Friday, March 14, 2008

A Heavy Armor

"Suspicion is a heavy armor and with its weight it impedes more than it protects." -Robert Burns

In response to parental concerns about online predators, Australian teacher Al Upton has been given an Order of Closure by the Risk and Management/Special Investigations Unit from the South Australian Education Department. Mr. Upton's 8- and 9-year-old students will no longer be able to continue their hugely successful miniLegends blogging project, which has run for five years without incident.

Many educational bloggers have already responded to this action. Fellow Australian, Sue Waters, says that Upton would prefer that we
use this opportunity to inform/educate parents and Education Departments of the value of blogging for learners and to discuss the true realities of cyberstalking /bullying.

Anne Mirtschin listed 20 reasons why students should blog. SkyDaddy is too angry to reply in that vein at the moment, but he refers readers to a thoughtful post by Nancy White concerning the benefits of student Internet use.

A few days ago, Wesley Fryer summarized research done by the University of New Hampshire’s Crimes Against Children Research Center. He concludes
The message of these studies and this article is similar to mine in workshops and presentations I share on Internet Safety and online social networking: There ARE risks associated with online communication, but in many cases the media has overblown them and we need to take a more balanced, realistic approach as educators, parents and community leaders.

Many school-aged children spend unsupervised time on home computers. Conscientious parents are alarmed by stories of online predators and cyber bullying but don't have the skills or knowledge to instruct their children in digital safety. The classroom is the logical place for students to receive safety instruction and participate in guided practice.

Our children and teen-agers must have fluency in communication and collaboration to be successful in the world they inhabit. Rather than encase them in armor, we should arm them with knowledge.

*Update: Sue Waters has collected Blogger and Twitter reactions to the Order of Closure here.

"There is only one good - knowledge; and only one evil - ignorance."

"Metropolitan Museum of Art (10)" by maggie loves hopey


Jo McLeay said...

Dianne, this is a really thoughtful post in response to what's happened. A great summary. I particularly like your quote from Socrates at the end: that says it all I think. By teaching students digital literacy we are helping to ensure their safety and good judgement online.

Sue Waters said...

I totally agree with Jo Mcleay Dianne you've done an excellent job explaining, summarising and providing further insight into the issues. Thanks for joining us in supporting Al. We're all hopeful that he will hold discussions with his Education Department to have the matter resolved and the decision revised. The positive side, as Al points out, is it does the community the opportunity to discuss these issues.

ohcloudyworld said...

I hope it gets overturned. I agree with the above commenters that you did a great job summarizing Diane. :) It's a real shame that the miniLegends blogging project has to end due to the overhyped threat of online predators.

In my experience, kids and teens frequent sites that their friends are on, be it Facebook, Neopets, or YouTube. I've gotten through 8 years of unsupervised time on the cybersphere without an incident, but I do agree that miscommunication and lack of digital knowledge play a significant role in this and hopefully the people in charge can become enlightened on the matter.

(If I sound really odd, this is because it's 2:30 AM and I'm in dire need of sleep. I tend to sound vaguely British/proper when I'm writing late; probably the result of procrastinating on many English papers.)

diane said...

Jo and Sue,

Teaching good digital citizenship should be mandatory worldwide. Yet many technology curricula are sketchy (if they exist at all). Skills acquisition depends largely on the the knowledge of individual classroom teachers.

I'm not sure what it will take to change this situation, but strong-arm tactics against dedicated educators like Al Upton don't help.

We are a world in flux and willful ignorance is no longer a choice.


Thanks for the student view. I agree that the "people in charge" need to be enlightened.

A good first step would be to have more teachers & students serve on state or federal committees or commissions. I keep volunteering - maybe some day someone will take me up on my offer.


tasteach said...

An excellent summary of the situation. I know we as teachers, need to be teaching students about being internet safe and savvy. I spent the first three weeks of school doing that with my students before I would let them make comments on our class blog.

They didn't realise that once a photo is on there it stays forever even if you take it off immediately.

They never thought that a future employer might also check them out on the net when applying for a job.

delish88 said...

wow... that is quite an outrage! i cannot believe it... thats borderline destroying school values and traditions. I believe that the online experience shoudl be on the browsing persons judgement.