The final session at the TUANZ event in CHCH yesterday was a panel discussion in which thoughts and points of view were shared about the challenges we face around the use of social networking software in schools. The general concensus was that “the party has started”, and that we (as educators) need to decide whether we’re going to join or not – not whether we can stop this happening.
This isn’t as easy as it sounds, however, and discussion at the conference addressed a range of issues that arise, including cyber-bullying and cyber-ethics (including online plagurism, online cheating etc), with the view being that we must find a way of engaging with the students in our classes in ways that model and teach them how to use these technologies responsibly.
My friend Douglas Harre, who was on the panel, sent me a link to a post titled Under 18 Blogs, Wikis & Social Networks which provides some interesting insights along these lines. It reports on a panel discussion held at the SXSW Interactive Festival in Austin, Texas, which started with the challenge: “Young People Online are … a constant mortal danger or fulfilling their inner potential?”
The panel focused on three questions:
- What are young people getting out of their online lives?
- What is reality when it comes to dangers for young people online?
- What kinds of social, technological/design solutions are there once we identify experiences we want to facilitate and/or prevent?
The report summarises the various panelists responses – with much of what is shared mirroring the sorts of things that were discussed at the TUANZ event.
The following extract for the report is something that I think is worth further discussion and pondering on. It comes from the introduction to the panel discussion by Danah Boyd who provided the context for the rest of the discussion…
[Danah] talked about how a hundred years ago 14 – 17 year olds participated in society and were mentored by adults. Then during the great depression the government instituted a policy of forcing 14 – 17 year olds to attend high school. She talked about how this began a process of creating a dynamic she called ‘Age Segregation’. The concept behind this segregation being that society creates separate activities for teenagers. This however didn’t change the fact that 14 – 17 year olds still yearn to participate and express themselves to society at large. The difference is that in the last few years they have begun doing it online. She pointed out 4 things that make this unique:
- Persistence – The fact that comments, posts, social network pages don’t go away
- Searchability – The fact that anyone can find information about others easily. She commented that her mother would have loved to be able to easily search about her interactions, but when she was growing up this wasn’t possible.
- Replicability – The fact that you can easily replicate a conversation (such as IM) in many other places (such as a MySpace Page)
- Invisible Audiences – The fact that you don’t know who you’re talking to.
As I think about my own children using this technology, and the interactions I have with teachers around the country, these four points resonate with me, and start me thinking again about the directions we’re headed with our curriculum review and its emphasis on core competencies etc. The changes in the ‘power dynamic’ implied in what Danah is saying here is surely at the heart of the challenge we face in thinking about reforming schools to make them relevant for 21st Century learners?
It’s also got me thinking about the value there is in promoting more of these panel-led, open forums at conferences and seminars, where we get the opportunity explore beyond the keynote presentation, and to delve deeper into the issues and concerns that have been exposed and exist among us.
Mmmm – off for more pondering….