Still Searching…

Photo by Drew Graham on Unsplash

Kids are smart. They are also curious. This allows us, as educators, to tap into their imagination and present problems that they will enjoy solving. It also means that they will ask one another questions and learn from each other becoming some of the best resources that they will ever need. There are times, however, when that curiosity can get the better of a student and lead them down a dangerous path. I refer, of course, to Omeglegate 2016.

Omegle is an online chat service where the tagline is, “Chat with strangers online.” I think you can see where this is heading. Our students’ enthusiasm got the better of them and they were soon hanging out on this platform. Students researched, independently, how to clear their web browsing history, how to enter incognito mode, and how to use multi-touch gestures on their Mac Books. As it turns out they were hanging out on this platform during class times, sometimes with each other and sometimes with strangers. Things came to a head when a student approached our tech director and said that someone had been sending them “strange messages” meant for another student. It soon came to light that students had been sharing tips with one another on how to access this site, how to make sure teachers wouldn’t notice, and how to hang out virtually instead of doing work. To cut a long story short the students were all unharmed but this presented a serious problem to the faculty. How had this happened and what did we need to do to ensure it did not happen again?

What do I want my students to know?

I want my students to be able to access the internet safely and know how to get to what they are looking for. As Unicef’s Children in a Digital World notes we need to be aware of what students are able to access online.

“Even as ICT has made it easier to share
knowledge and collaborate, so, too, has it
made it easier to produce, distribute and
share sexually explicit material and other
illegal content that exploits and abuses
children. “

We had no idea that students were using the technology provided by the school to put themselves in a potentially dangerous situation. This was eyeopening to me that I needed to start my own research into what I wanted students to know. I couldn’t wait for research to just come to me, I needed to get out and find information for myself.

I am lucky, I am going to digress briefly, in that I have always been a nerd. From playing tabletop games of Warhammer 40,000 to hanging out in MMORPGs such as WOW (I was there when vanilla WOW was just WOW). I have needed to use the internet as a research tool. When I don’t know how to do something, I Google it. In the past week alone I have learned how to add a timer to an Imovie project, how to print selected pages from a PDF document, and how to compress video files using handbrake. I love having the opportunity to geek out as part of my job.

I couldn’t be passive about letting information come to me because I needed to start implementing changes immediately. One of the first websites my research led to was Common Sense Media and I have found their resources on digital citizenship to be invaluable. This was my second year using their resources to help build a unit of inquiry into how to be a responsible digital citizen. A huge part of this unit centers around how to stay safe online and how to evaluate web resources for reliability. Common sense media is also a great tool to recommend to parents as they can conduct their own research into the movies, games, and books that their children are interested in.

One thing that really came out of Omeglegate was that I realized that students know a lot more about social media than I do. As I confessed in my last post I am somewhat of a lurker (soon to be reformed.) I now know that I need to keep up on the latest digital trends and apps so that I am aware of how students are using technology. As technology continues to evolve it feels as there is no end to the number of different methods of communication we have available to us. Many of my students enjoy hanging out on Roblox. I had never heard of this game until last year but there are 178 million accounts on it and I class myself as a “gamer.”

As the Living with New Media article points out “hanging out together in a game is important when friends are spread across time and space.” Right now there are many of my students who are waiting to come home to China due to the COVID-19 outbreak. Games are one place that allows them to stay in contact with one another especially if they do not have access to other forms of social media. In his Ted Talk, Herman Narula talks about video games and the power they have in connecting people.

Keeping it (Dis)organized

One area I need to work on now is keeping all of my research in one place. In the past, I sent myself emails. A lot of emails. When I found a resource online I would put the topic into the subject line and then send the link to myself. Then when I needed to find the materials I would search through my inbox and voila, they would appear. Sometimes though I’d like to play tricks on myself. I’d send emails to myself with subject lines such as, “Random Stuff.” I do this for the same reason I write “Misc” on every box when I move house, I think I’ll just remember what was in it when I see it. This is one area I need to work on, I had not thought of using Padlet as an organization tool so starting there seems like a good idea. I promise to try and give it a more inspiring name than “Research” though.

What we do in the shadows

I have a nickname in my family. It was given to me by my niece who, at the time, was 3 years old. My nickname is “Lurker.” The reason behind the nickname is simple. One summer day, my niece got back from Trader Joes, turned to her grandmother and said, “I’m going to go and find Simon. He’s usually lurking around here somewhere.” Lucky me, the nickname stuck. Now I’m not sure if she had my Twitter handle, or if she looked up my Reddit ID and realized I have made a grand total of zero posts since joining. She had me pegged though, my name is Simon Dobson and I am a lurker.

My excuse has always been one of caution, “I’ll just wait until I understand how to use this newfangled doohickey and then I, oh yes I will, be unstoppable in my posts. I shall become a posting machine churning out enthralling comments that shall make the masses laugh and weep in equal measure.” This reality is yet to materialize, perhaps if I stepped out of the shadows and actually became a contributor, or even a creator, I would stand a chance.

After reading, What does it mean to disconnect? (Utecht) I realized I currently spend all of my time online consuming media. I’ve always been proud to part of the 99% up until this moment. Now I am left questioning who I am online. If only 1% of people who view content on the internet are actually creating it then it stands to reason that we are incredibly limited in our digital consumption. I really appreciate what Utecht says about the importance of “Creating creators” in our students. It’s a principle I strongly believe in and a keystone of my personal pedagogy. This article, however, has made me think about how I need to lead my students by example. They all have the confidence to share their creations with me, their peers, and their families so why don’t I? I am quickly coming to the realization that it’s time to step out of the shadows and become part of the 1%.

The 80/20 rule or Pareto Principle mentioned by Utecht is an interesting concept. I had the chance to witness this first-hand in my computer programming class. The students were working with Microbits and Sam Labs tools. They began by following the directions given to them each week to learn the basics of coding. Quickly though there was a splinter group formed of roughly 20% of the students. They started to “Geek out” over what we were learning. They began to ask if they could spend more time working on their own creations and trying to figure out as a team how to create things such as a coffee machine. As the Living with New Media (John D. and Catherine T. MacArthur Foundation) article suggested these interactions were “highly social.” They did research online, asked teachers for help, and worked with one another to share their knowledge quickly becoming experts amongst their peers. These young creators could not wait to share their learning with others. I was reminded of Sugata Mitra’s TED talk on children teaching themselves.

Our students have the motivation to work with and teach one another skills they learn both digitally and offline. They are proud to demonstrate their learning and their creations with each other in ways that they can take charge of. It is time for me to do the same. I am looking forward to emerging from the shadows and sharing my creations with the COETAIL community and others. My first step came a few weeks ago with my first blog post shared on Twitter. This is my second step and my pledge, I promise to stop just lurking and to become a contributor and creator. I might need some help along the way but it seems as though I have already have some folks I can look to for guidance.