social media, bullying & vulnerability – day 2

Day 2 of the NCAB conference was, I’m pleased to say, as rich and thought provoking as the first and I’ve come home with a head full of ideas, questions and things to follow up.

The key message for me from today was around the need build respectful relationships at all levels – with teachers, students, parents and the wider community. Regardless of whether we are talking about online or more traditional forms of bullying, approaching the issue by teaching (and modelling) ethical behaviour provides the foundation for the communication and respect needed.

The keynotes of the day were by Professor Ian Rivers and Nina Funnell and were both filled with relevant information that challenged my ideas and made me consider how some of these issues fit into my school environment.

Professor Rivers speech raised important points about the experiences of bullying for lesbian and gay youth but also about the role of bystanders in the culture of bullying. Building the social skills of the 60% of students who are bystanders and empowering them to take action can have a huge impact on the problem and help change the culture.

Nina Funnell spoke of sexting, although noted early on that this is not a term used by youth themselves when they talk about this activity. The statistics provided were surprising – the biggest group of people participating in sexting are actually gay adult males, not teen girls as the media may have us believe and that teen girls and boys actually participate at similar rates. This wasn’t the only point that challenged my thinking. I’m not sure that I’ve given much time to the topic of sexting prior to this keynote – I teach primary school students and (possibly naively) didn’t think it was something that I needed to give much thought to. I hadn’t thought about sexting education programs and how the ‘just don’t do it’ message was similar to the abstinence programs that are acknowledged not to work nor had I thought about the fact many schools are limiting conversations about sexting to cybersafety programs when they also are needed in broader conversations of relationship, sexual health and wellbeing. A final message that really did resonate was to be careful not to demonise either the technology nor the young people involved and I liked the idea of teaching ethics surrounding the issues rather than just the legal consequences of the action.

I attended a seminar by Associate Professor Marilyn Campbell and Dr Barbara Spears on students’ perceptions of how their schools deal with bullying which had interesting findings to present and made me question how my school’s students might answer the question. In particular, it was disturbing to see how students who were bullied online had a more negative view of how the school was handling it and raised questions about what to do to improve the situation.

Dr Michael Carr-Gregg and Elly Robinson were next with a stimulating discussion on parental involvement in addressing cyberbullying. The message, again, was one of building relationships, this time with parents and providing them with the tools they need to set boundaries for and support their children. Resources such as the Bullying no way site and ‘Take a Stand‘ app were given to help start that conversation. Dr Carr-Gregg reiterated that honesty is the best policy and encouraged schools to be upfront with parents – bullying happens in every school so talk about what you’re doing, what parents should watch for and what they can do to ensure it’s being tackled as a team effort.

The final seminar I attended by Rosalie O’Neal and Dr Matthew Dobson of ACMA spoke of the results of recent research on the current trends in young people’s use of social media before providing a range of resources. If you haven’t come across ACMA’s amazing and comprehensive set of resources for teachers, students and parents before, stop reading and go now!

Day 2 and the conference as a whole ended with a panel of experts including youth representation addressing audience questions and some hot issues. Fantastic to see youth voice but not quite representative as none were users of social media which meant we didn’t really get the insight I had hoped for.

I’m left with lots of great resources, topics to ponder and ideas to help move my school, students, staff and parents forward. However I also made some great connections during the conference which raises another point that was at the back of my mind throughout. During 2 days of tweeting, I caught up with several people I follow on twitter and who, while I know their opinions and ideas shared with the world well, I have not previously met them in person and, really, know nothing about who they are. There was much talk during the conference of the ‘randoms’ that students have on their social media accounts and the dangers that this outer circle of barely acquaintances can bring. I’m not for a minute suggesting that we don’t need to teach students the importance of reigning this in and the potential dangers that unknown people can bring, particularly when starting out in an online world and before developing an appreciation for the whole picture. But I want to make sure we don’t also cut students off from the amazing possibilities of interaction that the online world can bring as a result. If I restricted my own social media use to only people I’d previously met in person, I would have missed these rich opportunities for discussion and networking. So I’ll end by reminding readers, as the conference constantly reminded me – technology and social media has its positives too.

social media, bullying and vulnerability – Day 1 of NCAB conference 2012

Please forgive my predictability. After a further lengthy blog silence, I’m spurred into a post by conference inspiration, this time in the form of the National Centre Against Bullying Conference currently being held in Melbourne. It’s not that I don’t get inspired at other times, just that the flavour of inspiration that comes from conferences seems to be just the right type to mould into a blog post.

I will admit a slight trepidation at attending, worried that my obvious leaning towards technology experimentation might clash with some of the messages I was going to hear. While those of us who experiment and explore educational technology on a daily basis know how much it can enhance the learning experience, sometimes people are overwhelmed with real and imagined dangers and allow these to overtake any benefits.

However, from the first words of the opening speeches, I was pleasantly surprised. As part of the housekeeping, we were all encouraged to keep our phones on (turned to silent) and were given the twitter hashtag and heartfelt encouragement to use it to continue the conversation online. Those new to this technology were offered support to set up accounts and join in. A very promising start.

The clear and consistent message I heard from the opening speeches onward was that technology has a positive role to play in young people’s lives and the key to tackling the dangers is to embrace the idea of digital citizenship and educate and support our students through such a framework. This message was echoed by all of those involved in the opening speeches and the tone set was overwhelming positive – Minister for Education Martin Dixon urged us not to throw out opportunities just because of the potential for risk and the very articulate Silje Anderson-Cooke gave us a youth perspective of the digital world.

Dr Colleen McLaughlin followed this with a keynote on bullying as experienced by children with special educational needs and disabilities, raising important issues about whether policies and interventions in schools were meeting the needs of these students.

The keynotes were rounded out by Professor Donna Cross who gave insights into a younger age group and their experiences of online and offline bullying. The research findings that face to face bullying sharply rises (and cyberbullying starts) at around Grade 4 or 5 wasn’t particularly surprising but the strategies she explored about how to deal with this should be something that all schools and parents are reminded of. Play has a vital role in helping young children explore and experiment with social norms and expected behaviours yet there is a conflict between time dedicated to play and time dedicated to more formal learning. She raised a point as well about treating a student’s social mistakes in the same way we would treat a learning mistake – with support, guidance and as an opportunity to develop a skill rather than something to be punished. A lot of food for thought….and all before lunch!

The afternoon sessions were equally filled with information, questions and points to ponder. Clare Rafferty and Elyse Gill talked about their journey towards eSmart accreditation and how they enlisted the help of students as eSmart ambassadors to communicate and engage younger students. Some great ideas and powerful practice of students as mentors for other students.

Greg Gebhart of ACMA presented on ‘Circles of friendship’ and how to approach the conversation with students about the different levels of friendship they have in online environments. Again, the positive tone was clearly evident and Greg spoke of the important social role that technology plays in young people’s lives. It’s not about banning social networks, it’s about making students aware of some of the risks and effective strategies to mitigate them. Teaching them about circles of friendship and getting them to identify ‘randoms’ on the outer periphery is a valuable first step and, with adequate supervision and open lines of communication with adults around them, goes a long way to helping them navigate and get the best out of their online life.

So, overall, great first day and I’m looking forward to whatever day 2 shall bring…

the kids are in charge

I had an interesting conversation with a Grade 6 student this week which was prompted by some lessons we are working through on safer ICT use. We have been completing activities on the Budd:e website about appropriate sharing of information, privacy issues and how to keep your computer safe from viruses, trojans and other nasties. The final activity involves students printing out a sheet to discuss with their parents – effectively, it’s a checklist to work through on elements that will help keep their computer safe. This student was asking me some quite detailed questions about the backing up data as this was one of the items on the checklist. He wanted to know why this was important and how to do it. I gave him some ideas and suggested he spoke to his parents as they may already be doing this for their important information at home. His reply? “No, they don’t know anything about the computer. Mum doesn’t know how to turn it on. They just got it because I told them it was for school.”

While this doesn’t really surprise me, it does alarm me. I obviously believe technology can enhance and support our experience of the world we live in and think it has great educational and social benefits for children and adults. I think many of the negatives are blown out of proportion by media keen to sell their wares and intent on attention grabbing headlines. However I also know that there are some basic security, privacy and safety issues that are important and it greatly concerns me that children could be left in charge of these in the home as there is no one else knowledgeable enough to do them. I’m not suggesting that every parent needs to understand the inner workings of every piece of technology they own – I certainly don’t. However they do need to be aware of how to keep their home and children safe generally and this includes their technology. Parents continue to teach their children not to wander off by themselves or answer the door to strangers however they’re then potentially allowing the same to happen through technology. I ensure our technology program at school gives students an awareness of some of the risks but don’t believe it should be their job to deal with all of them. It’s their job to be kids. We learnt a great lesson this week in what to do when something nasty gets through the filter as it did in class and I was proud of their reactions and the discussion that followed. However I’m still assuming that there is a filter to get through.

I’m all for children developing a greater awareness of technology issues and safety – that’s a big part of my day to day work. But it pays to remember that they are young, vulnerable and in need of adult support, whether crossing the street or building a website.

Who are you?

Task four of the teacher’s blogging challenge and one that I have a lot of connection with. Introducing the idea of avatars to my Grade 5/6 students last year was one of my highlights of the year. As I was getting to grips with the idea of being an ICT teacher, various conversations I had with my students made it obvious that most used different forms of online social networking. Disturbingly, most also used their own photos to identify their online profile. This conversation wasn’t just limited to Grade 5/6 students either, with the eye opening discovery that I had students as young as Grade 1 with facebook profiles, complete with smiling, happy pictures. Despite my growing acceptance of and immersion in social media, it still unsettles me to hear of 7 year olds posting their pictures for the world to see. For me, it’s not about whether or not that’s appropriate, it’s about them doing something without being able to fully weigh up any implications.

With all that in mind, I introduced the topic of avatars. It was interesting that, while the Grade 5/6 students all knew what they were, none of them had actually thought about how they could be used online. I showed them a few different avatar sites and we discussed why we might use them and also their representative nature. I knew that my boys would instantly put guns and other weapons in their avatar’s hands and that some girls would dress their avatar provocatively. It was an interesting discussion that ensued where I showed them some avatars and asked them to tell me about the person they thought made it. An avatar covered in tattoos was apparently ‘made by a biker, a really tough guy’ according to one Grade 5 boy. It raised two ideas – firstly, that even if the picture wasn’t of you, it still represented you and people could still form opinions and ideas about who you were through your avatar. Secondly, it reinforced the idea that, online, people can be anything and we need to constantly consider who we’re interacting with, regardlesss of what their photo or avatar looks like. What started as a simple lesson introduction turned into a lengthy and valuable discussion!

The outcome of all of this was that the students each created several avatars which could be used in varying contexts according to the image they wanted to portray. With older students/adults, I would talk about a consistent online presence but, at this level, I just wanted them to explore and experiment. I’ve put the links to those used below, some of which contained vaguely inappropriate additions to the avatars which provoked lots of giggles but further discussions. One student asked why didn’t I block the avatar with guns if I’d rather they didn’t use it? My reply was that I was trying to teach them skills that could be used beyond the four walls of the computer lab and, when they got home to play with it, they would find and need to deal with such things independently. But I’ll leave such decisions up to you – enjoy!

Bless this chick
Reasonably clever – lego avatars

The avatar created below is from a new website discovered yesterday through the fantastic PLN on Twitter (sorry, I can’t remember who it was so I can’t give them credit!) –

digital citizenship – where to begin?

I’m feeling somewhat energised and inspired, having spent the day at a cybersafety PD run by ACMA. I walked into it thinking that I might pick up one or two new ideas but feeling like I already knew a lot about cybersafety and how to implement strategies.  While it certainly reinforced things I knew, it also opened my eyes to new resources and concepts, both to work on with students and with the school community as a whole.

In particular, I was impressed by the practical and not negative focus by the presenter.  Too many times we hear about the cybersafety message with the words ‘ban’, ‘block’ and ‘limit’ being frequently interspersed.  However that couldn’t have been further from today’s presentation.  The message was to be informed but also realistic.  Students are accessing this technology, whether we like (or approve of) it or not.  If we block it or choose not to discuss it at school, it doesn’t help or prepare them for use at home.  It’s very hard to show students how to get help if they receive unwanted attention on facebook when even teachers can’t access it at school.

There were numerous resources presented for all levels including a video – ‘Let’s fight it together‘ – aimed at Secondary students.  This is an intense and moving resource which left the room in silence at its conclusion.  It tells the poignant tale of a young boy who experiences bullying in all its forms, seeping into every corner of his life and leaving him feeling as if he has nowhere left to turn.  Equally impressive were some of the cybersafety resources created by students which can be found on YouTube – talking to our students in ‘kidspeak’ could be the most effective way to get through on such an important topic.

There was also a very valuable discussion on who should deliver cybersafety education – classroom teachers?  ICT specialists?  Young teachers who were born into a degree of the technology?  Or those who have begrudgingly adopted new technology but whose actions make it clear that they would rather live without it?  Perhaps the students themselves should be trained up to deliver it?

Lots of ideas. . . .but where to start?!