Dangerous new (cyber)world

I firmly believe that we should educate students for their world.

There’s no doubt that they will function in an online and networked world, even more than they are doing now.

Yesterday our staff listened to Susan McLean’s talk about the dangers of the cyberworld. I became increasingly uncomfortable as the horror stories unfolded at the expense of a more balanced view, or even in terms of focusing on how we could manage cybersafety education.

I want to share my letter to the principal in the hope of opening up a conversation which will fill in the gaps to create a balanced picture of what we should be doing to educate our students as citizens of their future world.

To balance out last night’s presentation on cyberbullying, I would like to suggest that you look at ACMA which provides excellent links to resources and free PD.

 For example, here is the page for teens with practical help

 Here is the school page

There is free professional development

You can browse the site – it is set out clearly, and very helpful.

 I hope that our staff have been discerning in understanding that Susan McLean has presented a very extreme picture, describing the worst case scenarios (many of them), which should be acknowledged for what they are – worst case scenarios. It was difficult not to be affected by her stories; I know I was starting to panic and my instinct to run and save myself kicked in.

 What was unmistakable – Susan only mentioned that online involvement could be positive at the beginning and end of the presentation – she didn’t give examples. Her language was emotionally charged, and her numerous horror stories were dramatic.

It would be a shame if staff who were already resistant to technology and strangers to online possibilities in education, were to run even further away from technology – especially as we are a laptop school. We have to remember that we are educating students for their technology-rich world, not our world or the world of our own schooling.

 Just yesterday I was moderating comments in my fiction blog – no comments will be published until I approve them. I’m encouraging comments to inspire discussion around books and reading, and I noticed a student had commented on a student review of the new Harry Potter movie. The comment was fine, but the last sentence inappropriately put down a boy who had received a scholarship. I found the boy, had a little chat with him about what was inappropriate in the comment (he understood), and asked him to resubmit the comment without the negative part. This is part of students’ ongoing education – who else will teach them how to behave online if we don’t?

 We need, more than ever, to understand the power of these technologies, and educate our students to use them responsibly. The only way we will understand these from the inside is if we play with them ourselves. I would be more than happy to show you my Facebook and Twitter involvement – they are an important part of my professional development and educational support.

 What is also imperative, is that we don’t mix up the problematic online activities of our students in their leisure time with the technology that can be used to support teaching and learning, eg. Blogs, nings, etc.

 When you have time, please have a look at the 7M ning – we are thrilled to have Allan Baillie, author of our literature study, ‘Little Brother’, as part of our ning, ready to join the students in discussion. What better way to learn about the book than have the author answer questions – this is authentic learning. The boys and Maria and I are excited that Allan has agreed to join us, and we spent yesterday’s lesson reading his life story on his website in preparation for our interaction with him.

 I hope you accept my email in the spirit it has been written. I believe that we need to educate our students for their world. We should not bury our heads in the sand, but accept the challenge, moving past our own discomfort with technology, and taking up our responsibility to educate responsible citizens.

Thanks to Lisa Dumicich for the link to ACMA on Twitter.

I would be extremely  interested in hearing what you think about this issue of cybersafety and the use of Web 2.0 technologies in education. Please enter into the conversation.


Filed under 21st century learning, Education, internet, network literacy, networking, teaching, technology, Web 2.0

26 responses to “Dangerous new (cyber)world

  1. I wonder what would have happened if we would have allowed the potential dangers of automobiles, airplanes, and space craft prevent us from progressing. That said, education in and of itself was a scary prospect at one time, I’m certain. How dissimilar is this issue from book censorship/banning? How similar are the fear tactics? I’m not sure…not saying I have the answers…but you have me thinking. This sort of approach is what creates the gap between the haves and the have-nots…those who are informed and those who are not….those who are empowered…and those who are imprisoned….by ignorance.

    • You’ve raised some excellent points and broadened the perspective, Angela. The dangers are there but shutting the whole thing down is not the answer. Fear doesn’t usually result in constructive action, does it? You’ve really made me think about the gap between those who are empowered and those who aren’t. Thankyou.

  2. I listened to Susan McLean and Michael Carr-Gregg give a similar emotive talk earlier in the year, and I had the same reaction as you. I did some research and found that many of their worst case horror examples are quite old although this is given no prominence in the talk. As an English teacher teaching students to be aware of how they, as readers/listeners, are being positioned to uncritically accept certain points of view, I found myself mentally ticking off the techniques as they used them in their talk to give a quite one sided view of the negative effects of technology use by young people, including disarming the audience by saying they weren’t going to sensationalise the issue and discuss it emotively while proceeding to do just that. Quite often when teachers and parents are given this talk, it shuts down discussion unless there are people like you who can put the other side, using positive examples. Love your post and your work with students and the wider community.

    • Jo, you’ve analysed the rhetoric well. I was thinking the same thing but couldn’t say it as eloquently as you. I hope that critical evaluation kicked in at some stage for teachers during all the horror stories they were hearing. As you say, this kind of talk shuts down discussion, but discussion is precisely what we need at this point. That’s why I wrote this post. Thanks, Jo; your comments are really valuable.

  3. Bon

    it’s too bad if cyberbullying presentations are being used to fearmonger rather than give educators & parents strategies to work with kids to help them negotiate the reality of the online world, which will be their primary professional milieu in many cases.

    yes, terrible things can happen. frightening, hurtful things. and we should be concerned about them. but turning off the computers isn’t even an option for coping with the problem.

    as you say, educating responsible citizens – for the world they really live in, not the one we may hearken back to (which is a bit of a false construct anyhow, as cyberbullying is still old familiar bullying in a new venue).

    • To be fair, strategies were mentioned but they all centred around the fearful things and how to prevent them. This is very important, and, as you say, terrible things can happen… and we should be concerned about them. But what about including positive behaviour, and examples of what responsible online interaction looks like. We need to show and model both sides. If we talk to children about being good, we don’t immediately take an example of the most horrendous criminal. It just doesn’t make sense. My concern was that most of the teachers listening to the talk had not even seen any examples of positive online interaction.

  4. Thank you so much for expressing what I have repeatedly said to fellow teachers so eloquently. It is so important to balance the dangers with the web integration that is so important in the educational environment. This was a very professional and non threatening way to address the fears that so many in education have. Perhaps you will be surprised by someone who you did not think would embrace technology and will come to you with open dialogue. Your email to your colleagues makes it very possible.

    • Thankyou for your comments, Heidi. I hope you’re right about the talk opening up dialogue, only I’m sceptical at this point. I definitely think that discussion should take place after such strong presentations, but it probably won’t. My email was to the principal, and only a couple of staff read this blog, so I might have to bring up the topic in conversation when I see other teachers. I might ask them what they thought of the presentation.

  5. You’re absolutely right Tania, we need a balance of information. There isn’t much that we do in life that is completely free of risk, but what we do is weigh up those risks against the benefits. As we bring up our own children we teach them to identify risks and ways in which they can aoid, or deal with, those risks. This is the world our students are living in and if we don’t educate them and give them strategies to deal with these issues then we are doing them a gross disservice. We teach them to cross the road safely, use potentially dangerous equipment safely, so shouldn’t we also work with them to use online communication, virtual worlds etc safely?

    • Good point, Pam. I think the difference between us teaching young people to deal with risks such as crossing the road or driving a car and teaching them safe online behaviour is that in the first two instances we are experienced with these things, but how many teachers are experienced with virtual worlds or Web 2.0 tools? That’s why I’m always advocating having a play so that we know what we are dealing with. I was also afraid of my children using msn and facebook until I did it myself. Having demystified these things, I’m armed with knowledge. Thanks so much for your comments, Pam.

  6. Tania, while you suggest the topic is cybersafety, we do need to educate for all kinds of safety – by developing the appropriate literacy. I was struck by a recent article in last Sunday’s Age, “Risk Literacy” about young men and cars (speeding and being reckless) who commented that they really only take notice when one of their friends die. I was gobsmacked, but then realised that this might well be the case. Youth are fearless and reckless, testing boundaries etc. While this example is of a different category, my point is that shock tactics may be a useful means of drawing attention, but as you suggest, can paint a negative (and unrealistic) picture. What if there was a program that channeled the willingness of car enthusiasts to pursue their thrills in a safe environment with safe cars on safe tracks as an alternative?

    Our young people also need to know of the possible dangers of being online, but as you so wisely counseled a young man regarding his comments, we need to engage in conversation rather than throw scare tactics at parents & teachers. I agree with you and other commenters that a balance is important, and educating for knowledge & understanding (cyber literacy?) is important. Just instilling fear in people without the whole context is not fair on anyone.

    • Colin, I couldn’t agree more. Scare tactics push people into a corner, where they can’t see the other side easily. If this presentation led to discussion, then a more balanced, rational view could be reached. Thanks for dropping by, I appreciate your views.

  7. jennylu

    My Principal speaks of letting our children do the most dangerous thing possible – getting behind the wheel of a car. We don’t deter them from their desire to gain independence by driving a motor vehicle, so why do we instill so much fear about their forays into online connections. We need to be modelling and showing them what is possible and then guide them to use these technologies safely and ethically.

    • Jenny, the car example is simple and powerful. My elder son has just got his license and I feel anxious when he drives somewhere, but I know I can’t and wouldn’t want to stop him. Do I want him to learn this new independence or not? Just as in online environments, I’m afraid that other drivers might do something unsafe that will involve him. In this case, we have more control over what our kids do online than what happens on the roads – that is, if we take our role as educators seriously, and cover all bases, open up discussion.

  8. Thank you Tania, this is a very timely post and will provide us with some useful ammunition to counter the attacks at school. Those recent tragedies at the Geelong school and at our own school two years ago, have been linked with cyber bullying and it is really an area that needs to be aproached wisely and delicately. As one of your commentators pointed out, adolescent angst aggravated by taunting and bullying has unfortunately always been with us but has been electronically transformed by email and online social networks. Vulnerable young people need to be taught how to deal with harrassment in a variety of contexts because, as you say, we need to educate students for their world.

    • Yes, Pam, you’re right – bullying has always been with us. I agree with those who say that the internet provides an easy way to spread bullying quickly and easily, and that’s precisely why we need to understand how the social networking platforms work, and then talk to our kids about responsible behaviour, just as we do when we talk about good behaviour offline. Thanks, Pam.

  9. The dangers are the very reason we need to get involved and why teachers need to have a presence online. When you leave powerful technologies and social networking sites to immature children with no positive role models or adults to help show the way you get extreme cases and horror stories. “Lord of the Flies” “Summerhill gone bad”
    Just like you get extreme cases in other situations where adults and accountability are absent.

    Besides bullies have been around since the beginning of time. And sadly students have taken their own lives from things that have been said on paper, gossip spread mouth to mouth at school and many other reasons not associated with technology. The only difference is that technology is an amplifier.

    Our students will be using these technologies outside of schools. Do we want to provide a safety net in school that will begin to teach them safe and ethical uses or stick our head in the sand and pretend if we block these things at school then they will not be impacted?

    Schools should lead the way in demonstrating responsible use. Just like we taught kids to not talk to strangers, how to use the telephone when our parents were not home, firesafety and countless other possible dangerous situations that our kids will face. The secret is capacity building and teaching discernment- that produces responsible adults- not mindless control.

    • Sheryl, I really appreciate you sharing your experience and understanding here. Your first line says it all:
      ‘The dangers are the very reason we need to get involved and why teachers need to have a presence online.’ And also: ‘Schools should lead the way in demonstrating responsible use’. I hope that those with any leadership will realise their responsiblities in this context so that we do end up ‘building and teaching discernment’ and that we don’t respond by implementing ‘mindless control’. Thankyou for dropping by.

  10. Hi Tania,

    Great post. I agree that people who dramatize a few of the worst Internet incidents to scare parents and teachers from using online tools is not appropriate. Yet, these stories do scare us. This type of melodrama is all over our 24 hour media/blogosphere/twitosphere culture.

    Your goal of deepening learning through the use of blogs and other online social media tools is the goal of the work you are doing.

    The argument I like to use when speaking to administrators and parents about online tools is that of learning any skill. We can learn how to throw or swim on our own, but it works a lot better and you become more proficient more quickly with a coach or teacher. Online tools are going to be a part of our students lives, so teaching them the benefits and detractors of online tools is critical to our students development.

    The other assumption I make is that every one of our students by the time they are 12 or 13 are spending time online, most likely unsupervised time. By then time they are 18, this will definitely be using the Internet regularly in with no supervision. Here’s where the life guard analogy works well. We first teach kids how to swim safely and then let them swim in a pool, but have someone watching and there to help if they start to drown.

    So if our kids are getting online by the time they are 12 or 13, skills can be learned more quickly by having a coach, and the school’s goal is to develop students who are using tools to deepen their learning, then what do we need to do to teach our students?

    Make sense?

    For my part, I’m putting together an Internet Safety curriculum for our Middle School parents and faculty that will hopefully start to cover these bases and give all caring adults in our students lives the tools to speak with their students/children.

    Thanks for getting me to put this down and organize my thoughts a bit.

    Best, Alex

    • Alex, thankyou so much for contributing to the conversation. It’s true, we can be most effective in educating students in responsible behaviour online if we start early. I’m interested in your Internet Safety curriculum for Middle Years. Will that be something we can have a look at?

  11. Tania,

    Being the 21st respondent to your post limits what I can say without indulging in repetition (and reiteration) but I will add what I can. As I wasn’t present, I cannot comment on your speaker but I can comment upon the fearmongering approach as I have seen it before.

    Firstly, let me state that I have read both ACMA reports (each one weighing in at 100+ pages) and one of the salient points raised is that parents (stakeholders) need to be brought into the discussion concerning use of online spaces. Schools must engage with the parents and listen to them, guide them, inform them – even plan policy with them. A large number of parents are unaware of how their kids operate in social networking environments – ACMA has all the stats; I won’t repeat them here.

    It must be noted that fearmongering can only obfuscate the truth – it cannot hide it. This has been born out by history. Today’s teenagers regard the ‘fear everyone’ approach as rhetorical and clichéd. (Again read ACMA’s stats).

    Most adolescents accept the caveat emptor behind using the internet – (fortunately) fear will not be enough to dissuade them. But this does not mean we do not guide our students.

    The two greatest problems involving adolescent use of the internet centre upon cyber-bullying and invasions of privacy. These are entwined. Whilst some savvy kids know how to protect themselves i.e. avoid situations whereby their personal data can be used against them, quite a few kids are oblivious to the ways in which they can be compromised online. These are matters that should be comprehensively explored in classes before throwing the Web 2.0 doors wide open.

    There is no doubt that Terms of Service (TOS) aren’t always considered by some teachers. Many Web 2.0 services originating out of the US are restricted by COPPA (Google it) which prohibits users being under the age of 13. A number of online networks have TOS that should give us pause: e.g. “you grant us a non-exclusive, transferable, sub-licensable, royalty-free, worldwide license to use any IP content that you post on or in connection with Facebook.”

    Facebook, as an example, does not have a good track record for privacy – take the Beacon fiasco (again Google it) whereby many users were unaware of how their data was being shared.

    I do not raise this example as a reason not to use such services, but I believe that schools must open a dialogue with stakeholders before they go gangbusters in online environments. Because if that doesn’t happen and things go awry, the first reaction of governing institutions is to turn off access to the facility (ala YouTube) and that is a dreadful shame.

    There is no doubt that fearmongering is unproductive. It engenders frustration and mistrust among those who know better and it stagnates the growth of those people who don’t. As with anything, it is a range of perspectives that is needed. Mine is but one.

  12. Paul, as always, you share wise words and deep knowledge. Congratulations on reading the entire ACMA reports! Having teenagers of my own, I know how true these words are – ‘Today’s teenagers regard the ‘fear everyone’ approach as rhetorical and clichéd’. That’s the thing I have trouble with. A talk that focuses on all the things that go wrong may water off a duck’s back with teenagers, the very people we want to take notice, but will scare the adults (teachers and parents), the very people we need to familiarise themselves with social networking tools in order to be able to educate and support the young people. Thankyou for your insights, Paul.

  13. Tania,

    Similar to Pauls comments above it’s hard to add anything that hasn’t been already said, but well done on a great post. I’ve tried to cover similar sentiments on my own blog with 2 posts http://tinyurl.com/mmgz9u and http://tinyurl.com/m66j6q but your post pretty much hits the nail on the head, instead of my ramblings.

    I struggle with schools that try and use the ‘worst case scenarios’ as an excuse not to use the web or engage their teachers to use it or educate parents as well. Yes we need to acknowledge their are some dangers, but that’s not all the web is about.

    I believe that we have a cohort of students who have evolved using the web and other technologies as the web has evolved itself. So we have students who have been exploring and experimenting with this stuff before many of us as educators or parents saw the benefits.

    Consequently we do see some ‘un-education’ in relation to appropriate use by students/others in this area. However, by focusing on educating the students we have now surely we can make a difference for the current/next generation of users.

    Our students are living in a world that is quite different to that of their parents so schools need to be proactive to help educate our parents and students together in this area.

    We focus on that with other programs such as life and drug education as they are deemed important ‘life skills’, so cyber safety /responsibility easily fits in this category.

    Again great post and it’s a discussion that we need to keep having to generate positive ways of getting our students to use the web in safe, positive and effective ways.

    • To be fair, I have to say that our principal is beginning to see the necessity of moving forward with Web 2.0 applications for teaching and learning. He’s been shown some examples of how technology enhances teaching and learning. I’m more concerned with the staff who don’t need any more to put them off, either because they are uncomfortable with technology and can’t see how they will find the time to learn new things, and partly because they’ve had negative experiences with technology not working. When I walked out of Susan’s presentation, I heard several teachers make negative comments about how they were not going to go in the direction of technology, because it wasn’t worth it anyway, they couldn’t see anything good about it, and these dangers they had just become aware of from Susan’s talk were evidence enough that they should just go back to chalk. Obviously, not all teachers are of that opinion, but in my dealings with the staff, there are not too many who are giving new technologies a go. I just don’t think Susan’s talk is helping. Thanks so much for your comments; very interesting.

  14. Hi Tania,

    The bias that was expressed in Susan’s presentation does not surprise me. Professionals from the “law enforcement” side of house have had their perspectives and mindsets colored by the terrible things children and adults have done to each other with or without technology. Regrettably, this leads to a lack of trust or perhaps a willingness to provide a balanced and unbiased presentation.

    I believe you have eloquently described how these types of behaviors can be prevented. By providing ongoing education, creating safe environments for students to learn from their mistakes, and emphasizing digital citizenship through character education.

    So how do you overcome this setback? Share, share, and share some more, the wonderful things you and your colleagues have done with technology. Share the epiphanies your students have had about developing their character. Lastly, continue to use your PLN for support. I am continually impressed by how you have utilized your PLN to assist you articulate a viewpoint.

    For additional inspiration, check out Seth Godin’s post Winning on the Uphills- http://tinyurl.com/n9lfj2 .

    Be well.


  15. Hiram, I think it’s true what you say about people in law enforcement. They would definitely have the extreme picture. Obviously it’s all true, although, as another commenter has pointed out, some of her facts/anecdotes are outdated.

    You are very wise, Hiram. Yes, all we can do is share things that work with technology, and demonstrate why these applications enhance teaching and learning in a way not possible otherwise. Slowly, slowly…

    As always, I appreciate your thoughts; thankyou.

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