Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Our Imperative to teach Safe, Responsible Social Networking

The Washington Post has had some gems lately...glad I have them on my Netvibes.

A recent article delves into a continuing, but also growing problem in online social networking sites where rumors and disinformation and personal attacks are impacting people's lives negatively (to understate it). It's a very scary article on what happens when the Web 2.0 tool gets used badly.

The article starts with the story of a Phi Beta Kappa, Yale Law graduate who did not get many call backs and received no job offers. Though admittedly difficult to prove, she claims that this was a result of deragatory postings about her in a well-read public forum on AutoAdmit.

"The woman and two others interviewed by The Washington Post learned from friends that they were the subject of derogatory chats on a widely read message board on AutoAdmit, run by a third-year law student at the University of Pennsylvania and a 23-year-old insurance agent. The women spoke on the condition of anonymity because they feared retribution online."

The forum in question contains useful information about law schools and law firms, but also contains hundreds of posts filled with racism and bigotry. But the site's founder says it's free speech.
"The students' tales reflect the pitfalls of popular social-networking sites and highlight how social and technological changes lead to new clashes between free speech and privacy. The chats are also a window into the character of a segment of students at leading law schools. Penn officials said they have known about the site and the complaints for two years but have no legal grounds to act against it. The site is not operated with school resources."

This is out there. It's real. How much more hiding from it can educators do? Ignorance on this type of thing is simply no longer acceptable for teachers. This is the world that a participatory web 2.0 has created. One in which anyone can say anything about anyone else. We can't just teach kids to protect themselves, instead teachers have to assume the responsibility of teaching students to be responsible users as well.

The technology is new(ish), but it isn't going away. As a teachnology facilitator, it's my job to make sure that teachers get this. I need to show them how important it is for our students to learn how to use the tool properly AND responsibly. It is worth noting here that the "misuers" in this article are law students slandering their peers.

Dare I quote it? "With great power comes great responsibility." (Thanks, Spidey.)

The educational power of Web 2.0 is out there for us to embrace: collaboration, critical thinking, communication. But not all teachers have jumped on board. Maybe we are still too content focused in our curriculum. Maybe "the kids are going to learn the technology anyway", since they spend so much time on it outside of school (side note: why wouldn't this be a reason to make school more like that?). But even if that's the case, this article reminds us how important it is to have conversations with students about the implications of their actions.

So whose job is this? Only mine as the tech. guy? Parents? What about all educators? What about the village? But here in lies the rub: most of those people don't even know what's out there. They don't know that this technology exists, that kids are using it, that kids are learning in it, and that kids are misusing it too.

Like so many things, the answer lies not in protection, but in education. But that adds to our problems as more and more schools are knee-jerking their way to blocking access and sealing off their schools from the participatory culture that's out there. So we emphasize the good, make little of the bad (see Jeff's ThinkingStick post on this), and get people on board.

So when's a good time to bring in the bad? To have those real conversations with kids? How about ALL THE TIME. Damn...that puts me back at square one...I have to get our teachers to see this as their job. I want to be obsolete as Jeff suggests (well, the job anyway...not me personally), but I don't see that happening any time soon.

That's the key to this Web 2.0 participatory's put power into everyone's hands. And we just haven't prepared everyone for that kind of responsibility.

It's no wonder that there is misuse, just as it is no wonder that some are learning on their own how to behave well and how to protect themselves (great post on this from Justin at Medagogy and teacher directed kids learning based at ThinkingStick).

But we can't rely on self-learning anymore, because it is about more than skills that we can scope and sequence. It's about responsible use as well. It's the job of all educators to make sure that students get that. And teachers will get there, because we can't afford not too...I just hope it's fast enough for our students' sake.

No comments: