Archive for the ‘eLearning’ Category

Limit children’s screen time, expert urges via the BBC

October 9, 2012 1 comment

The contributers to this BBC News article might need to extend their audience, or accept that this is a lost cause!

japanese school-bus

japanese school-bus

The comments at the end of the BBC article are interesting and help pose a serious question about the direction we are heading in our homes and schools (not forgetting buses!)

I’m not there yet with my thoughts on this one, but interested in everyone else’s!  Thank goodness for the e-readers, however, with their e-ink, eye friendly screens- these offer me holiday breaks from the glare of my other devices…


Risk-taking is an essential part of development…

I have tussled with my views on eSafety since well before it was ever labelled thus! With an almost Victorian upbringing (but not age!) and no access to television nor computers, throughout my formative years, the influence of my ‘nurture’ has instinctively been to ‘lock things down’ for children, in order to keep them safe and protect them from the undesirable. It has taken me years to understand – largely through experience, research and a bit more independence of thought, that locking everything down simply won’t do.  Indeed I would argue that we place children in more danger by doing so.

Without trying to pretend that I am more knowledgeable than I am, there are some fundamental basics to learning that I think we all understand. Let’s take the development of speech as an example:

1. We learn through imitation; that is why I speak with the accent I have.

2. We learn through making mistakes and having those pointed out to us; that is why some people speak with grammatical accuracy and some do not. During the development of our speech, it is natural to make grammatical errors; such is the complex nature of speaking English that subject agreement is not always logical. Where these ‘errors’ are pointed out, speech is improved. Where it is not, ‘bad practice’ becomes embedded.

3. We learn through experimentation and risk-taking. By pushing the boundaries in our use of vocabulary and in what we read and hear, we learn what is possible and more about ‘what is out there’, extending our knowledge and understanding as we do so.

Okay, you’ve guessed where I am going with this? – over-simplified though it might be:

1. Imitation: I have less of a connection to make with this one, save to say that peer-pressure is involved – ‘My friend is on Facebook, so too must I be’ and of course, this inevitably leads to the making of mistakes.

2. Mistakes: it is natural, and within reason – desirable, for young people to make mistakes – it is a fundamental part of growing up and development. With the way in which eSafety ‘rules’ are moving in this country (as with Health and Safety before it!) we are stifling a key element of our children’s progress. We complain that they are passive and unimaginative, but we do not allow them to explore or to try things out. (Outside of eSafety, this has manifested itself in such developments as children not being allowed to play outdoors, teachers not being allowed to touch their pupils and the reduction in school trips.)

3. Experimentation and risk-taking: ‘Risk-taking’ is a bit of an educational buzz word at the moment. China does it and we don’t apparently. (Yes, I know I’m over-fond of simplification!) It has even been said that it is becoming a Core Skill. (Heather Rolfe, NIESR) By setting Risk-taking as a school objective or target, many UK Schools are setting themselves up for failure – or merely ‘fooling themselves. Increasingly, school policy is written to eliminate any possibility of risk-taking or spontaneity. In protecting ourselves, under the guise of protecting our children, creativity is plain and simply being stifled from the crib on.

Many of the ideas I appear to lambast, I do understand and sympathise with – have even held. I understand that with the changes in the law, key members of our establishments find themselves in impossibly responsible – and frightening – positions. I understand that we all want to do our best to protect the young people around us. My point is not to question this; it is to ask whether or not we have gone, and continue to go, too far in the wrong direction.

In doing so, might the horrible irony be that we are harming the majority, in order to protect from shadowy, unsavoury possibilities?

Might we be producing a generation of young people who are unable to and unwilling to take risks, so afraid have they been made to feel about the possible consequences. Instead of asking, ‘What is the worst possible thing that might happen?’ why don’t we ask, ‘What is the worst possible thing that is likely to happen?’ How much freer might we be, whereas, not to do so leads to equivalents such as not boarding a flight in case it might crash; not visiting the London Olympics lest it is the target of a bombing campaign and indeed, not eating out in case someone has poisoned the food!

Problem finding is oh so easy, but  what is the solution? I would suggest that we accept that the world out there has many similarities to the one we have always lived in and that the dangers posed by the internet etc merely magnify what has always existed. (I never sat in front of a television or computer growing up, but I need more than my 2 hands to count the number of times I was ‘flashed’ at!) I would also suggest that young people today are not quite as horrified by some of the things that horrify us as adults – they have been brought up in a very different way, with access to many different media – bringing them, on a day-to-day basis into contact with what we might not fully approve of.  Although, we may feel this in some ways to be a sad indictment of society, it is a true one and we need to work with practical realities in our efforts to prepare children for their places in the real world.

Over-filtering and blocking access to numerous sites in our schools, keeps us in a legally sound position, but morally, we are doing our pupils no service whatsoever – we merely ‘push’ the problem outside of the school building, intensifying it as we do so. (The increased use of VLEs is forcing us to reconsider this position – and fast.) As teachers, many of us know what the issues are – parents often don’t. We have the curriculum relevance in our schools to be able to educate in these areas. I am a real fan of the 360 eSafety Self Review tool by the South West Grid for Learning:  It seems to work on the very sensible premise that the higher the ‘mark’ your school gains, the less you are likely to have ‘locked down’.  And the reason for that? You will have educated your students to make educated and sensible choices for themselves, freeing them up to take personal responsibility for their actions. What is the point in preventing them from accessing certain sites at school, when they can walk out of the door to the classroom and access it from their unfiltered smartphones? With these devices, they can access it on the bus on the way home and also from the pcs which they have in their bedrooms. This is where the true potential danger lies; that because of our policies and approach, children have neither the experience, nor education to make sensible decisions and their mistakes can become ‘big’ and public very quickly.

Much better to open up, for instance, a low-key chat facility in school, allow them to access YouTube – so useful in so many ways – but all this on a monitored network, where low-level mistakes can be picked up at an early stage and  consequences gradually made clear – all within a safe and controlled environment and with  full communication with parents about what the school is trying to achieve.

With proper planning, effective monitoring, a well-communicated AUP and clear sanctions, all this is possible and desirable. Let them take risks, I say!

No chatting, please!

This is a ‘hot’ topic of conversation at MPoW these days and throughout the country, I believe.  Again, the views expressed are my own, but as usual, I AM right!   (Hmm…)

With the introduction of the latest VLEs, the opportunities to introduce all sorts of  ‘bells and whistles’ abound.  Suddenly, new and complex issues raise their heads, placing leadership teams across the country in challenging, often difficult positions they haven’t found themselves in before.  This is particularly true of schools where the embracing of technology has been later rather than sooner and where there has not necessarily been a clear vision in place. 

As part of  the introduction of our new VLE (Frog if you are interested), we decided to open up a chat facility for our students.  And of course there have been concerns.  On both sides of the fence, these concerns have been understandable, although not all have been well- informed.   Below, I argue the case for allowing our students to use chat, rather than locking the facility down.  Lock down is so, so easy, but does it do our students justice?

Why did we introduce it?  After all we didn’t have to and it would have saved a lot of work and ‘grief’ to simply untick ‘that’ box in the VLE toolkit!

  1. Frog recommends the use of chat, as did other schools who hadalready implemented their VLEs.  They recommend it as a way of encouraging students to engage with the VLE.  Once logged on, the idea is that they will then visit other areas of Frog for more constructive purposes.
  2. More importantly, in my view, is that Chat offers an opportunity for students to make low level ‘mistakes’, within a safe environment.  This is an important element of their eSafety training.  They may not make these mistakes themselves, necessarily, but as they see and hear about other students being disciplined for infringements, they too will learn about boundaries.  It is important that they are educated to a degree that reduces the likelihood of them making mistakes with potentially more serious consequences, outside of school.
  3. It offers students an informal method of communicating with each other, for instance about what they missed in a lesson. This is in keeping with their preferred methods of communication such as MSN,or BBM,  but within a controlled facility.

What we have recognised from the outset – some, but not all of which has been confirmed in practice:

  1. Chatting amongst students may well include inane and time-wasting entries.
  2. Student behaviour on Chat may add to the pastoral ‘load’.
  3. Bullying and unpleasant language may appear on Chat.

Oh dear: aren’t these clear enough reasons to remove Chat? (Addressed by number, as above.)

  1. No: as long as the person responsible for monitoring Chat (and there does need to be an appointed person(s))  is content that the entries are happening in the girls’ own time, this should not be an issue. What is the difference between them wasting time orally and on Chat? There can indeed be useful benefits as far as the school is concerned. More of this later.
  2. The perception that this might add to the pastoral load is not necessarily the case.  There is some time involved in monitoring the Chat facility, but in my experience this can be done quickly, yet effectively.  If borderline activity is ‘nipped in the bud’, the word spreads amongst the students and that behaviour does stop. At the same time students are learning useful lessons about what is and is not acceptable.   Staff, too, can learn valuable lessons about individual students through the way in which they behave and interact in Chat situations.  (Is that really quiet girl in your lesson, quite so quiet when active in Chat?) Again this can help to draw attention to students who have the potential to behave badly – but before they do any real harm, saving pastoral time in the long run.
  3. It is true that Chat opens up the facility for these things to happen, however, my argument in favour of maintaining the facility is twofold.  By behaving like this on our network, we have the evidence to do something about it early and effectively before the behaviour gets out of hand. Those who behave like this are not going to change their behaviour simply because Frog Chat is removed.  They will do it elsewhere, where it is much more difficult for school to obtain any evidence of their behaviour.  The result is that dealing with these issues becomes more time-consuming for the pastoral team.

In schools, do we need extra documentation offering guidelines on the use of Chat?

  • I would argue not.  Students in our establishment are introduced to the AUP in their very first ICT lessons.  In form time, they are introduced to the School Care and Consideration Rules.  Misuse of Chat directly relates to key areas in each of these documents. I believe they are behavioural issues, not Chat issues and should be dealt with as such. An additional document complicates matters, unnecessarily and distracts from the fact that this is a behavioural issue.  The staff responsible for disciplining students can confidently refer to either of the above documents in the knowledge that the rules and regulations therein  have been clearly explained and discussed to students.

Looking ahead:

  • Students could be appointed and trained to take a more active role in monitoring the Chat facility and reporting back to staff, acting as extra ‘eyes’ on the system.
  • The BCS is offering a new eSafety qualification.  Comments are welcome from anyone who knows more about this!
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