Students and social media

Sitting here on a grey Sunday morning thinking about a parent forum we’re running at school tomorrow night for parents, on the issue of social networking, cyber-bullying and all that, I was struck by the radical difference in two pieces on the net this morning.

In the red corner, a New Jersey Principal has emailed his school community telling parents to close down their children’s social networking accounts, and that

There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Tough talk! And, I’ve reproduced the entire email below.

And, in the other corner (is it blue?) I was reading a blog post from The Innovative Educator arguing why social media curriculum is critical in schools including

Unfortunately, too many of the places where students go online to interact with one another have policy-imposed walls between teacher and student. Not only have many schools enacted policies restricting teacher/student interaction, because most schools have banned most sites students use to communicate they do their best to prevent students from using these tools to communicate in an educational setting. It is unfortunate that in the 21st century many schools have deemed adolescent socialization among each other or with their teachers as inappropriate.

Hard to imagine two more diametrically opposed views and I’ve some sympathy for a beleaguered sounding principal mopping up the fall-out from the messy kind of interactions that middle school students are likely to come up with, accidental and deliberate.

But, I’d have to say that it’s hard to argue that students ‘turn off’ the internet and I remember some of that talk around television and even rock and roll music in the early days. Block it, and ban it is not the solution.

I’ve been working with a couple of senior students who are going to talk to parents tomorrow night and for them Facebook is pretty much their internet. I don’t like Facebook, don’t have an account and don’t want one, but for them Facebook is their conduit with their friends and social world; their email, their Flickr, their events and invitations channel

We don’t block Facebook at my school, but we do block YouTube. If it was totally my choice, I’d probably have both open, though I don’t mind that Facebook is ‘throttled’ so it runs pretty slow. It will be interesting to see whether the block and ban approach will win over the educative approach that helps students understand and navigate the world they’re already living in.

From the Principal:

Dear BF Community,

In 2002 when I arrived in Ridgewood Facebook did not exist, Youtube did not exist, and MySpace was barely in existence. Formspring (one of the newest internet scourges, a site meant simply to post cruel things about people anonymously) wasn’t even in someone’s mind.

In 2010 social networking sites have now become commonplace, and technology use by students is beyond prevalent.

It is time for every single member of the BF Community to take a stand!

There is absolutely no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site!

Let me repeat that – there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None.

5 of the last 8 parents who we have informed that their child was posting inappropriate things on Facebook said their child did not have an account. Every single one of the students had an account.

3 Students yesterday told a guidance counselor that their parents told them to close their accounts when the parents learned they had an account. All three students told their parents it was closed. All three students still had an account after telling their parents it was closed.

Most students are part of more than one social networking site.

Please do the following: sit down with your child (and they are just children still) and tell them that they are not allowed to be a member of any social networking site. Today!

Let them know that you will at some point every week be checking their text messages online! You have the ability to do this through your cell phone provider.

Let them know that you will be installing Parental Control Software so you can tell every place they have visited online, and everything they have instant messaged or written to a friend. Don’t install it behind their back, but install it!

Over 90% of all homework does not require the internet, or even a computer. Do not allow them to have a computer in their room, there is no need.

Know that they can text others even if their phone doesn’t have texting capability, either through the computer or through their Ipod touch.

Have a central “docking station” preferably in your bedroom, where all electronics in the home get charged each night, especially anything with a cell or wifi capability (Remember when you were in high school and you would sneak the phone into your bedroom at midnight to talk to you girlfriend or boyfriend all night – now imagine what they can do with the technology in their rooms).

If your son or daughter is attacked through one of these sites or through texting – immediately go to the police! Insist that they investigate every situation. Also, contact the site and report the attack to the site – they have an obligation to suspend accounts or they are liable for what is written.

We as a school can offer guidance and try to build up any student who has been injured by the social networking scourge, but please insist the authorities get involved.

For online gaming, do not allow them to have the interactive communication devices. If they want to play Call of Duty online with someone from Seattle, fine, they don’t need to talk to the person.

The threat to your son or daughter from online adult predators is insignificant compared to the damage that children at this age constantly and repeatedly do to one another through social networking sites or through text and picture messaging.

It is not hyperbole for me to write that the pain caused by social networking sites is beyond significant – it is psychologically detrimental and we will find out it will have significant long term effects, as well as all the horrible social effects it already creates.

I will be more than happy to take the blame off you as a parent if it is too difficult to have the students close their accounts, but it is time they all get closed and the texts always get checked.

I want to be clear, this email is not anti-technology, and we will continue to teach responsible technology practices to students. They are simply not psychologically ready for the damage that one mean person online can cause, and I don’t want any of our students to go through the unnecessary pain that too many of them have already experienced.

Some people advocate that the parents and the school should teach responsible social networking to students because these sites are part of the world in which we live.

I disagree, it is not worth the risk to your child to allow them the independence at this age to manage these sites on their own, not because they are not good kids or responsible, but because you cannot control the poor actions of anonymous others.

Learn as a family about cybersafety together at for your own knowledge. It is a great site. But then do everything I asked in this email – because there really is no reason a child needs to have one of these accounts.

Please take action in your on home today.

Anthony Orsini
Principal, BFMS

and from the Innovative Educator:

Schools that have taken the “don’t ask, don’t tell” approach to the social media curriculum are neglectfully choosing to look the other way as students communicate, collaborate, and connect in worlds devoid of adults. The result can be that just as in the real world, without any adult supervision, students could be at risk and are existing without models for appropriate behavior. Additionally if educators refuse or are prevented from becoming a part of these online places they are not speaking the language or joining in the real-world environments of their 21st century students. That said, I don’t believe there should be an actual “social media curriculum” but rather social media must be integrated into the curriculum. Additionally, we need another name for these environments. Yes they can be social, but they are often more than primarily social environments. They are connecting, networking, and learning environments where students have conversations and explore passions, talents, and ideas. I’ve helped numerous teachers begin their own online learning communities with students and the results are dramatic. Work is published to a broader community. Students can easily see one another’s work, rate and comment on it. They feel like their teacher’s are finally interested in speaking there language. Teachers are amazed at the resulting conversations, ideas, and voices shared that would never have emerged had it not been for the integration of social media. With personal bio pages, students learn more about their classmates or schoolmates, or districtmates, or globemates…depending on the type of network set up. The students become the masters of their learning and conversations, and are able to do so in an environment that is safe and with the gentle guidance and facilitation of educators. Additionally the educator can set up roles for students who can be empowered to lead and monitor various groups and/or conversations. The lessons learned from the safe, online school environment can easily be transferred to what the students are doing online in their own spaces.

The other important piece to this equation is educating parents, guardians, families. They can also be invited to these online learning spaces. Additionally, caregivers must be taught how to engage in the online learning environments in which their children participate. It is unacceptable for caregivers to allow students to participate in these environments without supervision. Just as care givers would not let their children into real-world environments without a responsible adult present, they should not let their children exist in online worlds withouth them. But the adults need some support in how to do this and really what is and what is not acceptable behavior online. The best people to teach this…their kids and adults can help students organize at-school professional development for parents. It’s a win-win and learning experience for all parties involved. Together students, care givers and teachers can have meaningful conversations about what is appropriate, acceptable, questionable or embarrassing.

Graduation Day

Well, it’s not really Graduation DAY, because she finished the course last year, but tonight is my daughter’s graduation ceremony at Monash University. Like lots of young people to day it’s been a fluid journey from double-degree to single-degree to shifts in emphasis and interest, discovering what she can do and what she loves (and doesn’t – take that marketing!) along the way.

Truth is, she doesn’t even want to go to the ceremony; ‘it’s only an Arts Degree…’ and ‘Do I really have to hire a gown?’ and all that. And, she’s already doing further study and doesn’t see this really as any end-point.

But, I’m glad we’re going to stop for a little while tonight and celebrate a moment in that journey. I couldn’t be more proud of her.

And, I couldn’t be more convinced, if ever I needed to be in these strange times, of the absolute centrality of learning in your life; the critical nature of the things we do in teaching and learning.

Above: First day at school; doesn’t seem that long ago!

Dickhead Driving Campaign

I’ve blogged before about my belief that the ‘shock and awe’ trend in Victorian Transport Accident Commission (TAC) advertisements over recent years is not likely to lead to improved road safety.  You don’t teach people by trying to scare the hell out of them; it wouldn’t be all that ethical if you even tried it! Education is the key.

And the latest cool campaign coming out of some ad agency (your taxes at work) with the radical punchline: ‘Dont be A Dickhead..’  is hardly likely to be any more effective, even with some gratuitous references to Twitter and Facebook thrown in.

What  was more interesting to me was to see the campaign derided by opposition politicians in terms of the effect it might have on teachers trying to maintain respect and stability in the classroom.

One report in the media today said:

Opposition Transport spokesman Terry Mulder slammed the campaign for undermining the Brumby government’s much-hyped Respect campaign.
“It is appalling. Would John Brumby use that language when he is addressing a group of school children?” he said.
“It makes an absolute mockery of John Brumby’s Respect Agenda. It is shocking message one of the worst I have ever heard.”
and this from another politician:
Family First Senator Steve Fielding warned the ad campaign will make parents and teacher’s jobs much harder.
“Parents already face an up hill battle trying to stop their young kids from swearing and these ads make this job even tougher,” Senator Fielding said.
“I think the person who approved these ads has been watching too much of Gordon Ramsay.”
Mr Fielding says some common sense needs to be used in sending out road safety message.
I have some sympathy for that viewpoint. I remember once upon a time telling kids they shouldn’t say ‘bugger’ in class, until it featured as the punchline in a series of ads so memorable that I’ve forgotten what they were advertising. And I still caution students about language like ‘shit’ in classroom contexts. I wouldn’t be happy if a student in my class called another one (or me) a dickhead. And that is now more likely, no doubt. So, if it’s not going to help road safety (and it’s not) then it’s just an unhelpful waste of money.
Still, if politicians and media commentators really wanted to help out the struggling teacher at the chalkface by the good example they bring, there’s plenty more they could actively do to make that job easier, beginning with getting rid of the abuse, bullying and name-calling that constitutes debate in our Parliament.
Here’s one of the ads. There’s more on the VicRoads YouTube Channel.

The Millennial Muddle


Having just been in a discussion on the old Nicholas Carr article,  Is Google Making Us Stupid, which threatened to lurch irrevocably about how they couldn’t concentrate as well as we, and how it was up to us to do something about them or else they wouldn’t be able to think as deeply and powerfully as us, I was interested to read The Millennial Muddle by Eric Hoover which has as its byline:  “How stereotyping students became a thriving industry and a bundle of contradictions”

I’ve never totally bought the new-gen, gen-y, digital native divide that demographers and social scientists often love. I like the divide less when it seeks to depict young people as shallow, narcissistic, attention-seeking and unable to think. The students I work with aren’t like that, and I’m more likely to go along with Negroponte and see these students as more worldly, more connected and more diversely literate than those before them. Negroponte can get all misty-eyed about this, but I’d rather his optimistic appraisal of where they are, than the ones who keep wanting to turn out students into us.

Hoover explores the divisions that exist in all the stereotyping in an interesting way. As a rule I say, beware of generalisations!

The most important unit…

This week the Caldwell article and PowerPoint arrived so I thought I’d blog the most important sentence for me from the presentation, in his own words. It’s a critical point.

The student is the most important unit of organisation – not the classroom, not the school, and not the school system – and there are consequent changes in approaches to learning and teaching and the support of learning and teaching.

Grown up Digital

After I railed angrily about the media (esp. the AGE) depiction and stereotyping of young people as brain-dead internet zombies late last year here, I was delighted to hear the other side of the story coming from Don Tapscott, who wrote Growing Up Digital among other things.

In a conversation on Net at Nite he talks about his new book, Grown Up Digital, and argues that, rather than the dumbed down and selfish generation, the internet kids are generally smarter, more connected and with a stronger social conscience. The problem is that too many of us adults don’t get it. Tapscott argues that everything’s gonna change, and that means pedagogy too. It makes good listening and I’ll definitely be on the school library doorstep when it opens next week organising a couple of copies for teacher reference.

Meanwhile, you can grab the mp3 and hear the conversation here:  netatnite