Thursday, 3 October 2013

Inquiry learning, hacking iPads, and being safe online

You may be aware that there's been a bit of a kerfuffle lately about students in California 'hacking' their newly issued school iPads so they can access sites outside of the school-prescribed list, including the usual suspects Facebook, Pandora and YouTube. Audrey Watters summarised the issue nicely for The Atlantic. My initial response to this is surprise that a school district would be so naive as to expect that students wouldn't find a way to access the sites that they want to, and a little bit of disbelief that the districts are still trying to lock students out of these mainstream social media sites.

It's easy to leap to the response of "we just need to teach students how to manage themselves appropriately online" as the logical fix for this problem. However, on further reflection I'm left wondering if this is overly simplistic, and much harder in practice than it is to tweet.

Before I develop this idea further, let me take a little side track to a conversation I had with my Year 11 Photography and Design class (15 - 16 year olds, and one adult student) last Friday. We talked about the various forms of social media they use: Facebook continues to be big. Twitter is not. Pinterest has a couple of users. Some don't use social media at all. Tumblr was next to Facebook in popularity, and one member of the class had over 15,000 followers for her Tumblr. Yeah, I was blown away too.

We talked about their sense of safety online too, and their general response was that they protect themselves by having pretty high privacy settings on the social media that allow that, and they seem to be reasonably critical in their thinking about who they accept as online friends. On the other hand, several had had accounts hacked, and the idea of 'creepy guys' trying to interact with them online was something that most had experienced in one form or another.

In this context, what is a good approach for secondary school educators to take in terms of helping ensure the safety of our students online while at the same time facilitating the development of their powers of inquiry and critical engagement with the world? I'm not a big fan of a highly restrictive approach in the name of 'protecting' students because I think it seldom enables them to develop the skills that will enable them to look after themselves post-school (and outside of school hours). Obviously though, giving them free reign to go wherever they want and engage with whatever they like online is not reasonable either.

I keep starting to write sentences that propose one idea or another, but the bottom line is I'm not really sure what the best approach is, and I'd like to hear from others about what they're doing in this sphere. If I was to make one suggestion, it might be to hark back to the concept that 'it takes a village to raise a child' and suggest that we need to engage our whole communities in helping our young people develop the skills to be citizens online. This involves engaging with them in their various communities both online and offline so we can continue an authentic conversation about who and how they are in the various worlds they inhabit.

What do you reckon?