Cyber Safety, General, ICT, Social Education and General Studies

Fear of oversight is stronger than ever! Have I said too much?

The French philosopher Michel Foucault (1926-1984), writing on power and punishment, described how we moved from a world in which our freedoms were limited through the exercise of external power to one where our freedoms are limited through the exercise of our own self-control. This is even more true today of our behaviour online. Tech savvy users are careful not to put anything into an email or an online post that could reflect badly on them in the future. The fear of oversight and the fear of the documentation of any misdeed controls our behaviour. We are not as free as we think we are.

On social networks there are many invitations to support political causes – ‘refugees’ vs ‘border protection’, ‘social welfare’ vs ‘economic self-responsibility’ etc. Some people are afraid to express their views on topical issues like these. Others express their views freely, sometimes to their cost. Most of us self-regulate because we fear the exercise of power against us. Civil authorities and future employers may respond unfavourably to some free expression online. The possibility that our views may be observed by others controls us.

In important respects our behaviour is more effectively controlled today than ever before. That has both positive and negative consequences. One of the positives is that it encourages us to behave responsibly – to be accountable and to be ‘good citizens’. Those who are caught out in the act of bullying or expressing racial hatred online run the risk of serious consequences to their careers and to their reputations.

Many people who are building or maintaing their careers choose to keep separate professional and private profiles. There’s a lot to be said for that. It’s not what I do, but I understand why separation makes sense for many people. If you want followers on Twitter who are interested in education, then perhaps it’s best not to tweet about your weekend sailing the Whitsundays or who you’ll be voting for at the next election. In the end, it comes down to personal preference. How public and how focused do you want to be?

I mostly post in public across a range of topics that interest me. I’ve already completed two careers – one in teaching and one in business – so I’ve less need to be careful than someone in their twenties with a lifetime of work and future employers ahead of them. Nonetheless, I still moderate my posts. I act part-time as teacher, professional developer and consultant, so I try to portray a professional image online. If I’m ‘googled’ I want people to gain a positive impression of me.

That doesn’t stop me from broaching more controversial subjects – religion, sex, politics etc. – but when it comes to discussing topics about which people are especially sensitive, I’m more likely to use a pseudonym or to communicate with a restricted audience. My arguments are sometimes more forthright and aggressive in these contexts, but I always treat people with respect, even when they say outrageous things. I do this because I’m ‘a good citizen’, but also because I know that, since my anonymity  can evaporate at any time, being ‘a good citizen’ is in my own best interests. If I’m aggressive in putting a logical argument, but remain respectful of the person on the other side, I can live with the consequences. If I call them ‘a fool’ or ‘an idiot’, it neither makes me feel better nor creates a positive impression for those who might come across my rudeness.

Following Foucault’s advice, we need to be aware of the structures of power that exist around us. We have to be careful what we say and who we say it to. Exercising self-discipline is even more important in the twenty first century than it was in the twentieth. Students, teachers and anyone who is active online need to understand the importance of promoting an image of themselves that creates a positive impression for as many potential viewers as possible. It’s worth deleting those Facebook profile pictures featuring a beer in the hand or cigarette in the mouth. Image matters.

Big Brother Poster

Cyber Safety, General, Social Networking

Professional Networking – Learning from people I’ll never meet.

Social Networks and Online Communities

Learning through Social Networks and Online Communities is mostly about learning from people I’ll never meet. Occasionally, to my delight, the unexpected happens, and I get to meet a person I’ve interacted with extensively online. When that happens we greet like old friends.

I’ve learned a great deal from my direct teaching experience, from face to face PD sessions, from my students, from my teaching colleagues and from reading material they’ve recommended, but I’ve learned still more from connections online.

I’ve connected through Google+, Twitter, LinkedIn and online communities like the Google Teacher Academy, the PLP Network, and more recently, VicPLN. The sharing and discussion in the VicPLN and the Australian-e-Series Facebook groups illustrate just how useful online communities can be for discovering educational ideas and resources.

I’ve still much to learn about professional networking online, especially on Facebook, which I’ve used mostly to stay in touch with family and friends, and Pinterest, which I’ve used less frequently. I’m looking forward to learning how to better use Facebook professionally this year. I’ll continue exploring Pinterest too, though I’m less sure how active I’ll become there.

Google+ and Twitter

I do most of my networking on Google+ and Twitter which are now the second and third largest social networks respectively. They make it easy to read the thoughts of interesting people and to share my own thoughts with them. We can converse, argue, laugh, learn, engage, and, if we’re busy, ignore one another – something we can’t do face to face. Often the discussion revolves around a shared link to an online article or resource outside Google+ or Twitter, but it can also be a direct conversation with no external linking involved.

The key to success is making connections – to circle people on Google+ and to follow people on Twitter – the more the merrier. If you don’t do this, you’ll suffer the ‘ghost town’ syndrome or, if you’re a celebrity with many followers but minimal people you’re following, your ‘networking’ will be no more than advertising.

It’s also important to share, though you can start by ‘lurking’ as a follower or circler until you gain confidence. With Twitter it helps to use hashtags like #VicPLN or #edtech. They make it easier for people who don’t follow you to see your tweets. With Google+ it helps to join Communities which function like Facebook Groups.

Managing the Avalanche of Information

As I write this post I have more than 4000 people in my Google+ circles and more than 7000 people have circled me, so there’s too much information to show in readable form on screen. The flow is filtered automatically by Google and Twitter so that it’s possible to read, but it’s too rapid to digest. I use three strategies to manage the avalanche of information.

Firstly I use simple search. Both Google+ and Twitter allow me to enter searches that return posts or tweets relating to whatever search term I enter. If I want to read what people are saying about the Gonski education reforms, all I need to do is search for ‘Gonski’.

Secondly, I filter the stream to narrow the results. In Google+ I do this by switching from the full Google+ stream to circle streams or community streams. I might browse my ICT in Education circle’s stream or my Philosophy community’s stream. In Twitter I use TweetDeck to display separate columns for streams like the #vicpln hashtag and for individuals I find especially interesting.

Thirdly, I use automatic collation tools like Flipboard and Paper.li that present my streams in digital newspaper format. These provide a relaxing magazine like experience and, since I’ve only chosen to circle or follow people who share my interests, I invariably find interesting things to read.

Hanging Out

Google+ Hangouts also provide a great way to communicate more directly with others. Hangouts are similar to Skype except that you can have up to 10 people appearing on screen at one time and you can stream Hangouts to YouTube so that others can watch live or view a recording later. I’ve sometimes used hangouts to bring distant experts into discussion I’m having with teachers. The most impressive hangout recipe I’ve seen so far comes from Amanda Rablin and Roland Gesthuizen whose weekly ACCELN (Australian Council for Computers in Education Learning Network) Google Hangouts offer great value. You can read how they manage their hangouts here.

Google+ vs Twitter vs Facebook

Twitter and Google+ are very different tools. Twitter is better for discovering and discussing breaking news. Google+, like Facebook, is better for longer and more detailed discussion. I prefer the clean advertising free interface of Google+ and the ease of managing sharing compared to Facebook. Facebook’s advantage lies in its massive user base. If I want to find out about the next big family gathering, I go to Facebook, not Google+.

Google’s network began as a place for geeks, but that’s changing.  Already it has passed Twitter to become the second largest social network behind Facebook. I highly recommend it as a place for intelligent discussion. If you want to start Google+ with a bang, here’s my simple four step recipe for success.

Block or unblock? You can’t learn if you can’t do.

Facebook and Twitter are blocked at my primary school. I think that’s reasonable for students, but not for teachers. We expect to unblock Twitter and possibly Facebook this year after we’ve completed some staff PD on professional networking. If I was at a secondary school, I’d favour unblocking Twitter, Facebook and Google+. They all offer powerful educational potential and, to stay safe online, students need to learn how to use them safely and responsibly. We also need to teach them how to manage and control the distraction of social networking – no easy task, but an important one. When we teach students to ride bikes and drive cars we use real bikes and real cars. When we teach students to use social networks, we should use real social networks too.

Animation, Audio and Video, Art and Graphic Design, Cyber Safety, General, ICT, Literacy, Mathematics, Social Education and General Studies, Social Networking

New Literacies Video Presentation

Here is the New Literacies Group video presentation from the culminating session of the PLP ConnectU program for DEECD teachers in 2011. It features students from Winters Flat PS, Castlemaine PS, Berwick PS, Kalinda PS and Yuille Park Community College.

The students talk about:
– using blogs
– using Google Docs
– using the Ultranet
– improving their traditional literacy skills
– learning new digital literacies

Cyber Safety, General, ICT, Literacy, Social Education and General Studies, Social Networking

New Literacies Group – PLP ConnectU

This year I’ve been fortunate to lead the New Literacies Group, one of six PBL teams involved in the DEECD Professional Learning Practice program of 2011, a project involving 70 teachers across Victoria. Digital media literacy is something I’m passionate about as it continues to rise in importance in every discipline and profession (1). Our team began by looking at new literacies of the more literary kind including online research, wikis, texting, blogging and micro-blogging. To keep things manageable we narrowed our focus to blogging – one of the key new literacies that has changed the way millions of people share and communicate with eachother.

Posting on Facebook, on a micro-blogging platform like Twitter or on a personal blog like this is now so commonplace that it’s easy to forget how new blogging is and how rapidly it is growing. Blogging didn’t become mainstream until this century. Facebook, with 800 million users (2), is less than eight years old, Twitter, with more than 200 million users (3) is less than six years old, and the big new social networking entrant Google+ has reached 50 million users in only three months (4).

These figures show that, if our students aren’t already blogging, then they will be soon. So it’s important that we help them and ourselves better understand blogging, its pitfalls and its benefits.

Our first task was to identify the key question to drive our PBL project. After much discussion we settled on, “In what ways does writing and communicating through blogging improve student learning and literacies?”

To our students, some as young as six, we simplified this to questions like, “How has blogging improved your reading and writing?” and “What have you learned through blogging?”

We also used this rubric to introduce both teachers and students to blogging to help them identify what they already know and what they need to learn. Most of our students are new to blogging, and so are some of our teachers, so we’re looking forward to recording our learning along the way.

I’m involved in a number of student, class blogs and school blogs, and I’ll use what I learn in this project to help them all. Since I’ll be spending more time with MAC H, a year 3/4 class at Winters Flat Primary School in term 4, and since these students are mostly new to blogging, I’ll be focusing on their blog and related student blogs to try and gauge the effect of blogging on student learning.  Please check out the MAC H blog here – comments are welcome.

(1) NMC Horizon Report K-12 2011

(2) LA. Times. September 22, 2011

(3) BBC, March 28, 2011

(4) Paul Allen, Google+, September 27, 2011

Animation, Audio and Video, Art and Graphic Design, Cyber Safety, ICT, Literacy, Mathematics, Social Education and General Studies

Learning through games

In mid-May I visited the DEECD Innovation Showcase in Melbourne and attended a session entitled “Learning through games”.

When I visited the Tyrell College showcase I felt an immediate sense of deja vu. The way in which students and teachers were using The Lord of The Rings Online reminded me of a period in the 1980s when adventure games like Granny’s Garden were often used by teachers as thematic centrepieces for cross-curricular activity that turned whole classrooms into exciting places where witches, dragons and other fantastic creatures came to life. Children became enthusiastically engaged in reading, writing, numeracy, art and drama – all related to the world of the game.  And here at the DEECD Showcase in 2011 I was seeing an approach that was remarkably similar!  Today the reach of the technology is broader so that what were once cross-curricular off-computer pen and paper based activities are now mostly on-computer activities. There is also the entirely new element of social networking where students communicate with other students and gamers across the state and across globe.

gg_witchbig

The Witch from the 1983 classic Granny’s Garden

It was good to see that an innovative approach pioneered in primary schools by teachers like Mike Matson almost thirty years ago is still alive today.  I hope more teachers try it.

An interview with Mike Matson from 2010 can be found here, where he discusses the genesis of his game Granny’s Garden, first released for the BBC microcomputer in 1983.

gg_dragonsbig

The challenging Dragon Puzzle from Granny’s Garden

DISCLOSURE: I’m especially fond of Granny’s Garden as it was the first adventure game I programmed for my own software company Dataworks. 4Mation, the UK publishers, allowed me to produce the first Apple II and Macintosh versions of their best selling adventure games Granny’s Garden, Flowers of Crystal and Dragon World.

PS. If you’re tempted to try The Lord of the Rings Online, go here. It’s free.

Cyber Safety

What should we do to ensure student safety online?

Click here for an interesting discussion about blogging and cyber-safety.
Questions discussed include:
– Should students use their names?
– Should we include student photos?
– Who should be allowed to visit and comment on the blog?
– How do we ensure student confidentiality when working online?
– And most importantly, how do we teach online safety to students?
The answers aren’t simple and, even where there is broad agreement, they don’t come in a simple ‘one-size fits all’ package.
This is well worth reading for teachers planning to have class or student blogs.

– Should students use their names?

– Should we include student photos?

– Who should be allowed to visit and comment on the blog?

– How do we ensure student confidentiality when working online?

– And most importantly, how do we teach online safety to students?

The answers to these questions aren’t simple and, even where there is broad agreement about the issues involved, the answers don’t come in a simple ‘one-size fits all’ package.

Click here for an interesting discussion covering these questions about blogging and cyber safety.

Animation, Audio and Video, Art and Graphic Design, Cyber Safety, ICT, Literacy, Mathematics, Social Education and General Studies, Social Networking

Is blogging good for school children?

Blogs have tremendous educational potential.  They provide a communication space that teachers, children and parents can use to develop writing, share ideas and reflect on work being undertaken at school in any subject area.  They enable children to showcase their work and to receive feedback and encouragement from friends, family and fellow students.

What are blogs?
You are reading one.  Blogs are websites maintained by people to describe events or make commentary on news or subjects of interest.  Blogs are mostly made up of pieces of writing, called posts, written by the blog owner.  They may also contain images and video and usually have links to other blogs and web pages.

Do blogs threaten children’s privacy or safety?
Blogging on teacher-monitored blogs is a comparatively safe online activity, but since anyone can see a blog and anyone can post a comment on a blog, there is a risk that unwanted comments will be posted.  Usually comments don’t appear publicly on a blog until they are approved by the blog’s owner (this is the default setting for most blogs), so inappropriate comments will only be seen by the blog owner (child) and the teacher administrator.  School children should be taught about cyber bullying and all school blogs should be monitored to ensure appropriate behaviour.  It is rare to find anyone outside the school community posting on a school blog.  Children should not share personal details like their address or family photos.  Once a photo or video is posted on a blog it can be viewed and downloaded by anyone.