We have been engaging in online collaborative work now in our district using Web 2.0 tools for over a year now, and the number of students and teachers blogging, using wikis, or creating screencast tutorials with their students keeps growing daily.
When I meet with a class at the behest of the teacher to introduce them to using the blog or wiki, I go over the contract that they are signing or have already signed which clearly states the behaviors we condone, and those that we do not. All in all, we have had over 1000 students at one point or another online and creating with one another, commenting, linking, critiquing and collaborating.
The odds that some of them are engaging in behaviors that we don’t condone are pretty good, but until this past week, we have never had a problem with any type of cyberbullying or internet safety issues.
A few students, using wikispaces, created a “Gossip Page” about all of the people in their grade level. When I first got the email from the classroom teacher who found out from her students, I immediately thought the worst: that children were using these technologies for the worst purposes. My heart almost stopped. We had all worked so hard to get to the point where we are right now, and we had really done a great job of providing the students with the right balance of academic rigor and academic play in a collaborative space. All of what we worked towards, I felt, was about to be crushed in a swarm of negative publicity.
When I finally got to the site, which was harmless, save for the “hookups and breakups” section, I breathed a little easier and began to process what we could do with this situation to turn it around. Here were some options that floated in from the twitterverse:
- have the students create a wiki, much the same way they already did, but about the dangers of cyberbullying and about how to “be” online. Provide them with the building blocks of resources, and guide them on their way towards teaching other students about the dangers of using the internet as a platform for slander.
- invite all stakeholders to a presentation where we laid out exactly the tools we are using, plan to use, and see as the most important for stakeholders to understand. From this meeting, we could then branch out into parent and community workshops designed at guiding them through the nuances of digital citizenship. Our students could be leaders in this as well.
As an administrator, but not tied to a building, I really have no jurisdiction over the disciplinary side of things; all I can do is make suggestions and give feedback if asked. But I really wanted to help with this one, and I probably should have made that more known.
There are a few things I think we lose sight of sometimes as teachers who are on the leading edge of these new pedagogies. First, we have to realize that our students excel at entertaining themselves online, but rarely possess the ability to apply advanced “online” thinking to their research or organization. Yes, there are some wonderful examples around the world of teachers and students disproving what I just stated (like Clarence and Barbara, Vicki, George, and Clay), but in my classroom experience, the connection between academics and technology with our students is lacking. That has to change. Second, when we educate our students on how to do link the two together successfully, we most likely will be educating the parents of our students in this as well. What Kim did this summer, and Jeff recently are ideal situations that every district should provide for the parents of their students. “What are our children doing?” “How can I be involved?” “To what extent should I be involved?” “Are our students good kids?” “Is Dateline: To Catch a Predator the exception or the rule?”
In the end, it comes down to an adage that one of my graduate school professors told us as we were learning the ins and outs of classroom management (and by the way, one of the few valuable things I garnered from my time there): “you either pay now, or pay later.”
Be proactive, rather than reactive.
Image Credit: “Shimmering Madness” from sbluerock’s photostream