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?


  1. Hi Sam, Enjoyed reading your post. Early days but I am using a Google+ Community with Year 9-13 students and their teachers. We are exploring how the community can support their learning and contribute to our CyberSmart Curriculum...specifically our Smart Footprint and Smart Relationships. Your final comment resonated with me..."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"
    I would be keen to talk more about this with you. Are you at uLearn13 next week?

    Nga mihi nui,

  2. Fiona - I'll be at uLearn13. Definitely keen to catch up. Tweet me @samcunnane when you have a spare moment there and we'll have a korero. How to develop of a school culture that enables students to journey safely on the web (without a massive 'cyber police' presence) is a discussion several of us from Fraser have been getting into across this break.

  3. This comment has been removed by the author.

  4. Let's try that again ;-)... Great, will do, thanks Sam...following you ;-) @FionaGrant

  5. Hi Sam - I've been think LOTS about things like this, and for me, what it comes down to is the massive paradigm shift that using digital technologies effectively in the classroom brings - I think that maybe (without being full clued in of course), that there has been a clear disconnect with the introduction of ipads with 'traditional' pedagogies still being in place in these classrooms, rather than 21st century pedagogies that 'match' effective implementation of digital technologies. 'Cybersmarts' and metacognition become much more dominant in a setting like this - discussions with classes about the good and the bad of using the technology should be ongoing, and 'inappropriate use' needs to be utilised as a part of the learning process, and 'workshopped', to increase the cyber smarts of all students in that class, as a normal part of classroom learning. The internet is a great 'dismantler' of hierarchies and traditional 'controls' over access to information - it makes sense that students maximise this, but the great part about school is that there are living authentic opportunities to discuss the implications of inappropriate use. For students, virtual and physical worlds are inseparable, whereas most teachers see these worlds as separate. Teachers become pivotal for facilitating 'cybersmart' learning opportunities, that increase student awareness of actions and their responsibilities (as well as our own as teachers).
    Maybe limiting internet access leaves students ill prepared for 'real' unsupervised virtual experiences? Don't know, its a fantastic challenge. Especially for teachers, who need to be digitally capable and engaged, to truely enable authentic learning opportunities to occur.
    Just a few quick thoughts, as I'm waaaayyyy behind on everything!!
    Best of luck Sam, enjoy Ulearn.