What’s it worth? A teacher’s beliefs.

Yesterday I unexpectedly leaped into a heated argument with a very close friend who had come to visit from interstate. It was one of those fires that flare up suddenly from a small spark, blazing fiercely long enough for onlookers to look alarmed and consider calling for help, and then burn down gradually, leaving those involved in a slightly shaky state, surveying the damage.

The offending spark was a question about why my friend’s daughter didn’t have Facebook, and if she did I’d be able to view her photos from the Ball she was attending that night. Remember, these friends live interstate.

Now, you can imagine, with a blazing argument, most of what goes on is reactive, and each person becomes locked in to a mainly defensive position, taking each comment personally and wanting to come back strongly enough to defend their position. There isn’t any room for thought or even fair appraisal of what the opponent has said. Luckily, the latter occurred as the fire burned down; concession and reconciliation was possible in the smouldering stage.

I can only speak for myself in this argument, and I will.

I reacted to my friend’s initial painting of Facebook and MySpace as bad places (which, I think, he must have said unconsciously, because he later denied it), places where, at best, young people wasted their time with inane conversations, and, at worst, young people exposed themselves graphically involved in the worst behaviour.

If I hadn’t been so defensive, I would have said that I’d been there not so long ago. I was initially against my older son interacting online, either msn or Facebook/MySpace. I gave many reasons, but one I pushed the strongest was that online interaction was not real, it was virtual. It was unnatural, it took away from the time spent with people face to face, it was potentially dangerous because it increased solitary time with virtual friends, etc. Why didn’t he use the phone if he wanted to talk to someone? How could he be ‘friends’ with all those people? That wasn’t friendship.

Funnily enough, these were some of the points my friend expressed, in between dodging my line of fire. I wonder (always wonder) when I’ll learn that the conversation ends when the other person feels attacked.

What has happened from the time I held my friend’s convictions and now? Several things. Instead of making conclusions about social networking and online environments from the outside, based on what I’d read, on media reports (which are mainly negative and engender fear in parents and teachers), I decided to play around with these things myself. What happened? I connected with people I hadn’t talked to for years (even decades), I saw photos of where they lived, saw status updates of what they were up to – no, not just what they had for breakfast –  they were about to become parents, or they were travelling overseas, etc. No, I didn’t have deep relationships with all of these people, but I did appreciate suddenly having a general view of what my ‘friends’ were up to, and many of these are scattered all around the world.

I also saw a different side to young people, definitely different to the picture that is often painted in the media, or even in conversations held by people who have little to do with adolescents or university-age students. I saw these people supporting each other with positive comments, engaging in humorous and often witty dialogue, planning events and meetings, putting out interesting links to things they had read or music they listened to, venturing to express opinions they might not in real life.

One of my main points in the aftermath of the argument was that social networking supports real-life interaction. The young people I observe are less isolated than I used to be at their age, not only because they can chat to a group of friends at home in between homework, but because they use these connections to meet up and do something together. They inititate interest groups, they gather friends for events, they learn to function as social beings – important skills for life and work. They do this because these spaces belong to them. They’re not forced to create a group and contribute to discussion; they choose to because of personal interest.

Which brings me to my next point. How much of this initiative and cooperation do we see in schools, in the classroom? Do we see discussion, do we see young  people sharing their interests and passions? Or do we see disengagement, boredom, solitary struggle in place of collaborative effort? Is there room for students to take initiative, pursue interests, work together to solve problems, get involved in real-world research and enquiry.

Are we getting the best out of our young people at school?

To finish my rave, yes! I agree with my friend that there is potential danger in online involvement. And I believe we should discuss these dangers. We should take every opportunity to educate our young people about the irreversible nature of what they put out the web. But we could also create a safe, online environment for them to use at home when they need help with homework, or when they want to share ideas for a project. A place they could become teachers as well as learners. An exciting place where they are enriched by the diverse contribution of others. Where they learn to respect each other. Where they are not afraid to ask questions.

As an educator, I’ve been pushing my boundaries, often painfully, against what I felt comfortable with. But I want to keep my eyes open, and I’m trying to re-evaluate constantly, and I know that I must do that if I’m to have any part in educating young people for their future. No, not going with all the latest fads, not embracing new things without thought, but thinking deeply, and listening to the dialogue in my own online network, asking the deep questions….

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13 Comments

Filed under 21st century learning, debate, Education, internet, networking, teachers, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

13 responses to “What’s it worth? A teacher’s beliefs.

  1. Isn’t it interesting how much we’ve learned from using these sites ourselves? We now view them with much more insight. It is the same with videogames. Once you get the right program and think about how you can use it in an educationally enriching way, views can change pretty quickly! I count myself as one of these who previously dismissed games as time wasting, until I played Guitar Hero with my nephew. We have built a new relationship around games since then. It’s great to still have something in common with him now he is on the cusp of adolescence.

  2. A great way to interact with kids, Judith. Of course, you could say we could also go out and kick a footy with them, but I think that wherever they are and whatever they’re doing, if we join in, we have something in common, as well as an understanding from the inside of what they enjoy.

    Personally, I shy away from the games because they’re often challenging and require practice for skill development. Lazy!

  3. “Do we see discussion, do we see young people sharing their interests and passions? Or do we see disengagement, boredom, solitary struggle in place of collaborative effort? Is there room for students to take initiative, pursue interests, work together to solve problems, get involved in real-world research and enquiry.”

    Dead on. Those are great questions, and they’ve got answers. If we don’t find ways to help students connect what they are doing in school with what they care about outside of school, we’re all wasting a whole lot of time.

    • Hi Bruce, good to meet you. I think it’s urgent to do what you suggest: find ways to help students connect what they are doing in school with what they care about outside of school, and if we put it off, not only have we put the students off learning at school, but we have wasted their talents. So we do what we can, and we collaborate with others to do it even better.

    • Bruce this is a poignant comment! I wholeheartedly agree and appreciate your use of the word connect. As someone that works with ‘disengaged youth’ I am solely focused on (healthy) relationships and connections, regardless of the medium.

  4. Dawn Jimenez

    Hey Tania this is so interesting to read and I appreciate your honesty as well. I think it is so true though but it is not only with online experiences as Judith points out in her comment above. I think it is for many things. I for one always sat and watched programs on the TV with my boys I never presumed oh it must be ok it’s ABC and left them to themselves (don’t get me wrong I did sometimes as necessary) but I would always make an effort to watch programs with them so we could talk about and laugh about the shows together.(and so I knew what they were about and understood the content) The same for video games. We held off buying PS2 for as long as we could but when we did buy one I researched the games checked the reviews (Something the boys still do themselves now before buying) of the games we bought for them and then yes I have played many hours of video games with them and by myself (they are very addictive!!) for many years now. Luis I think especially has enjoyed having me sit with him and do something that most other kids mums had know idea about. I think the boys see you differently – not because you are trying to take over their world but because they see you trying to understand it and enjoy it. This translates to online as well.
    This of course is also true of the online experience and I agree with what you say about how they use it and how it is important to them socially and to express themselves. Even though as you know I first hesitated about Facebook etc it was never for the negative reasons and never for my boys but more because I could not see a use for me personally. I think it is the same with so many things in life don ‘t criticise something until you try it – don’t criticise the movie until you have seen it, the book until you have read it, the food until you have tasted it, the person until you know them and their story.

  5. Hi Dawn, thanks for your interesting comment; you make some very good points. I love the relationship you have with your boys, and, as you say, you and your boys are richer for the interaction you describe. This is exactly what happens when a teacher relates to students by joining in the learning instead of standing aside.

    So true about not putting something down unless you haven’t tried it. You might still not get into it, but at least you’ve seen it from the inside.

  6. I wonder if your interstate friend would ever join Facebook or start a blog or just start reading blogs and discover for himself the extending and beneficial aspect of this medium of communication and interaction? Probably not tomorrow but maybe someday. I suppose if young people ONLY had Facebook friends and never met with real people, then there might be cause for concern. But such isolated and non social people would always be a worry. Certainly the vast majority of people using Facebook use it as an adjunct and embellishment to their social lives. I’m glad you didn’t back off when you could see your friend was feeling attacked – hopefully your friendship is not too impaired and we were able to share your thoughtful insights into how to counter this perspective.

  7. Never say never, Pam. I don’t think our friendship suffered irreparable damage; at least, I hope not. I think it’s mainly fear of the unknown, or fear of something you know a little about, but all that is negative. Of course, there is negative activity going on online, and parents don’t want that for their children, understandably, but you wouldn’t say ‘don’t drive a car’ just because it’s potentially dangerous. Well, sometimes I wish I could, but I can’t.

  8. jennylu

    I really enjoyed this post Tania. You got the guts of what social networking can mean for people, young or otherwise! It is a learning curve engaging in these networks and I have many friends who have yet to make the leap. I’m so glad I did; my world is richer for people like you.

  9. Jenny, you’re always gracious with your comments; thanks. I’ve just been putting together a list of people (and their online presence) to demonstrate the best of online engagement. I was going through your posts about networking and global connections in the classroom. I still can’t believe Laura Stockman. Talk about the world being richer for one person.

  10. hardyje

    I enjoyed reading your comments about Facebook and blogging. My child recently had a bad experience with My Space, and I became very turned off by the entire idea of social networking. However, I am currently in the process of reevaluating my position on “blogging” and sharing information through Face book. I have begun to take part in a few blogs which has enabled me to gain professional information. I am a teacher who is finally coming out of the closet and ready to face Web 2.0 technology and capabilities.

    I believe it is important for younger bloggers to be aware of possible dangers with this social networking arena just as they should be aware of dangers that are present in a public park. The key to safe networking could be advancing responsible blogging in the school system as part of the educational process. I believe many parents (including myself) do not truly understand the power of blogging and the educational advantages this type of communication can offer the world.

  11. Thankyou for your comments, Jennifer; I’m always interested to hear people’s experiences and opinions. As a parent (an overprotective one, I’m told), I’m concerned about safety, whether it be online or in the park, as you say. We need to take age-appropriate precautions and teach children and young people about safety, as well as appropriate behaviour towards others instead of fencing off the park (I like this park metaphor; it involves play). I admire you for not turning away altogether from online environments, but trying to understand the positive possibilities in Web 2.0 platforms. There are so many excellent possibilities. But it’s a learning process, a hands-on one, for both children and adults, students and learners. You don’t just drop the kids off in the park (can’t drop the metaphor), you have to make sure it’s fenced off from the busy road, you supervise the behaviour amongst the kids to prevent bullying or someone getting hurt, you talk to the kids about things.

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