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EdTech Update





The Case for Social Networks

This is from the ISED-L elist. Posted here with permission by the author, Jason Johnson (no relation), under Creative Commons license. - Thanks, Jason. It's terrific. Doug

The Case for Social Networks

Jason  Jason Johnson

Director of Technology -- The Lowell School 1640 Kalmia Road, NW -- Washington, DC 20012

I was asked to write a small opinion piece in response to a front page Washington Post Article on student blogs. It will not appear on-line so I thought I would post it here [ISED-L]  since it is heavily influenced by the discussion on this list.  My thanks to all those who will hopefully see some of their own voice reflected, as best I could, below. _Jason


Like many educators I have been watching the social networking site phenomenon flower over the past year.  I  appreciated the front-page Washington Post article “Teens' Bold Blogs Alarm Area School” for its survey of the current state of affairs.  However, the article made it appear to be a new and alarming phenomenon when it has been a continual challenge since the introduction of the internet into homes and schools.  This is only the latest iteration.

At its core, the issue is not about technology at all, but about helping students understand where the public sphere ends and the private sphere begins, how to converse in those domains, and how to be part of a community. Too often we, as adults, make technology appear special and unique in some way and focus on the medium and not the message.  I have seen teachers do this by misinterpreting Marc Prensky’s dichotomy of students as “digital natives” and teachers as “digital immigrants.” Parents do it by proclaiming their ignorance of technology and what their “whiz” of a kid does on the
computer.  In doing so, they abdicate responsibility for a conversation that is, again, not about technology at all.

It is much harder to educate around what is public, what is private, and community participation.  These lines are shifting and blurred each day. We can blame the usual suspects like MTV’s “Laguna Beach” and any number of reality-based TV shows.  We can cry foul when we read that the Washingtonienne receive a $300,000 advance for writing a book after gaining notoriety for blogging her sex life on Capitol Hill. Parents and many schools find it easier to scare students away from the internet and block off large swaths as places full of sexual predators that will jump on the smallest personal detail and exploit it in horrific ways.

But students recognize the hypocrisy as their parent goes on a date with someone they met on; as their uncle marries a women he met through a Harley fan site; as their parents sit at a soccer game maintaining other relationships through email on their Blackberry rather than talking with one another. They compare what they see with the internet abstinence policies implemented by many schools and recommended by some national programs.   As a result they never really take the lessons to heart and learn only how to avoid issues on the internet, rather than how to cope with and defend
themselves. In addition, they are deprived of or must seek surreptitiously what has become a significant and accepted part of being social for both adults and children.

Those schools and parents that are no longer “alarmed” are having thoughtful discussions with students around how to be a citizen online.  As always, this includes some measure of avoidance and a digital safety net (either by content filter or usage tracking), but it also includes defenses as well. It includes advice on how to protect an online identity while still participating; how to judge and check on strangers you meet; common ploys; and how to dispose of your on line identity if need be.  And most importantly, they include how to judge what you should make public and what should be private.  Many times this discussion starts with what others (family, friends, college admissions officers) may think about their public
statements. A final step, that a very few take, is to address what students’ rights and responsibilities are.  The Electronic Frontier Foundation has an excellent guide for student bloggers that addresses this in a frank and straightforward manner.

It was telling to me when the American Psychological Association release a presentation on August 1st, 2004 on investigator’s experiences with internet sex crimes.  The study suggest most offenders did not deceive victims about the fact that they were adults interested in sexual relationships and that a major challenge for prevention is, “the population of young teens who are willing to enter into voluntary sexual relationships with adults whom they  meet online.”  This made explicit to me the fact that most of us had been having the wrong conversation. I think far more parents and educators are now having the right conversation.

Teen blogs are not about the technology – they are about feelings of belonging and being loved.  They are about trying on different personalities.  They are about someone who feels isolated connecting with others who share their interests or insecurities.  They are about all the same things that have existed for hundreds of years, hidden in notebooks and scribbled on bathroom walls and whispered over telephones. The content of bears discussion, not obstruction.  It is where some schools and parents are looking to better understand and aid their children and students.  Our dialogue should teach them to use the site effectively and about what they can hope to accomplish with it.  As the National Research Council report on protecting children from internet pornography analogized: “Swimming pools can be dangerous for children. To protect them, one can install locks, put up fences, and deploy pool alarms. All of these measures are helpful, but by far the most important thing that one can do for one's children is to teach them to swim.”  We all need to be training more swimmers.



holyman.jpgThe Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice (CPVPV) is the official name of the religious police in Saudi Arabia. I rather like the name itself (where can I get a t-shirt?), but I wouldn't want to be in charge of such an organization in my school. Unfortunately, the propagation of virtue and prevention of vice are roles that some tech departments have assigned themselves. Heaven knows why.

Wes Fryer, the IT Guy at gets it partially right in his article Blocking and on his personal blog writing mySpace and iSafety. Bless his heart, Wes does advocate for a least-restrictive environment as the best place to teach kids how to use the Internet. As Carol Simpson likes to say, teaching kids Internet safety in an over-filtered environment is like teaching kids to cross the street by never letting them out of the basement.

But what Wes alludes to, but does not address is who, in the end, makes the decision to block or not bock mySpace or any site on the Internet? He only says:

Whether or not the final decision of the district is to block in-school student access to, these issues must be raised and publicly addressed. 


Some readers may know this is a real pet project of mine - getting every district, with the help of our professional associations, to have formal processes in place to determine what web resources are blocked and which are not. And such a process IS workable. We folks on the tech side, need to quickly determine a means of establishing a process for making choices about whether resources should or should not be blocked - or we are in for a world of hurt. And here's why..

  • Today a teacher asks that a game site is blocked. The IT department complies.
  • Tomorrow a parent asks that a site on gay marriage, evolution, or a right-wing Christian fundamentalist be blocked.
  • The day after that, another parent or teacher asks that those sites be unblocked.

Who is left in the middle?  If we have established a past practice of blocking (or unblocking) any request,  we will always have to block (or unblock) every request AND we will probably be spending an inordinate amount of time doing so. 

The decision of whether to block or not block should be done formally, openly, and in the same way any other material challenge is handled in a school district. Period.

IT folks, you really don't want to be considered  your school's Committee for the Propagation of Virtue and the Prevention of Vice. Don't we have more important jobs to do?


Are Mankato teachers ready for blogs?

While I am not sure it is ready for prime time, I've changed our monthly TechTips newsletter from  e-mail to a blog format. The feed is (Had some trouble figuring this one out in Bloglines.)

While anyone is welcome to subscribe, the  focus of the blog will be the same as that of the newsletter - items of technology and library related interest to teachers in our district.  If the past couple weeks has been any indication, teachers will be seeing what I think are among the most interesting posts from blogs I read.

Initially, I plan to send an email out each Tuesday with a recap and links to each blog entry. I'm guessing it will be a while before people get into RSS feeds or just checking the site for updates.

We'll be doing an inservice for teachers in early February on creating a blog of one's own. We've got the OSX server running its flavor of blojsom (with damn little support from Apple on this, BTW.) techtips.jpg

I'll letcha know how it goes. Any advice on making this successful would be greatly appreciated.

Oh, interesting that this morning, the headlines (1) (2) of the Mankato Free Press  was all about two blogs being written by Mankatoans. Is blogdom going mainstream even here in Left Overshoe, Minnesota?