

  8. Pingback: Perhaps Parents Are The Key to Shifting? | An Expat Educator in Asia

  9. Pingback: Learn How Online Predators Work | Bady Parenting Blog

  10. Pingback: Technology Tidbits: Thoughts of a Cyber Hero: Edublog Awards

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *