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Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat

This is a Vimeo video of the recent Churchill Chat for the NSW Fellows.

Fear Itself – a Churchill Chat from Steven Caldwell on Vimeo.

Voicethread postcard from America

This is a Voicethread that looks at both the work and the play I experienced during the Churchill Fellowship.

Nothing to fear but fear itself

The teenager seems to have replaced the Communist as the appropriate target for public controversy and foreboding.

~Edgar Friedenberg, The Vanishing Adolescent


 

Anne CollierWherever I have travelled in the US, one name has frequently been cited with regard to online safety and global citizenship- Anne Collier. A journalist by profession, Anne is a ‘Truth- teller’ who’s work through NetFamilyNews.org and ConnectSafely.org, is cited by those who seek a more reasoned, less sensational voice in this highly charged domain. 

 

Anne served on the Internet Safety Technical Task Force, formed by 49 state attorneys general at Harvard’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society as well as participating in various advisory boards, attending international conferences, and co-chairing the Obama Administration’s Online Safety and Technology Working Group , which sent its report to the US Congress last June.

 

It was a delight to meet with Anne and encounter a voice that actively challenges perceptions that parents and schools have about the safety of young people online.

 

This posting will blend Anne’s understanding of this issue with my own musings on the subjects of fear, youth voice and the label ‘digital natives’.

 

The origins of Fear

It is perhaps unsurprising that the majority of schools in America adopt a fear-based, protective attitude towards young people’s use of the internet given the origins of legislation pertaining to it.

 

Anne recounted the origins of Federal legislation dating back to the 1990s when the internet was still in its Web 1.0 infancy. Whilst initially the National Center for Missing and Exploited Children made use of the internet to find displaced kids, this set the scene for framing children and young people as potential victims: not an auspicious start. From the get-go, young people online was perceived as something risky.

 

Having interactions of young people with the internet already associated with Law enforcement and the Department of Justice predisposed the response taken by those bodies. Thus police began giving presentations to parents that demonstrated, in real-time, the predatory nature of some chat rooms by entering the spaces as a fictional student. These experiences served to alarm parents. To this day such presentations emphasizing the potential risks, threats and legal ramifications are still being delivered to students, staff and parents. In such instances the most egregious acts against children are revealed, skewing the public perception further.

 

Fear was later enshrined in legislation. The amusing, if aggressively titled, Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) was meant to cause schools to block or seriously restrict access to social networking websites rather than “predators,” actually. This bill was not based on sound evidence linking instances of child molestation and/or grooming behaviours to social networks. Not the least controversial aspect of the bill was the emotive and misleading title. Worryingly, if one spoke in opposition of the bill one was perceived to be somehow in support of predators.

 

Thankfully the bill did not pass. But children still seem to be seen by policymakers only as potential victims and passive consumers online rather than agents of their own and others’ well-being in online community.

 

Next up: The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. The parameters of this Act were to inhibit the creation and distribution of child pornography, to protect young people from online predators once more and to remove the possibility of commercial exploitation of youth. Once again, young people were framed as passive, innocent, defenseless victims.

 

(3) with the explosive growth of trendy chat rooms and social networking websites, it is becoming more and more difficult to monitor and protect minors from those with devious intentions, particularly when children are away from parental supervision. Section 202 12-16

 

Anne was a consultant on the formation of this bill and watched as it was passed from the Senate to the Commerce, Science, and Transportation Committee for further discussion. Thus, the Senate believed that the care and safety of young people, now perceived as some form of commodity, also belonged to the Department of Commerce rather than solely to the Department of Justice. This lead to conflict between the two departments with the boycotting of reports and a vying for control over who actually ‘owned’ online safety.

 

If we add to this confusion over jurisdiction the prevailing culture of fear maintained by the Bush Administration’s War on Terror, it is perhaps unsurprising that little was actually achieved in the arena of online safety and digital citizenship for over eight years.

 

The limitations of Fear

Clearly, the mainstream perception was and still is that fear is a useful tool; the understanding being that, if you scare parents and children then you will ‘scare them straight’ into becoming model citizens. Well, as we all know, that censorious approach has always been an effective deterrent against young people experimenting with drugs, engaging in underage drinking and promiscuity.

 

Fear does the exact opposite of what we actually need which is to generate a culture of reasoned discussion and debate. What fear does is scare parents and administrators into closing down access based on fear of what might happen. (In an increasingly litigious culture, fear is seen as a guardian against possibly crippling legal payouts. My observation, not Anne’s.)

 

Fear-based reactions remove the very resources young people’s need to help them make informed decisions. Safe, loving and informed adults are removed from the equation, replacing them with frightened reactionaries who shut off avenues for discussion. Thus, young people are left to go underground and rely on their peers to negotiate the complexities of online cultures, putting them at greater risk. As Quentin Crisp, a renowned victim of perceived fear put it, ‘The young always have the same problem – how to rebel and conform at the same time.  They have now solved this by defying their parents and copying one another.’

 

The discrediting of Fear

The fear-dominated discourse is being challenged as the findings of comprehensive studies question many of the assumptions held by parents and school administrators. Anne mentioned two significant reports published in recent years with which she was involved that have attempted to dispel misconceptions.

 

At the request of the Multi-State Working Group on Social Networking, comprising of 49 state Attorneys General, the Enhancing Safety and Online Technologies  Report (2008) was commissioned. Written by the Internet Safety Technical Task force, comprising of leaders from social network sites (including Facebook), academics, technology developers, teachers, internet service providers and consumer advocacy organizations, the report was published by the Berkman Center for Internet and Society at Harvard University.

 

The Task force accomplished a comprehensive literature review and examined data from numerous rigorous studies. The report deals a serious blow to the rhetoric of fear and to the framing of young people as innocent victims of adult manipulation.

 

The Literature Review shows that the risks minors face online are complex and multifaceted and are in most cases not significantly different than those they face offline, and that as they get older, minors themselves contribute to some of the problems.” page 4

 

The report goes on to explore some significant points.

More studies need to be done around the area of sexual predation of minors by adults and of minors by minors (this latter area is understudied and “not part of most conversations about online safety”)

Bullying and harassment are most common forms of negative interaction both online and offline.

The internet increases the availability of questionable material such as pornography but does not automatically increase exposure.

Young people are not equally at risk online – “The psychosocial makeup of and family dynamics surrounding particular minors are better predictors of risk than the use of specific media or technologies.”

Young people themselves can contribute to the construction of unsafe environments.

 

The report makes three key recommendations, none of which involved banning access or censorship, rather they advocate greater exposure and evaluation of online tools.

 

1.All stakeholders in online communities need to share responsibility for protecting young people online.

2.More training in risk assessment and online safety practices needs to be developed for all who work with young people.

3.Parents and caregivers need to educate themselves about the internet and evaluate the use of tools in their own family context.

 

What is radical about this report is that it acknowledges the role young people themselves play in creating risky online cultures. For the first time young people are acknowledged as active agents in this arena.  Also, the wording of point three is particularly relevant. Parents and caregivers are not asked to be educated but rather ‘educate themselves’ thus framing them also as active agents in dispelling misconceptions.

 

The second report, published in June 2010, Youth Safety on a Living Internet – report of the online safety and technology working group, from the Online Safety & Technology Working Group, evaluated existing online safety practices/resources promoted by the telecommunications industry and the education sector. Anne was the Co-chair of this working group made up of child-safety advocates, government officials, representatives from various internet and telecommunications industries, educators, and civil liberties groups.

 

One of the key understandings raised in this report is that-

 

…thanks to the growing body of youth-online-risk research, we are now able to seek solutions as a society which are fact-based, not fear-based, but also that minors themselves – mainly pre-teens and teens (though the tech-literacy age is going down) – have a role to play in improving their own safety online and that of their peers.

 

The sub-committee on Internet Safety Education also made some powerful recommendations as part of the report.

         “nationwide education in digital citizenship and media literacy as the cornerstone of Internet safety.”

         Avoid scare tactics and promote the social-norms approach to risk prevention.

         Promote instruction in digital media literacy and computer security in pre-K-12 education nationwide.

         Create a Digital Literacy Corps for schools and communities nationwide.

         Encourage full, safe use of digital media in schools’ regular instruction and professional development in their use as a high priority for educators nationwide

         Respect young people’s expertise and get them involved in risk-prevention education. (my emphasis)

 

As comprehensive, informative and myth-busting as these reports were, they were controversial and received considerable criticism. Even the review of peer-reviewed research in the ISTTF report was attacked. Attempts were made to discredit the findings. It appears views which challenge the status quo are themselves challenged.

 

The most significant aspect of both these reports, aside from taking a less reactionary approach and presenting a reasoned response to the issues, is that young people themselves are considered part of the problem itself and also part of the solution. Young people were now seen as stakeholders in their own right who were not only to be protected but also respected.

 

The alternative to Fear – Respect for Youth

Young people today are not just adults in training.

 

The Macarthur Foundation recently invested fifty million dollars and three years to do both quantitative and qualitative ethnographic research on youth culture in the Digital Youth Project. The extensive research acknowledged a new sociology of youth. The book Hanging Out, Messing Around and Geeking Out – kids living and Learning with New Media drew on the findings of the Digital Youth Project and makes it abundantly clear that there is a lot we need to do to earn the respect of young people.

 

They have their own cultures and societal norms in online spaces. As such there is an imperative to respect what they have to offer and to hear their voices on matters that concern them in a meaningful, consequential way. We can’t unreservedly impose our expectations upon young people any longer.

 

Sadly, Anne believes that in all her travels, talking to students, presenting to parents and administrators, attending conferences, consulting and chairing working groups she is yet to find a forum that is deeply respectful of youth. There are organizations that do enlist student voice – Inspire USA, Reachout.org, Childnet International, Common Sense Media, and Global Kids being some groups that actively seek out young people’s opinions on matters that concern them but none that respect the wisdom, experiences and inquiries of youth in ways that give them leadership in the field of online safety/digital citizenship.

 

Like the young audiences such adults are attempting to reach, Anne is bored by a rhetoric that seeks to inform rather than consult. I added that young people want and need to learn just not to be taught while it happens. Developmentally, adolescents are moving away from investing in adult figures of authority or at the very least questioning the decisions made by them. Ironically, this is the very time that adults frequently offer more feedback and make greater demands. Informed, authoritative voices of ‘cybersafety experts’ make it clear what has to be done to young people, for young people but not alongside young people.

 

When it comes to the ubiquitous ‘cybersafety’ lectures made by law enforcement or so-called online safety experts, Anne says that they may as well be carpenters given the way they are brought in to ‘fix’ a problem. This attitude is fundamentally disrespectful to young people. It says that we are the wise ones and your experience does not matter, in fact, you are broken in some capacity. Is it any wonder that they stop listening to us and go underground? In the words of the newspaper columnist Judith Martin, “Chaperones don’t enforce morality; they force immorality to be discreet.”

 

One significant way we can listen to and respect the positive choices made by the vast majority of young people is to take a different slant on data. In five New Jersey schools that were recently studied, Anne noted the findings of researchers from Hobart and William Smith in New York State that when there was a notable decrease in the perception of the frequency and instances of bullying, the number of actual instances of bullying went down. Why? The schools made concerted efforts to celebrate the positive data: the high percentages of students who were maintaining societal norms rather than over emphasizing those who transgressed.

 

It is to the voice of social imperative that young people turn. This social urgency is a necessity in young people – it is what starts them on pushing boundaries and refining the ability to assess risks effectively. Both of these are essential in developing independence.

 

Where is the opportunity to allow young people to meet their social needs and provide a forum/community of inquiry around safety and global citizenship? Instead we have teachers, politicians, journalists and businesses applying their value sets, their societal norms to young people without consultation. There is a need for us to step back and for the young to step up.

 

Learning to respect our elders.

We may be chronologically older, but in terms of experience in online spaces, young people are our elders.

 

The term ‘digital natives’ is one usually applied to describe the generation brought up alongside the internet. I personally dislike the term ‘digital native’. It is reminiscent of another meaning of the word ‘native’ that was once associated with patriarchal colonialism. Young people are not ‘natives’ who need to be saved from danger through re-education and tempted to conform by the offer of shiny beads in the forms of access, privileges and liberties.

 

Some time ago I coined the term ‘Simmigrant’ – a conflation of Simulated and Immigrant – to describe the experience of we now stand in relation to the online world. The internet is a new territory for us to discover and inhabit. First Generation Simmigrants – children and young people – came to this ‘country’ earlier, sometimes by themselves with a more courageous, pioneering attitude. Why did they leave their ‘homeland’ of traditional community and education? Perhaps they left for the adventure of exploring new ground? Perhaps they wanted to go where they felt kinship? Perhaps they wanted to find out what it felt like to be creatively free or perhaps, just perhaps we in the ‘old country’ failed to inspire them anymore. Perhaps if we actually asked them we might discover the truth and find out what more they need?

 

To do that we also need to travel, to become Second Generation Simmigrants or risk widening the divide between our two worlds

We won’t travel from the ‘old country’ without both unnecessary and essential baggage. In our suitcases we bring the ability to think critically, to reflect, to question and also a larger historical perspective that they could not easily carry. Our elders also don’t travel light either- in their luggage is stowed innovation, creativity, enthusiasm, innocence, experience, wit and a great deal of skill.

 

Anne believes that we are at a pivotal time in history when we have the opportunity to help free the wisdom in young people, to help unpack their suitcases and fully belong. To do that we must empower young people to connect to themselves more deeply, to learn to respect themselves and others in a way that builds upon the communities they are constructing. We need to provide our elders with opportunities to document their digital lives so that we may learn just who they are and what they have achieved. For this to occur we must give access to the very tools they enable this history to be recorded otherwise they will do it all on their own without the benefits collaborating with us would bring.

 

In order to begin our journey, we must give up fear-based reactions and promote a culture of mutual respect.

The Legacy

‘Words have a great deal of power. They have a power to lift people up, to give people courage and strength, to make it a better world and they have the power to break down, be hurtful and destroy.

We want our words to build and lift and bring up to the light.’

Peggy Sheehy, spoken to a Grade 7 class during a ‘teachable moment’

Why Suffern Middle School?

Suffern Middle School is a pleasant hour’s train ride from New York City. It is a co-education public school that caters to just over 1000 students. Students at Suffern have access to both a diverse sporting and musical curriculum and are clearly successful in both as well as in academic pursuits.

Suffern is proud of its Full Value program which consists of seven core values. These are proudly displayed and were frequently referred to during my visit. These values are not school rules to be obeyed but rather qualities to enact which will enhance their experience of learning and assist in building positive experiences for others. The seven Full Values are –

  • Be Here
  • Be Safe
  • Be Honest
  • Have Fun
  • Care for Self and Others
  • Let Go and Move On
  • Set Goals.

Like many Middle Schools, there are numerous clubs, societies and other affiliations to stimulate student engagement.  Regarding clubs, Suffern was the first school to begin a learning presence in Teen Second Life and is presently championing the role of World of Warcraft in learning.

I came to Suffern with a big question – do massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) promote positive values and build connections between young people and the world? And who better than to ask that question of than the one who first brought virtual worlds to Suffern than Peggy Sheehy.

Who is Peggy Sheehy?

Peggy is more than a teacher. She is an inspiration and an educational force of nature.

IMG_0466

Following 25 years as a professional vocalist, Peggy pursued further learning in education that led her to receiving multiple Teacher of the Year awards in multiple counties. In her role as a ITF/Media Specialist at Suffern, she is dedicated to integrating technology in the curriculum in meaningful ways. This commitment led to the creation of the first learning space for middle aged students in Teen Second Life. Peggy is a popular presenter at national technology in education conventions and district wide teacher training. Her clear, informed, no nonsense approach on the future of education is sought out by educators around the world.

Peggy Sheehy is a notorious figure in the American Computers in Education community. I use the word notorious affectionately and with respect for her fierce defense of freedom, of inquiry and the rights of young people to negotiate their own learning. She is an inspiring leader who is now leading the field in using the commercial World of Warcraft as a learning tool.

What is World of Warcraft?

WoW (as it is most commonly called by players), is a multiperson online fantasy role playing game in which individuals and groups (Guilds) complete quests in order to gain skills, equipment and points. Their trajectory through the complex narratives is dependent upon their success with this individual and group tasks. It is an engaging allegorical vehicle for young people to explore a number of issues and concepts in a relatively safe environment.

‘Relatively safe?’ Online role playing is violent. Doesn’t it inspire violence?

In the US alone, Peggy cites research from the US Department of Justice and the Bureau of Statistics that indicates juvenile violent crime is at a 30 year low. The graph she shares in presentations which is copied below shows the advent of some signficant consoles and games that have at one time or another been used to link gaming to violence. But the facts just don’t add up as you can see.

videoviolence

Kids have played violent games of one sort or another prior to the creation of computers and adult fears of growing violent streaks in young people are constantly raised but frequently unfounded. They are more likely to be exposed to real violence on television, cartoons, fairy tales and in sporting competitions.

So why are these spaces only ‘relatively safe’? These spaces can be unpredictable and as such are hard to completely control. It is the open possibilities that attract young people and encourage exploration and experimentation. It should also be argued that, as Helen Keller remarked in a quote I have used earlier ‘safety does not exist in nature.’ Our streets are only ‘relatively safe. That meal on our plate is only ‘relatively safe’ depending upon, for example, your relationships to nuts or shellfish. Even one’s opinions are only ‘relatively safe’ depending with whom you share them. Relatively safe is utterly normal.

Ok, not violence inducing then, but it sure is socially isolating!

Sorry, but once again the research does not back up that assumption. Peggy cites data from a number of researchers which states –

‘Almost 60 percent of frequent gamers play with friends. Thirty-three percent play with siblings and 25 percent play with spouses or parents. Even games designed for single players are often played socially, with one person giving advice to another holding a joystick.‘ Peggy Sheehy, World of Warcraft in Schools ppt

She goes on to cite those games in which young people pit themselves against each other in combat, attempted to destroy the other and in the process forge stronger friendships in the real world.  Gaming is simply not the individual opportunity for personal point collection that many of us first experienced in the 1980s with Galaga, Frogger and the ubiquitous Space Invaders. Games are social but challenge our definition of what socialising looks, sounds and feels like. Games like WoW build into their game-play the opportunity to form groups or Guilds that can function in a number of ways.

What exactly is a Guild?

Peggy argues that Guilds are the Bowling teams of the 21st century (not to suggest that ten pin bowling is an outmoded form of social interaction by any means.) A Guild is a Community of like-minded yet diverse individuals who meet for a common purpose. They form relationships with the Guild as a whole and with individuals within the guild. Guilds also become a collective, a library of stories and remembrances where favourite and not-so-favourite moments are recalled and shared.

Guild Case study: ‘The Legacy’

Although I had the opportunity of sitting in on several classes during the day and speaking with teachers, the highlight came after school when I met members of The Legacy. These five students were experienced WoW players and were the subject of a trial carried out last year. Whilst in some respects they matched my preconceived expectations of ‘Gamers’ that don’t bear repeating, they completely floored me with their level of self knowledge, their ability to articulate and their sound understanding of that it means to be part of a community.

I took a ‘Devils Advocate’ approach with ‘The Legacy’ and asked them, ostensibly, to defend this program on educational grounds only. It must be said that they were not coached or prompted by Peggy. Their responses were delivered with honest conviction and passion. I’ve adapted their responses below.

Mr Caldwell: So, guys, this is it… Just five of you?

Legacy: Oh no, more are joining the Guild next week. We have some trouble with time zones so its hard to get us all together.

Mr Caldwell: Sorry, time zones? What do you mean?

Legacy: Well, we’re just part of the Guild. There’s a school in North Carolina and a new one just starting up in Florida. It’s gonna be a busy time training and supporting them so they can join us on quests.

Mr Caldwell: Train them? So you’re the leaders, then?

Legacy: No, we had elections but decided against having one leader to boss us around, rather we are all we have office bearers in each of the states. We talk in chat and on Skype to make decisions for the Guild.

Peggy has supported these young people to reflect on leadership and to reach out to other schools to join the guild. The students manage a Guild Wiki and share their adventures – often writing narratives based on their avatars or sharing game tips. The game itself has a number of structures that support community. Besides the narrative in which one sides with one of two groups striving collectively against foes, there are opportunities to trade and store communal items.

Watching them play and talk was a lot of fun. Yes, they were defeating monsters but they were also engaging in narrative and helping others to succeed. They have learned some useful groups management skills and grown familiar with the tools that make long distance team work possible. But what have they taken away from the game that has been applied to their daily life?

This Youtube video made my members of the Guild from another school and, indeed, another State says more than I could about the value of their time in WoW.

The legacy of ‘The Legacy’

The skills WoW exposes students to are the skills we need in the twenty first century. Teamwork, communication, social responsibility, map reading/orienteering, goal setting, resource and time management, new media literacies and traditional text-based literacies are all developed within the game platform. Employers are acknowledging the team skills consolidated in gaming environments to the point of asking if prospective employees are gamers.

But it goes deeper than this. Peggy is unequivocal about this next point – this is a program for character development. It’s not just character point development, as in ‘I have more strength points than you’, but moral development and values formulation. Our avatars allow us to, in her words, ‘Put our best faces, our best thoughts, our best ideas, our best dream and our best honour forward’ into the world. As a reinforcement, she addresses the Guild not as students, not as kids but as Heroes – affirming them with agency and noble ideals.

Members of the Legacy who may once have been social isolates are now effective, collaborative team members communicating purposefully between state lines in an attempt to make their communal fantasy world a better place by contacting that which is noblest within them. In so doing, they are learning skills and life-affirming qualities that, in the future, just might save ours.

The School of (Web 2) Morrow

‘I am reluctant to decide by myself what is important for you to learn because I believe that the most important aspect in learning is to choose what is worth learning. If I alone make that choice, every day I would be reserving the most important part of learning for myself.’ Dr Marshall Rosenberg – Life Enriching Education p 81


Visit to the Elisabeth Morrow School – September 27, 2010

In an affluent wooded suburb of New Jersey only a short car ride from the towers of New York City, is the Morrow mansion. Since 1930 it has been known as the Elisabeth Morrow School. The ancestral home of the Morrow family is now at the centre of a complex of specially outfitted school buildings that cater to the needs of 460 co-education students aged from 3 – 14.

It is a remarkable school in many ways. The facilities are outstanding, despite the necessity to adapt a sprawling ‘country house’ into assorted classrooms and offices. Their experiential science space is a notable highlight – it invites play and personal inquiry across multiple scientific domains. Not least of the reasons the school is remarkable is that it bases its entire philosophy on four keystone concepts that it terms ‘The Four Cs’

Consideration

  • consider other people’s feelings
  • help others when needed
  • invite others to join activities

Cooperation

  • work together as a team
  • practise self control
  • follow directions

Courtesy

  • Be kind
  • Treat others as you would like to be treated
  • Have good manners

Compassion

  • Be tolerant of small annoyances
  • Accept apologies
  • Be understanding of other’s feelings and needs

Learning from the wise

Marianne Malmstrom (aka Knowclue) is a technology teacher committed to engaging students in dialogue between these Four Cs and access to emerging social technologies. (I have written about her before in a previous blog entry.) She empowers her class to use safe and proactive practices online. Her method is simple – let the young people share what they already know and deeply value their contributions. In essence, she impeccably models the Four Cs in her interactions with young people.

At the time of my visit the school year had only recently commenced, so there was still much to learn about the students’ Internet use. Marianne surveys the class’s opinion and experience: on this occasion, she allowed me to frame the questions. Whilst the questions themselves, based around their online identities and eCitizenship, produced some interesting responses, it was a rare unplanned discussion that gave us a startling insight into young people’s attitude to online safety at school and at home.

As we were conducting the survey, it struck me that these students had no idea who I was or, for that matter, could I be trusted. I interrupted the survey and asked them, ‘How do you know you can trust me?’ They were initially troubled (one student said, ‘Oh, you are creeping me out!’) but then increasingly engaged as they explained why they felt I could be trusted. I scribed their responses in a diagram so that I, a visual learner, could best understand the data. This is a more refined version of the same diagram.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.21.47 AM

The students identified that they possessed specific Knowledge about online safety, Skills with the tools and, most originally, ‘Wit’ which I took to mean cleverness, humour and a sense of perspective. I suggested, and they agreed, that they also had the benefit of Experience. In turn, they knew that their teacher also possessed Knowledge, Skill, Experience and Wit which informed her choices. This understanding was then extended to the school. In summary, the students could trust me because all these factors would have filtered out anyone undesirable from entering the environment.

We then turned to look at the home environment to see if there was any difference in their perception of safety.

Screen shot 2010-10-13 at 9.24.06 AM

This diagram had less layers, more components and more ‘holes’ as one student put it. Firstly, the students identified differences between Face to Face (F2F) friends they also meet online and purely online friends (their ‘Peeps’) which was revealing. Interestingly, they cited Gaming Friends (World of Warcraft Guilds were mentioned specifically) as a separate category. Membership to these groups, it must be said, s not mutually exclusive. Siblings, they noted, had differing degrees of understanding about online safety practices due to age and education. Parents seemed to monitor their Internet use less than teachers did at than school. The lack of connection, as indicated by the orange highlighted gaps in the model, is indicative of the lack of communication or even exposure to the various aspects of a student’s online presence. Do parents or siblings know to what extent a child participates online? Is there open discussion and sharing? For that matter, do teens invite such interest from family members?

My reflections on this diagram are in accord with the recommendations put forward by Susan McLean in Australia. Four of her five top tips for safety online relate specifically to the whole family being united in discussing, knowing and planning for how the Internet is to be part of their communal and private lives.  (see previous Blog post Generation Next – the Next Menace.)

I then asked the students to tell me the questions they should have been asked in the survey. Their questions were insightful and reflected their need for guidance and support. Here are their unedited questions –

  • Do you think school should be involved in social networking?
  • Have you ever been in a fight on a computer?
  • Should some Internet content be prohibited?
  • Is it easier to chat with people online than with friends F2F?
  • How old or what sex are the people who IM or text?
  • Is it safe to friend anyone on FB or social networking sites?
  • Where would you go if you have a problem online?
  • Would you say stuff online that you wouldn’t say in person?
  • When you post something bad about other people do you think about your future when you post something bad? Do you consider the consequences of your actions?
  • Do you save your chats or do you delete them?
  • Has someone in a chat ever changed your emotion, for example made you sad?

These questions prompted the following interchange between  myself and a student that is worth reporting.

Mr Caldwell: Young people don’t really need teachers at all; they just know so much anyway. Young people like you, you are so wise –‘

Student: ‘So, then, why do we go to school?’

Mr Caldwell:To help…so we can help you see your own wisdom.’

Student: ‘Oh!’ *realization dawns and the student smiles*

What an amazing opportunity to hear the voice of young people and learn from their wisdom!

Conclusions and Recommendations

 

In a world in which children and young people are increasingly part of global online communities, a school’s Student Code of Conduct is being rewritten to reflect that shift from a purely school based environment. The Four Cs at Elisabeth Morrow School are increasingly becoming the ‘portable property’ of each student wherever they travel – whether in the physical or virtual world.  Whilst the reality of the Four Cs implementation is clearly apparent in the technology rich classrooms, the written policies have yet to catch up but are on the revision agenda.

Elisabeth Morrow’s Four Cs could be a global template for building positive connections online. For this to occur, however, schools may need to revise student Codes of Conduct to reflect the undeniable fact that students have existing online identities with associated behaviours. The Internet is no longer just an electronic library – a respository of facts. The internet is now an interlinked series of Places of Participation that encourage the creation of online identities through which one can gain and add information an any number of ways.

This brings us to the issue of control and security. At Elisabeth Morrow, the students feel safe and supported but want the opportunity to explore further. We need to respect that request. In order to enact the Four Cs fully we need to be understanding of the fact that young people need to take risks and that they need to make mistakes, but do so in a supportive environment. This shows consideration for their adolescent need to push boundaries. That said, no one would argue for putting young people in significant risk: I am not an advocate for no filtering of internet content; that would be akin to putting your child in the drivers seat of a Ferrari without a seat belt, license or driving lessons and handing them the keys. Instead, Marianne Malmstrom and I argue that if we do not engage students in active discourse around controversial content we are not making them more secure, rather we are enfeebling their ability to make informed choices apart from adult intervention.

I would suggest that schools take a more relaxed approach with regard to network administrators blocking Internet content but at the same time, increase the implementation of programs that empower students to critically evaluate content and engage in more proactive self-monitoring. This is a trend that is emerging at Elisabeth Morrow and, as such, is setting a standard in the United States.

Lastly, if students were to enact the Four Cs online they will be, in turn, adding to the societal norms of online spaces. By keeping them out we deny knowledgeable, skilful, experienced and witty young people the opportunity to challenge the existing paradigms. Were young people to bring the Four Cs to bear in online spaces with commitment and consistency, we may, in time, have a very different Internet. This would be the lasting legacy of the true School of Tomorrow.

‘GenerationNext’ Conference – the Menace of the Past

Nostalgia is like a grammar lesson:  you find the present tense, but the past perfect!  ~Owens Lee Pomeroy

On Friday 10 September I attended the Generation Next conference at the University of New South Wales, ostensibly for the session on Cyberbullying delivered by Susan McLean. The day was aimed at teachers, youth workers and health care professionals who work with children and young people, with the intent of bringing us all up to date on recent data and developments. Though there were some brief instances of how to lead young people forward, for the most part, the day was an exploration of the dark places that some, and I emphasise some, young people inhabit.

What follows are some brief notes on some of the sessions; key points, personal observations and questions that arose.

About the Mental Health and Wellbeing of Young people with Dr Ramesh Manocha

The learned and entertaining Dr Manocha defined what he called ‘A Crisis of Consciousness’ citing research into growing rates of mental illness which he attempted to argue was due to rapid societal change. He argued that contemporary consumerist, permissive culture emphasises an ‘Anything, Anytime, Anywhere’ values system that young people are not cognitively or emotionally mature enough to negotiate or critique effectively. He put forward the argument that the social/cultural environment was one that added extra stressors to the lives of young people – peer pressure, bullying, increased sexualisation and violence that was adversely affecting their mental health.

  • Question – Hasn’t it always been the case for older generations to bemoan the developments in youth/mainstream culture that seem to undermine their own values systems?

Alcohol and Other drugs – Current issues with Paul Dillon

In what could have been a series of Motherhood statements on why drugs are bad, Paul Dillon gave an impressively balanced presentation that aimed at clarifying some of our misconceptions about drug usage in the country, misconceptions that are manipulated by the media in order to create an environment of fear. What was most striking was the way in which he inverted statistics in his graphs to highlight the number of students who are successfully NOT taking drugs. These he uses in schools to validate the choices the majority of young people are taking in abstaining. He also clarified the issue of caffeine in our culture and in energy drinks. Apparently there is more in our morning freshly ground coffees than in the most common brands.

Tom Young – Beyond Blue Youth Ambassador

In a brief but affecting recount of his life journey, Tom spoke of being burdened by excessive anxiety and the steps he took to manage it. A young role-model to everyone who can empathise with intense feelings of unhappiness despite evidence to the contrary.

Depression and Anxiety in Young People with Dr Michael Carr-Greg

Suicide is seen as a problem solving device’ – An interesting remark made by Dr Carr-Greg early in his presentation gave us all cause to reflect. Apparently 75% of all young people in Australia are mentally well but the remaining 25% need some careful intervention as untreated depression can be, in his words, ‘fatal’. These are the young people who strive to hide their conditions behind masks of seeming normality. In some cases it can take from 5-15 years from a diagnosis to receiving treatment. He outlined the sorts of behaviours that manifest in young people that might be warning symptoms. Notably he remarked that kids retreat online in order to escape their problems but this might only increase their sense of isolation. He raised 5 key questions for parents-
  1. Are you tackling the tasks of Adolescence? Identity issues, developing freedom from parental influences…
  2. What is your child’s ‘cognitive map’? What is your child’s self-talk?
  3. Do your children have a track record of keeping themselves safe?
  4. Do they hang out with safe kids?
  5. Do they have a sensation seeking temperament?

He encouraged us to teach optimistic thinking and suggested the works of  Sarah Edelman, Mood Gym and the Youth Beyond Blue resources to assist us and our students/children.

Sexualisation, Commercialism and the Media – ‘Girls Too Sexy, Too Soon’ by Melinda Tankard-Reist

This was, by far, the most confronting presentation I have ever attended. The ‘hypersexualised and pornified‘ images of young girls that were presented to us, each of which were liberally drawn from the mainstream media, were utterly horrific and clearly (if sensationally) argued that the media is eliminating the years of Middle Childhood (9-13) Girls are encouraged to present a ‘prostitute-like version of themselves to the world‘ through fashion and online games that promote young women as brainless, surgically enhanced ‘sexual service stations’ for men and, sadly, for boys. We were all encouraged to stay informed and become advocates for change by joining http://collectiveshout.org/ The session ended with a hopeful, charming short film which played with the idea of Loss of Innocence in an affecting way. Please click here to see a trailer for Ruby Who?

The Resilience Donut by Lyn Worsely

In response to the previous speakers, Lyn commented that if we look at the risk factors to young people alone, we might ignore the outcomes that are fine and lose the opportunity to bolster strengths where they already exist. Her main argument was based around what builds resilience in young people – what are the tipping points and the turning points. She defined resiience as-

  • the ability to face, overcome and be strengthened by adversities
  • it is a life-long changeable process of development
  • the ability to navigate and negotiate strategies to cope with life
  • an inoculation against stress which ensures quality of life

The Resilience Donut is a Visual Aid to assist people of any age to take a diagnostic review of their life and ascertain areas of strength and weakness in the support structures. She has defined 7 Key Factors.

  1. Parent Factor – Resilient kids have parents that have a 50/50 balance of discipline and openness.
  2. Skill Factor – the child has skills in a particularly field that is recognised by a trusted adult.
  3. Family and Identity Factor – coming together as a family group that has positive expectations and may have come through difficult times together.
  4. Education Factor – child feels valued by teachers who connect with them.
  5. Peer Factor – not necessarily harmonious as conflict can help develop necessary skills
  6. Community Factor – adults outside the family connect in an environment of confidence and faith.
  7. Money Factor- learn to give and take

Whereas one might expect to focus on the deficits, the approach is to bolster and further develop the strengths – to look at what is actually working for the child already. Children at risk are those who have three or more factors under threat so lets look to that which is already strong and support it to be even stronger.

Cybersafety and Cyberbullying by Susan McLean

As expected, Susan McLean have us a ‘Reds Under the Bed’ presentation on the nasty, evil dangers of technology that many had apparently not heard before. For someone familiar with the territory of fear covered by media commentators, it was a great disappointment to have nothing new shared with us. It is true what she says, we are on public display when we use technology so we need to have a comprehensive curriculum that addresses cybersafety but not, in my opinion, one that solely focusses on the negative impacts of social technologies.

She shared some useful, if disturbing statistics –

  • 50% kids on America have been cyberbullied
  • compared with 30% in Australia
  • 69% of kids aged 13-19 have sent sexual images of themselves to a boyfriend/girlfriend
  • 79% in older age groups (!)

Susan presented some potentially useful strategies to protect young people online-

  1. Never be angry when a young person shares a bullying experience with you
  2. save and store the evidence
  3. delete and block bullies from friends lists
  4. never respond to a cyberbully
  5. use the report abuse button
  6. change passwords frequently
  7. have downtime away from technology altogether
  8. shoulder surf with your kids

Lastly, she suggests that parents implement five Top Tips

  1. Never allow computers, internet capable phones in the bedroom
  2. Have a ‘Family Online’ contract for all family members
  3. Have conversations about computer useage
  4. Know about the technology that is being used by all
  5. Set up Filtering software on all computers.

Susan’s voice is an important one but her fear based rhetoric, loud as it is, does not address the fundamental need to present alternative ways to connect online. Her approach is only part of the solution. The only positively worded remark she made in her presentation was this, ‘Your school must embrace cyberspace as the valuable tool it is not the problem that it may become.’ And even that is framed in the negative! So, how exactly is it a valuable tool to create connections rather than destroy them? This is, I suppose, what my Churchill Fellowship is based upon.

Conclusions

Whilst much of the conference was stimulating, challenging and occasionally disturbing, I left the day with the overall impression that the attitude of the presenters was that the best way to support and serve youth was for them to be whisked back to the past where they would obviously be much happier. There, through our discerning rose-coloured glasses, there are no bullies – it is a place of peace and joy – the supportive village atmosphere is experienced by all. Back in the magical land of ‘Then’, children had manners and knew to look you in the eye when they were speaking to you. And most important of all, there was no evil child molesting Internet lurking the the bedrooms of our precious Innocents.

With the noteable exception of Paul Dillon and Lyn Worsley, the predominant discourse was one of Fear. Ironically, Generation Next was a timewarp where the 30+ audience ‘s nostalgia for an idealised childhood (which many may never have actually experienced) was emphatically affirmed by graphs, data, irritatingly diverse Powerpoint slideshow transitions and empassioned quotes from grieving mothers. We were encouraged to pack great reams of Fear into our sample bags that were already stuffed with stress balls and pens. Yearning for security is based on a fallacy – there is no ultimate state of security because life is an intricate web of conditions that shift and change with alarming regularity. Helen Keller communicated the dangers of security far more effectively than I.

‘Life is either a daring adventure or nothing. Security does not exist in nature, nor do the children of men as a whole experience it. Avoiding danger is no safer in the long run than exposure.’ ~ Helen Keller (1880 – 1968)

I thank the Generation Next team for presenting their view of the future… sorry, ‘A’ future where we react from fear of what might become. I prefer to select a different future, a ‘daring adventure’  in which we invest attention in building upon positive connections of today that may support a more collaborative future.

Are you willing to take the risk with me?

eLearning about eLearning

“A liberally educated person meets new ideas with curiosity and fascination.

An illiberally educated person meets new ideas with fear.”
— James B. Stockdale

 

As if there wasn’t enough for me to do at the moment, what with preparations for heading off on the Churchill Fellowship, I’m now enrolled in an Elearning course jointly run by my school and Lisa Dawley from Boise State University. Actually, its pretty intriguing stuff and immensely useful (not to mention pertinent to my research) but the timing is putrid. And there is aso the risk of me running away in terror at the thought of more articles to read. I mean, I can only change my thinking just so much in a short period of time!

Anyway, kvetching and anxiety aside, I’ve had time to explore Edutopia’s ‘The Brave New Breakthrough of Online Learning’ and ‘Going Virtual – Unique needs and Challenges of K-12 Online Teachers.’ and found much of interest. The first online resource makes a clear case for the necessity, validity and effectiveness of online courses whether they are delivered in entirely virtual schools or supplementary programs in ‘bricks & mortar’ schools.  A wake-up call was the reminder that teachers both in physical and virtual schools need a significant paradigm shift from thinking about ‘what you are going to teach and how’ to a model that has its focus on what the kids are or are not learning. Teachers know this. We try this. We forget this. Well, I do from time to time. So, some questions arise from this –

  • How do we make sure that online learning does not become a showcase for our own creativity but rather a vehicle to allow our students’ creativity to shine? (A revealling question, it must be said!)

The greatest challenges raised are how do we promote collaboration and also supply emotional support at a distance?

  • What do distance education experts, who have been teaching this was as their bread and butter for years, have to say about these areas, I wonder? Have they been consulted?

‘Going Virtual’ raised more questions, not the least of which being the fact that the conclusions are drawn from a relatively small set of sample data in which not all respondents answered every item. Virtual world learning is personally very appealing – I’ve been doing it for over 4 years in Quest Atlantis with some degree of success however, there are legitimate concerns about student’s time management and the integrity of assessment.

  • How can we know that a task was actually completed by the student in question?

The following additional questions arose from my reading of the report. They are of interest to the content of my Churchill Fellowship proposal.

  • Why are teachers less interested in developing their skills in facilitating better peer review and student self-evaluation of tasks?
  • Why are virtual world teachers not inclined to see online safety as a reportable concern for their future professional development?
  • Why is there is a direct correlation between a disinterest in developing online communities for learners and the length of time a teacher has been teaching?

 So there are my questions (in italics above) Anyone able to help me with them?

Why should ‘iCare’?

‘Wherever there is a human being, there is an opportunity for a kindness.‘  ~Seneca

 

Below you will read the research abstract/overview of my Churchill Fellowship project.

I would be most grateful for any of your thoughts, suggestions, answers, questions etc.

If you’ve experienced ways of addressing these concerns, I would love to read them.

 

iCare: Supporting young Australians to develop positive values  in online communities.

Do Australian teens exhibit positive values when they are online? Can they recognisethe value of compassion as citizens of online spaces and equate that to citizenship in their world context?

This project will consolidate the author’s knowledge of Non-Violent Communication and transfer it to virtual spaces occupied by students in Australia and abroad. The author will construct learning sequences which model and affirm positive, compassionate interactions. By creating engaging ‘playable fictions’, students will be exposed to the value of reflection, empathy and consideration of others’ needs. Students will also confront the consequences of inappropriate or non-empathic interactions in a safe context.

The Fellowship will allow the author to work as leader of the team of programmers, curriculum experts and researchers to expedite the development of the project’s activities.

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