Sunday, June 7, 2009

Classblogmeister, Parental Consent and Internet Safety

When setting up our Classblogmeister project, one of my initial considerations was the importance of getting parents onboard with this project. Parents often have reservations about their children having an online presence, due to fears about cyber-bullying and predators.

Here are some of the websites I found that had good resources and example letters for informing parents of the intention of the project and how internet safety concerns could be addressed:

1. Bud's Blogging Parent Letter - a useful starting point, easily adapted. He also has this letter, which I largely based my letter on.
2. Beyond School has a great letter and rationale, giving parents options for privacy settings.
3. This one from Ed Warkentin specifically addresses Classblogmeister.
4. Andrew Churches published this excellent Acceptable Use Agreement on his blog that he developed for his school, which is based on the concept of digital citizenship: protect and respect yourself and others, and do not steal (E.g. plagiarise). Unfortunately, I had already gained parental consent when this was published, so I was unable to use it this time.

I found that there are many resources, blog posts, wikis, articles about internet safety in regard to blogging as well as more generally.

When discussing these issues with the class I found the following two short videos very effective.



We followed this viewing with a discussion about 'digital footprints', and how once you put something online you lose control over it. Many of the students had conceived of the Internet as a private space, rather than a public space in which the notions they hold of privacy may not apply. Prior to watching, several had expressed regret at the fact that we were to have rules about what we could and could not post online. Afterwards, they all understood the necessity of this.

These videos made a strong impression on the class. Several of those who have social networking sites said they wanted to get home as quickly as possible to change their security settings, delete information and photographs, or in one case, delete their account altogether! My basic advice was this: do not put anything on the internet that you would not want your parents, teacher or future employer (etc.) to see.

Once the point had been made, a lot of the students wanted to share their stories about people they knew who had had bad experiences as a result of inappropriate things being posted online. As a teacher I needed to acknowledge the real dangers that exist, without scaremongering. The key point is that learners need to have awareness in order to make safe decisions.

As a result of this conversation we developed some rules for blogging. I had previously found a number of good websites with suggested blogging rules, and had harvested the relevant ones, so I was able to guide the conversation in this direction.

Websites I found particularly useful were:
1. This page by Ann Davis outlining their elementary safe-blogging policy.
2. Arapahoe High School Safe Blogging Policy

One observation I had when I introduced the way Classblogmeister worked was that I met with some resistance from several students to the idea of me moderating their blog posts/comments. Examples of such comments are:
"But I don't want to you to see my post."
"Why do we have to send it to you first?"
"I can do whatever I like on my page!"

To each of these comments I explained the nature of the blogs we were using. That is, that the blogs are a classroom space and should be treated as such. They are not private Bebo or Facebook pages, which they might also use. In the same way as I collect their exercise books and give feedback, I will look at their blogs and show them how to improve them.

It may be the case that these learners consider their online experience to be something completely within their control, out-of-school, and without relation to what is done at school, and therefore have difficulty conceiving of an online experience like blogging that is an integral part of a classroom programme. I have never seen a student as defensive over an exercise book as some were over their blog!

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