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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!

Okay, here goes…

I know many adults, especially the younger ones I work with and meet, object to being classed as digital immigrants along with the rest of us antediluvian adults.  I, however, AM a digital immigrant who has somehow found myself to be Head of ICT and Director of eLearning!

How? you may ask, but let’s leave that for another post; this is my first one, remember and you’ve got to give me the chance to work it all out.

Having decided that it was inexcusable for someone in my position NOT to have a blog, or to at least have explored ‘that’ world, I have finally taken the plunge.  The pen in the header represents where I have come from – educated at a time when the odd BBC model was beginning to creep into the corner of the occasional classroom, but no-one knew how to use it, followed by many years as an English teacher.  The fact that I don’t feel quite comfortable with the biro, either in practice, or on my header, suggests I am not quite the fraud I sometimes feel! 

Whilst waiting to embark upon my life of blogging, I couldn’t quite decide on a focus: the idea that it should perhaps be worthy and academic has held me back –  there are so many better equipped people out there doing just that.  So, going back to my ‘ immigrant of another age status’, I’ve decided to write for myself – diary style!  And, I’m already enjoying it. The ideas are starting to flow! 

As well as the odd blog, I intend to use this ‘place’ as a repository of everything I find useful – I do know quite a lot about eLearning and indeed about ICT. (Okay, not so hot on the technical side, so just as well we have good support in my place of work! Hereafter referred to as MPoW.)

The hot topics of conversation at MPoW these days are eSafety, the use of mobile devices in the classroom, The Cloud, including the use of Google docs.  So expect lots of references to these in future posts and I hope to have begun to stalk anyone out there who is exploring the same areas!

Categories: education, ICT, misc Tags: , , ,
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