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.

4 Replies to “Still Searching…”

  1. Omeglegate: I love it.
    That story and your assessment of it being a ‘dangerous’ situation for students — which it certainly was — reminds me of a conversation I was a part of. A group of teachers were discussing what was appropriate behavior during break time. Could kids climb on the wall? Could they walk on the monkey bars? Someone said “if I wouldn’t dare do it as a kid, I would say it’s not appropriate behavior”. The admin at the meeting were quick to address it, which I thought was clever. Instead of ‘coaching like I was coached’, sort of speak, they instructed teachers to ask the questions: do you understand the risks of what you are doing? (you may fall) What would you do if something went wrong? (call an adult to take you to the nurse if you are hurt? Brush it off/walk it off? change activities) Are you ok with the consequences this might bring? (broken arm means you might miss your soccer practices, which you like).

    Evidently it’s not effective use of class time. Was there a conversation about delaying gratification? Managing impulse? Just today I found this article on the effects of cell phone addiction on the brain. Should we be equipping students to manage these impulse? Plus dealing with the obvious child safety issue….

    https://www.sciencedirect.com/science/article/pii/S0306460319313802?via%3Dihub

  2. Your story of Omeglegate reminds me of a situation our fourth-grade students had last year. One student was told to check out a website called Porn Hub from a friend. His friend told him he would see dancing monkeys if he went to this website., so he did! Apparently, there weren’t any filters on to block the students from viewing this material and a group of boys starting watching it while at school. Needless to say, many lessons were learned from both students, administrators, and teachers.

    1. Oops, I accidentally posted before I was done. Sorry about that!

      These types of stories remind me of the importance of teaching students digital citizenship and how to search the internet safely. We cannot hand children computers and expect them not to be curious about what is out there. Schools must provide students with instruction that shows them how to use their devices safely and responsibly. Students need to know the dangers. Common Sense Media seems like a great place to start when teaching students these skills. I need to spend some time as you did to develop a unit that would teach my students digital citizenship. I feel like this is a big area of weakness at my school. If the school isn’t taking the lead in this area, it might be something I can get people doing in their classrooms.

      Thank you for sharing your ideas and thoughts! I feel like I walked away with a lot of useful information.

  3. Love the way that this blog post has been put together. Engaging, thought provoking, geeking out and goal setting all in one post! Omeglegate is a lesson for us all in using technology purposefully in schools. I wonder what the school has put in place now as a result?

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