Recently, during a Q & A after a presentation, I had an interesting exchange with a high school principal that went something like this:
Principal: So I just want to give you my take on this.
Principal: You bring up those examples of kids on MySpace and make the point that no one is really teaching them how to use those sites well.
Principal: Well, I’ll tell you when they learn about that stuff. When I drag them into my office and read them the riot act about what they’ve been posting to their Facebook pages and they tell me that they never thought other people would look at their pages. They seem genuinely astonished that I could find them.
Me: And whose fault is that?
Principal: Well, I’d like to blame their parents. (Laughter.)
Me: Well, I think it’s your fault. (More laughter.) I mean, maybe not you in particular. But whose job is it to educate kids to use those sites well and appropriately? I doubt that most of their parents really have enough of an understanding of what their doing to prepare them.
Principal: So how do we do that?
I get into some variation of this discussion on a pretty regular basis, but I’m always amazed at how willing school leaders are to admit this reality and how little they are doing to deal with it. There is a solution to this, one that we all know, but one that for some reason few seem willing to implement other than in the guise of a “parent awareness night” or some type of scary Internet predator presentation by a state policeman. For the life of me, I can’t understand what is so hard about opening up the first and second and third grade curriculum and find ways to integrate these skills and literacies in a systemic way. If you want kids to be educated about these tools and environments, then maybe we should, um, educate them.
If we start talking about this stuff in first grade (in age appropriate ways), AND we involved parents in the process by being transparent about our intentions and our outcomes, I’m pretty sure that we could minimize the number of kids who get pulled into the principal’s office when they behave badly on their Facebook pages.
Matthew Morse says
I agree with this teacher. Teachers definitely need to spread the word to their students about the innapropriate use of myspace. Having a myspace account myself I have seen several of people who have very innapropriate or very REVEALING things posted about themselves that absolutely surprise me.
Bill Fitzgerald says
I’m curious why you mark the 1st grade as when this needs to start — because that’s the beginning of elementary school, or have you actually seen 1st grade students sharing inappropriate details on web sites?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m in full agreement that students need more support/training in using online tools more effectively (ie, I never heard anyone making the argument that just because a student could read that they didn’t need to be taught library skills) — however, you mention 1st grade as the starting point. When I think about safety skills I want first graders to have, it tends to skew more towards f2f items; ie, good touch, bad touch, etc. While these skills have an immediate relevance and connection to online interaction, I wonder about the need for having training geared specifically toward tech this early.
I also wonder if, over time, we will start to see training in safe online behavior as similar to how we have come to view effective technology integration: something that we just do, because it is undeniably a part of our world.
Will Richardson says
It is a natural starting point, but I think I say it more because I want to make the point that every teacher, even those who teach younger kids, needs to have some context for this. But then when I hear first graders doing podcasts and the like, it’s becoming obvious that we can’t wait until later. And as to the last line there, amen. It’s just a part of the way we do our business in schools these days.
Thanks for the thoughts.
Ken Allan says
Kia ora Will.
I tend to be more philosophical about all this. The conversation clearly indicates that the responsibility is shared.
It cannot be left up to the school alone to educate the whole of community – there’s more out there than just parents and kids, for instance. Left entirely to schools it’s just not gonna work.
And when it comes to educating parents, well hang about a bit!
The awareness needs to be spread to all parts of the community, true. And there’s much more to this than just what some kid posts on Facebook that shouldn’t be posted there.
There are many community authorities that could/should make the job of the school easier: Community Centres, Businesses (workplace cybersafety programmes), I S Providers, the Advertisers (their bread and butter is the Internet), Government Agencies, Police.
So while the principal in this dialogue is shirking a duty (and he shouldn’t) there’s also a heck-of-a-lot that parents can do once they become aware of the need for safety. Parents interface with : Community Centres, Businesses, I S Providers, the Advertisers, Government Agencies, Police.
Most people who make up these groups will be parents or grandparents or uncles or aunties or brothers or sisters.
Michelle Baldwin says
I agree with Will. Our schools tend to bury their heads in the sand and pretend that anything kids do online is outside the realm of school, and that’s sad. Most schools are so afraid of losing eRate funding that they just restrict everything. The Broadband Data Improvement Act passed Congress earlier this month. Tucked neatly inside is an amendment to CIPA that may loosen some of the restrictions, but will also require schools to include internet safety education. Beyond the safety factor, kids need to know how to “be appropriate” online. I have presentations that I do in our schools and community, but it’s amazing how many people don’t want to hear about it.
Brian C. Smith says
@Bill… I don’t take “skills” to mean only Internet safety skills. When I hear “skills” I think of proactive approach of authentic learning and sharing coupled with safety. On-line learning and sharing should be focused on an authentic experience and reason for sharing. I’m preaching to the choir, I’m sure, but I think what Will is suggesting is not focusing solely on the Internet safety curriculum. I think most of us share the thought that, in the long run, this will do diddly.
I’m currently working with a group of K-12 teachers in one district in which some primary teachers are using on-line tools to publish their pictures and writing. The learning and sharing taking place is centered around writing and sharing for a wider audience. Students can and do (given last year’s experience) understand what they put on-line can be and is seen by others besides their classmates, teachers, parents and principals.
Only time will tell if what these students are doing helps them make good decisions about what they post on-line.
Will Richardson says
So Brian, how are you teaching/educating parents in the process of using the tools with your students? I think that’s a key question and would love to hear some examples…
Tom Hoffman says
If I had to have this conversation over and over and over again I would lose my mind.
Kyle Brumbaugh says
We’ve had parts of this discussion before. This is the reason I decided to enter into administration, because I felt like I needed to work within the current system to make it to change from within. I am doing a lot of speaking at EdTech conferences, including the Monterey CLHS/CUE conference, where you were the keynote at last year. Having the same conversation you had with that principal with the teachers at my new school and showing them the skills we need to be teaching.
The current presentation I am doing is called World Wide Literacy, but I go into some other areas in my other presentations. http://guerrillalearning.wetpaint.com
My job now is to convert a few teachers that I can support to move things forward. I have a few in mind, but it might take me the better of this school year to get them moving, but we are moving. I also am going to be advocating in the hiring process of new teachers that these are skills we value and will give preference to.
It might not be the fastest way to get to the right place, but we will make steady process toward the goal!
L Winebrenner says
Thanks for this post. I agree that this is a shared responsibility. The student doesn’t think their teacher, principal, and/or administrator use the net…because everything at school is blocked…LOL. As a parent, I have these conversations with my daughter and her friends. They find it hilarious when they find stuff out about people in the education system because those educators are normally the “Anti-Internet” and “Anti-Technology” preachers at school.
I begin many of my computer workshops having everyone Google themselves and a family member, then review the results for the web, images, news, and maps, and then search again using http://cvgadget.com . Everyone is surprised by something they find out about themselves (or a family member or friend) on the net whether it is professional, personal, authored, or referenced.
Personal awareness and sharing knowledge strengthens the community connections, on and off line. Some first graders are learning to blog, some first graders will be embarrassed when they discover mom and dad have archived every baby picture since birth on a public photo site.
At least you have principals that are aware. We still have principals and teachers that have never been connected through the net, even if their employer provides the email and net access. The superintendent and the mayor both have Facebook pages and the Mayor â€œVenturing into the online worldâ€ was local news.
I like sites like What Kids Can Do (http://www.whatkidscando.org ) and Do Something (http://www.dosomething.org ) which works with youth and provides tools and resources for our youth to convert ideas and energy into positive action.
Glad to see people taking more than the first step of a long journey. Keep on blogging!!!
Ronna Van Veghel says
I am a Technology Integrator at an elementary school K-4 which just implemented a cybersafety curriculum grades 2-12. I helped write the elementary portion of the curriculum and was proud of the work we did. I began delivering the lessons to the classes beginning in September. As I spoke to the kids and we began to have rich discussions, I realized that no one has ever talked to them about communicating online. They truly didn’t understand that written words are not really private and there are real people at the other end of the message. One day recently, I received a call from the high school resource officer at my son’s school. It seems he had posted an inappropriate comment in a facebook group about a teacher. And then it hit me, as a parent, I never taught him how to behave online either. I have failed on this subject as an educator and a parent. As I mulled over what his punishment would be, I went through a host of solutions…no face book? no computer? No, I decided he needed to be educated. So now, we are watching videos about cyberbullying and talking about online behavior. Something I wish I taught him and my students a lot earlier.
Ken Allan says
Kia ora all!
While we can spend a lot of time discussing all this (and I think we should!) it is also good to see and listen to what is actually being done – what some experts say about what’s already been found out about this ubiquitous situation.
Check out what Martyn Wild has to say about it.
Also, have a look at what’s being done involving partners with schools in India.
We can find ways to help all this by working together.
Steve Ransom says
@Ronna – what a refreshing perspective. We simply cannot deny the responsibility and power to parenting in all of education. Sadly, the schools have had to absorb a great deal due to less-than-stellar parenting at home (with a multiplicity of causes, of course). It’s hard to identify the balance point in all of it.
Will, your post inspired a somewhat tangential post for me, having to do with my own struggle to help my kid navigate a public school system that often has an adversarial stance toward parents (and vice versa, I’ll confess).
Anyway, I do think schools need to take this up and it needs to be embedded within the curriculum. And to Ronna above, it’s nice that you have a curriculum, but calling it Cybersafety gets you off on the wrong foot, I think. Do we have math safety or literature safety curriculum? I understand the impulse since when one is on the open web, there’s the possibility of running into problematic content or interacting with problematic people. But I think we need to approach this as much as possible with a positive approach rather than presenting the Internet as something we need to be “safe” about.
Steve Ransom says
Laura, I don’t see how you can make this comparison. There is nothing seductively dangerous about math or literature per se. Kids are not innocently, privately, secretively, accidentally, naively, or curiously coming across dangerous or inappropriate content in their math or literature books. They are not putting themselves or others at risk with math or literature. I think just the opposite: youth need to know that there are inherent dangers and understand how their decisions online can either positively or negatively impact them, others, and their relationships with others. But, I would agree that this should not be our main thrust and that making it such does send the wrong message. We should be celebrating and experiencing the positive power/benefits of online information and tools first. Then, along the way, we should be pointing out those potential pitfalls and darker areas. But just like math or language arts, the full gambit of concepts needs to be explored and taught in developmentally appropriate ways.To ignore these is irresponsible, both for parents and for schools.
Lisa Nielsen says
Great post. Keep having the convo and sharing the message. Following one of your talks to NYC educators I wrote a post with some ideas for parents and teachers to get started at http://theinnovativeeducator.blogspot.com/2008/05/30-day-guide-to-losing-your-digital-as.html.
Lisa Nielsen-The Innovative Educator
Read my blog on educating innovatively @
Brian Grenier says
I was having this same conversation this week with a group of elementary school teachers and admin during a session I led where we watched and discussed “Growing Up Online”. My response was that schools find the time and resources to put “Stranger Danger” programs in place….is this digital environment that different?
Jenny Conklin says
I think what is missing from the picture here is empathy! We no longer have time to teach students about ethics and morals using stories that bring about an empathetic reaction. As a young person, I recall being deeply moved when I placed myself at the center of a story about a moral dilemma. I was fortunate to be in a school that believed in teaching about character and emotional intelligence.
So my question is… ‘why do I think twice about the comments I write and material I post on-line?’ ‘why would I never post something that would offend or hurt someone else?’ even if I know the internet provides a mask!
Steve, if literature is not dangerous, then why are books burned. 🙂
I agree it’s not the best comparison. I was using it for effect. It is akin, perhaps, to saying “math is hard.” Math *is* hard just as the Internet poses certain dangers, but certain statements can predispose students to being fearful, etc.
I just think the media has harped so much on the fear factor, it’s hard to get to the good stuff.
Steve Ransom says
I think books have been burned because those who burn, not the books, are dangerous and ideas are feared and seen as threats to belief systems. This is not the case with the darker side of the Internet by and large.
Ahhh… I like your clarification much better re: math is hard. And, as my comment agreed, the “dark side” if the Internet and human nature should not be what is emphasized above all else. (However, I don’t think that we can instill fear of Internet use in this generation in the same way as we have been guilty of instilling fear of math.) But, it must be part of the discussion. I think “safety” can be couched in a positive light rather than a negative or fear-based one. Being safe and healthy are good things. And I totally agree that the mainstream media always jumps on the negative examples and portrays them to be ubiquitous, stirring up fear and apprehension among viewers.
Steve O'Connor says
This is one of the reasons I hope to implement Elgg, an open source Social Networking platform for my fifth graders. We will set up a walled garden environment to practice skills and safety. Rather than just talking at them, I hope that this adds relevance and real experience.
I know that blogging with my class last year helped students learn real skills and safety issues had greater relevance, more so than if I had just spoken about stranger danger.
The US Senate Also recently passed a bill requiring schools to teach about safety on social network:
Jenny Conklin says
I agree that we as adults can think of the internet in a positive and safe manner. We are fearful… but are students? The students that I have encountered are not fearful of the dangers of the internet. They find excitement and exhilaration from participating in gossip discussion and surf inappropriate content. How do you change that mindset?
David M. Beyer says
Interesting posting — I thought back to how I learned how to use the internet…I had a c64 and dialed into “QuantumLink” to chat and BBS’s to download stuff I shouldn’t have been downloading. Then I lost privileges and interest. But I had two advantages: I had parents who were willing to let me steer myself into seeing bad stuff without panicking, and I had time to mess around.
There are many students whose parents don’t have enough skills to teach their kids how to use the internet safely, but with enough common sense to keep an even keel if their child sees something wrong. There are enough educators who are willing to spend class time teaching web literacy. There are also a vocal group who, through frustration, ignorance, or complacency, are simply not willing to do anything to help students with these new literacies. How can we convince them to start trying out the internet for their own fun and benefit before integrating it into their classroom? Movement away from fear and filtering and toward openness and exploration must be the focus.
Michelle Baldwin says
In the presentations I give for schools and community, we discuss (at length!) how to open conversations with kids about good digital citizenship. Some of our talking points are here:
Another resource I would highly recommend is Vicki Davis’ Digiteens Ning- http://digiteen.ning.com/. The conversations about digital responsibility that the kids have there are amazing, and it just shows what can happen when you involve kids in the process.
David, I think you’ve hit on something important, specifically, that a lot of parents aren’t educated themselves about these issues or about the technologies. And I believe there was a survey recently that showed that parents were less careful with their private information than kids were. So the community as a whole needs to work with not just kids, but also parents.
Michelle Baldwin says
We have been presenting some conversational types of sessions with parents to educate them about what kids are doing, how to start conversations with their kids, etc. Here’s a link to some of that info: http://avenue4learning.com/tips-for-internet-safety/
I wish more community organizations would jump on the wagon to hear these types of discussions… not just the scare tactics we see on commercials.
Also, I would highly recommend Vicki Davis’ Digi Teen Ning- http://digiteen.ning.com/. The kids are having really great discussions about how to be responsible digital citizens.
Will Richardson says
As I read through this thread, I’m kicking myself that I didn’t make it more clear that THERE IS MORE TO THIS THAN SAFETY. What I’m more concerned about is that schools are teaching and parents can’t model the concept of networks in the context of learning. That’s the main reason for integrating early and being transparent with parents, because we want, at the end of the day, to make our kids network literate. That will not happen until we get past the safety conversation, I know, but if all we’re thinking about here is safety, we’re missing the boat.
Darren Draper says
Great post, Will, so don’t kick yourself too hard.
In my opinion, your strongest posts are those that contain experiences just like this. I love the dialog, love the interaction, and love the real-world example.
Thanks for sharing.
Steve O'Connor says
I can honestly say that for me the safety issue is, in part, a means to help gain the acceptance of social networking tools for my school.
Safety is important, but navigating these new literacy and collaboration tools is my main thrust.
Western Dave says
I still don’t understand the difference between kids who do stupid stuff on-line and kids who do stupid stuff off-line. By the time kids hit high school, if they are putting pictures of themselves with beverage containers on-line its a cry for help. The answer to that isn’t “don’t put pictures of yourself drinking beer on-line.” The answer is “don’t drink beer.”
It’s like the whole cyberbullying conversation for middle schoolers. The lesson too often is “Don’t bully online” instead of “Don’t bully, anywhere.”
These shouldn’t be lessons in digital literacy; they are lessons on being human 101.
Tracy Gidinski says
Thanks for your post. Being a grade 6/7 teacher, I know by the time they’re in these grades, they have developed online habits that are difficult for them to break. I have recently started blogging with my students in a very structured, teacher-controlled environment (more controlled than I would wish, but meets the requirements of my school district). Most did not need instructions on how to write a blog – they knew what to do. The structure, at least, gives me a chance to direct the way they should be posting and commenting to blogs and the like.
The thing that struck me the most starting this up was that only two parents questioned me on what I was doing with the blogs. These two were parents who were aware of the potential “dangers” of blogging and were concerned about cyberbullying and the like. Most other parents had nothing to say about computer usage, but there were more than a few at parent-teacher interviews who thanked me for taking this on as part of their education; they talked about their lack of knowledge about computers, and were glad that someone who “knew what they were doing” was going to be teaching their child.
We wouldn’t expect the average parent to help teach their child calculus, for instance, in high school, as they wouldn’t have the knowledge base in order to help them. Why should we expect parents to teach their child about using the internet when many only know the basics, or very little at all?
Jenny Conklin commented, “I think what is missing from the picture here is empathy! We no longer have time to teach students about ethics and morals using stories that bring about an empathetic reaction.” I would argue against this. We can bring teaching about empathy into almost any subject matter. Not only can we, we have an obligation to.
Alan Kwan says
So did driver ed became an accepted curriculum? Car was new, so was driving. Kids got into it, didn’t know what they were doing, got into accidents, etc. At some point, everyone point fingers at each others. Finally everyone acknowledged it is a fact of life so we teach it.
Isn’t about time we start getting in front of the curve?
Besides, it should never be about the latest and greatest. It should never be about mySpace, Facebook, or whatever is the in-thing next year. That’s not how we get caught up. Instead, it should be the issues surrounding online presence, the reliability of the medium, how to conduct oneself online, danger around the corner, etc. Those will hold true no matter what the latest and greatest is.
Parents have a responsibility to communicate with their children and teach communication skills to their children. Too many people do not want to take responsibility for their families and point fingers at outside sources. Communicate with your children and there shouldn’t be a problem…
A colleague and I have been talking about this issue for some time. We even went ahead and developed a curriculum for schools to use. It tackles the issues of cyberbullying and social networking behavior in and out of the classroom. It empowers teachers and especially students to do the right thing. We were shocked by the reaction of high school students who could not believe that college admissions officers would look at their Facebook page. “But that’s an invasion of privacy!” the students said. Why do they have the impression that anything they do online is private? Check out our site and let me know what you think! Thanks for all your work in this field – it’s much appreciated!
Lisa Nielsen says
Where is the link to your site?
Great post and comments.
We were recently given the opportunity to write a teacher training course in ‘Media Literacy’ for teachers in Singapore schools. One of the main focuses of the course is to develop knowledge and skills to enable the critical evaluation of different types of content across the different media available today. Helping teachers to empower children by helping them to understand, assess and manage risks – so they can make better choices.
The conversations we’ve had with schools here about Media Literacy seem to revolve around whether to integrate these literacies across the curriculum, or to integrate it into the English, General Studies and IT/Media syllabuses. Early days yet.
“Children and young people need to be empowered to keep themselves safe â€“ this isnâ€™t just about a top-down approach. Children will be children â€“ pushing boundaries and taking risks. At a public swimming pool we have gates, put up signs, have lifeguards and shallow ends, but we also teach children how to swim.”
It’s from the Byron Review Report commissioned by the UK Prime Minister: Safer Children in a Digital Worldhttp://www.dcsf.gov.uk/byronreview I can highly recommend it if you haven’t heard of it before.
Danielle D. says
I find it funny that the principal is willing to go out of his way to look at the student’s personal online accounts, but is not willing to do anything but gripe about them. If you can look up this information on the students and pass judgment on them, surely there is something you can do to help these students become better educated on these websites. Yes, in an ideal world parents would monitor their kids every move on the internet. Speaking as someone who has to monitor the Myspace and Facebook accounts of my two younger siblings, it is not always easy to do so. My mother has no knowledge about the websites so asked me to monitor them. I do not always have the time to do so (not to mention they constantly change their passwords to keep me from logging in as them). The principal seems informed enough about the website, and since he is concerned I truly feel that he could work on doing something to educate both parents and students.While first grade may be a bit too soon, it is better to be safe than sorry. While parents may not come to an awareness night, I feel that integrating these skills in the students curriculum will help them in the long haul.
Michelle Baldwin says
Good news… schools will soon be required to educate students on internet safety. In our schools, that will also translate into digital citizenship.
Doreen Overstreet says
Interesting thoughts. I used to work with a school that had a session just for parents about social networking sites and how to teach their kids about using them properly. Althouh I like your idea about including students in the discussion.
david stong says
What a smart post. Thank you. Some elementary educators still think cell phones should be banned and miss an opportunity to teach proper use. Where do students learn the social implications in the use of cellphones, use of the internet, use of repositories, wikipedia, myspace and facebook? And possibly more importantly, where do elementary educators get the skills and insights to teach their students? Shouldn’t this sort of outreach be a core mission of higher ed?
Laura Pilker says
Couldn’t agree more. I am a Technology teacher at a small K-8 private school in Maryland, and I start educating my students about safe online behavior in Kindergarten! Of course, it is age appropriate, and becomes more specific and less general as they progress into Middle School, but I think that in this case, the best defense is a good offense. I would rather warn my students and get them used to being open in these types of discussion early than worry about their safety later in their lives, when they have already developed bad web habits.
I think this is a very touchy subject and it applies different in the world of education and administration. From the administrators stand point I think by not allowing students to access certain sites it cuts down on their disciplinary issues and things of that nature. Now from an educatorâ€™s perspective these types of sites can be helpful as well as social tools for students. I think when you mentioned that parents may not all be capable or feel it is their job to instill these so called internet values you were completely right. We as teachers need to start very young in educating students on what is acceptable and what is not. This is not a process that could be started in the 8th grade by then the students have already been doing their own thing on the net. By having a district plan on how to handle internet practices and procedures while on school computes would have to be established throughout the schools and community.
Sean Conner says
The notion that schools should feel compelled to teach good digital citizenship is one I find to be self-evident. Whether we are preparing students for their professional careers, attending to their affective needs, or simply regarding their general safety, this skill set should be addressed by the school.
What I find interesting in this dialogue stream is that no one is questioning the role of the principal as chief disciplinarian of the school – the one who, in this scenario, “calls a student to the office” to address poor behavior. The truth of the matter is that our school cultures encourage the principal to manage the lunchroom, monitor the busses, have a presence in the hallways, and to chaperone the dance. Educational leadership appears to be lower on the list of things to which principals attend. The saddest part of this reality is that principals have largely chosen this role for themselves.
Interestingly, it is the principals who ought to be pushing technology staffers for fewer restrictions on their networks and for more accessabilities for staff and students. They should be crying out for their teachers to adopt a new model of instruction as they assist them in developing it.
Instead of developing a model that ought to be in place, principals are managing the model that is in place. Each and every innovation is another thing to be managed, and if it can be properly managed, it is welcomed. If it cannot be managed in the current construct, it cannot occur.
Because of this management approach, innovation is less likely to occur. If, for example, we waited for the FDA to create the cure for cancer, it would never happen – it’s not their job; they regulate. Managers are important, as is the FDA, but the role of the principal should not be filled by them. That position should be filled by an academic leader, a person who innovates and leads others to do the same. The managers are then left to make the evolved vision work.