Engagement, responsibility and trust

A few weeks ago I was on a panel for a Connected Learning webinar with Howard Rheingold:  Social Media and Peer Learning: From Mediated Pedagogy to Peeragogy.

Webinar archive here…

Early on, Howard talked about the idea that responsibility and trust work together. This is something I’ve been saying for a while. Here’s a graphic that I frequently use in my talks.

empowerment cycle
Feel free to use — with credit!

All these things are interrelated. I think we completely miss the boat when we talk about Digital Citizenship. Mostly it’s about rules and things students shouldn’t do. The word citizenship is such a good clue – it’s about belonging to something bigger than yourself. Engagement is part of that.

You often hear people talk about how technology is so “engaging” for kids. But that misses the point. It’s not the technology that’s engaging, it’s the opportunity to use technology to create something that is valued by the community and by yourself. Yes, a new device can be entertaining for a while, but when the novelty value wears off, what are you left with?

Engagement is not a goal, it’s an outcome of students (or anyone) doing meaningful work. Meaningful to themselves AND to the community they are in. Meaningful because someone trusted them to do something good and they shouldered the responsibility. Engagement is not something you DO to kids or you GIVE kids, it’s the outcome of this cycle of experiences.

Howard was talking about giving students in graduate school the responsibility to be co-creators of learning, the trust that that engenders, and the engagement and empowerment that ensues.

I think this can (and should) happen in K-12 education as well.


Webinars – Addressing youth risk in a positive and restorative manner

from Nancy Willard of Embracing Digital Youth: Addressing youth risk in a positive and restorative manner

Embracing Digital Youth is proud to announce our first two Webinars. Through these Webinars, Embracing Digital Youth will seek to help educators, mental health professionals, law enforcement, and policy-makers engage in prevention and intervention activities that are grounded in research insight, focus on influencing positive behavior and implementing restorative practices, and encourage effective evaluation.

A 2-page Issue Brief for each Webinar will provide insight and recommendations for practice. The Webinars will be available for later viewing in our archive. Documentation will be provided to support professional development continuing education requirements.

Register online at: http://embracingdigitalyouth.org/webinars (Cost $39)

*Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act: What Schools Must and Should Do* – April 5 at 7:00 P.M. Eastern Time.

The Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act added a provision to the Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) requiring that schools receiving E-Rate funding provide students with instruction in Internet safety, including cyberbullying and social networking safety. School agencies receiving E-rate funding must update their policy so they can certify they are providing Internet safety instruction, beginning with funding year 2012 (July).

This Webinar will provide recommendations on how districts can engage in effective multidisciplinary planning to ensure that the manner in which they will provide Internet safety instruction is grounded in accurate research insight, uses effective approaches to promote positive norms and transmit effective skills, and incorporates evaluation to ensure effectiveness.


  • Mike Donlin, Program Supervisor in The School Safety Center of the Office of the Superintendent of Public Instruction for Washington State.
  • Lisa Jones, Research Associate Professor of Psychology at the Crimes Against Children Research Center at the University of New Hampshire.
  • Connie Williams, NBCT, Teacher Librarian, National Board Certified. Petaluma High School, California. Past President of the California School Library Association,
  • Eric Willard, Chief Technology Officer – Community Unit School District 300, Illinois.

*Positive Peer-based Approaches to Address Cyberbullying* – April 26th at 7:00 P.M. Eastern Time.

Schools are struggling to address a new challenge–the hurtful behavior of students when using digital technologies. Addressing this new challenge is difficult because much of this hurtful behavior occurs in digital environments where adults are generally not present. Hurtful interactions frequently occur when students are off-campus, with the damaging impact at school.

How can educators ensure the development of a positive school climate and support positive actions by peers that will be necessary for prevention and early intervention? These three professionals are working on innovative new approaches to enhance these positive peer-based approaches.


  • Patricia Agatston, Ph.D. Licensed Professional Counselor with the Prevention/Intervention Center, a student assistance program in the Cobb County School District, Georgia.
  • Nancy Willard, M.S., J.D. Director of the Center for Safe and Responsible Internet Use/Embracing Digital Youth.
  • Karen Siris, Ed.D. Professor at Adelphi University, Garden City, NY, Principal at Oceanside Elementary, NY.

>> Registration and more information


Cybersafety – do fear and exaggeration increase risk?

Larry Magid, co-director of Connect Safely.org has created a very effective slideshare about how exaggerating the risk of being online actually increases the real risk.

This is perfect for a back to school presentation – it is clear, jargon-free, and aimed at parents.

Do fear and exaggeration increase risk?

View more presentations from Larry Magid
Be sure to view this slideshow all the way to the end, where Larry gives examples of “positive norming” as an alternative to fear-based messages about cybersafety and cyberbullying. Positive norming is when facts are presented about what most people do – and most people do not bully or engage in risky online behavior. Focusing on behavior that is NOT the norm makes it seem like it’s more prevalent than it actually is.
As Larry points out:
  • People, especially youth, can benefit from positive images and role models
  • Creating a culture of respect actually can lead to respect
  • Respectful behavior truly is normal. Most kids do not bully


What’s the “do”? Student iPad implementation choices

This summer we’ve done a bunch of iPad training with students who will be tech leaders in their schools. We had students from 6th-10th grade in about 20 different schools (all with different setups!) It’s been interesting to with so many different schools – because we’ve learned so much from them how many technical and philosophical choices there are when implementing iPads.

Two things that are going to matter greatly are: 1) decisions about setting up the iPads and 2) what you expect the students to do with them.

Very broadly speaking, the iPads can either be set up with group management software or they can be set up more loosely managed (more like the way a normal iPad is set up). Either way you can set the profile to not be able to access anything rated “adult” in the App Store, and not allow any paid App downloads from the iTunes account.

The managed way you have more “control” – some adult will see any download on any machine, can more easily mass purchase Apps, they will be easier to revert to an initial condition, etc. It also matters whether they will be handed out randomly to students or assigned a single user and whether they can take them home.

The managed way makes it easier for adults to monitor and control, the individual way makes it a more useful personal device, but with more ability to “get in trouble” – a typical tradeoff.

What is the “DO”?
Is there an expectation that the students will use the iPads for any “work” or creative application – or are they strictly information appliances? Gary Stager says, “if your primary metaphor for a computer is looking stuff up, it should be no surprise when kids look up inappropriate stuff.”

Hopefully there is some expectation that the iPad will be more than a research tool. If that’s true, there should be a few paid apps for the students – free apps and browsing are not going to cut it for “real work”.

It matters greatly what you expect the students are going to do with the “stuff” they create/find on the iPad. The only ways in and out of an iPad are through the Mail App and the “Cloud”, meaning apps that use online storage. Will the students be allowed to set up the Mail app with school-supplied email accounts? What about non-school supplied email? Can they use apps like Evernote or Dropbox for file management?

If you use web apps and students will be under 13, you need to find out right away what these apps require – many teachers tell kids not to lie about their age on the Internet, and in the next breath tell them to lie about their birthdays so they can use web apps. We strongly urge our schools never do that (and we talk about why directly with the kids.)

Even if you don’t tell them, some will figure out how to set up the Mail app to access their personal email, unless all that is disabled too. (Which makes the iPad a thin, shiny brick.)

Browsing and cybersafety
Internet safety and digital citizenship are not things you can just deal with separately. They are completely dependent on what YOU CAN DO – which is completely dependent on how the iPads have been configured and what the expectations are for doing work. Even if the kids have used computers, the iPads are just different enough from a computer that you can’t depend on previous training and rules.

The browser is where the iPad is most like a regular computer. Safety/rules/filtering/blocking when using the iPad browser are exactly like any other computer on campus. The kids should be let in on what these policies are, not just the “don’t do x” stuff, but the why. The older the student, the more you have to let them in on the policy decisions so they can buy into them and support them. The older the student, the more the actions of peers will influence behavior, not the words of adults.

You can of course talk about intellectual property and citing sources, and practice saving images, URLs, etc. as they do research.

Where to start
Are the students allowed to download free apps from the App Store? If so, teach them how to use the ratings, categories and reviews to find good ones. If these are personal machines, teach them how to use and manage bookmarks in Safari. Practice setting the wallpaper and moving apps into organized folders. (Setting the wallpaper seems trivial but actually hits a lot of basic functionality and allows you to talk about using pictures that are too personal.)

Let them teach each other useful things they’ve found and figured out. They will find amazing stuff. You will need the cable that goes from the iPad to a projector. Get them used to sharing to a group – the wallpaper of them kissing the boyfriend will quickly be replaced.

Many schools start their iPad lessons with the school’s AUP (Acceptable Use Policy.) However, you better read it first. We find that most AUPs are pretty miserably written for kids (and parents) and it’s a waste of time to go over them in any detail. It’s a crime that these are often the only message that parents get about technology – incomprehensible and punitive. Then we ask them to sign that they understand and will obey – there’s some vision of 21st century learning, eh?… (another rant for back-school time…). Seriously – Have the kids write their own rules – usually they will come up with a list that is just fine to start with.

But treat the rules as a living document. Expect to tweak them from time to time – in many AUPs for example, there are rules about not changing settings of the computers. For an iPad, you just have to get into the settings. Don’t just let your rules get stale and breaking them become the only way to get work done. If “bad things” happen, let the kids discuss and amend the rules to cover it.

More complex questions to deal with
Are students allowed to connect to a home computer and add a second iTunes account attached to mom’s credit card? Don’t assume the students won’t figure this out or that this will only happen in affluent communities. What about push notifications or allowing an app to use your location – useful in Google Earth, creepy in Foursquare. What about apps like Skype or chat apps like KakaoTalk. Do the school phone rules apply to iPads that are being used like a phone? If current school rules simply ban phones, you will likely have a gap in your policies since in many ways iPads are more like smartphones than computers.

If the policies are too restrictive, you are going to have to try to get buy-in from the students on why things are locked down – because they will immediately start running into brick walls where the usefulness is diminished – and you will end up playing whack-a-mole with kids who will quickly find ways around the restrictions (many for entirely justified reasons).

The big thing I haven’t mentioned is this… you can’t talk about this with just the students… the teachers have to be on the same page and understand these issues too. Students and teachers should be learning and making decisions about implementation as a team.

In the best case scenario, this not only creates a better educated community, but you will be walking the talk of a collaborative learning community, where everyone is a stakeholder and participant.

In the worst case scenario, if you do some cursory PD and hope it trickles down to the students, or the iPads are so locked down that they are useless — kids and teachers will end up getting blamed for the “failure” of the iPad program. That would just be sad, not to mention a huge waste of scarce dollars.


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Survey reveals disconnect in online safety education

Survey reveals disconnect in online safety education (eSchool News)

  • 81% of school administrators, including principals and superintendents, said they believe their districts are adequately preparing students in online safety, security, and ethics
  • 51% of teachers agree
  • 33% of teachers said they believe their school or district requires a cyber safety curriculum be taught in the classroom setting
  • 68% administrators said they believe the same thing


I think what this shows is that the devil is in the details. Blanket policies about teaching online safety, security, and ethics get lost by the time these policies get to the classroom level. Now stir in the fact that 36% of teachers in this survey say they have received zero hours of district-provided training in cyber security, cyber safety, and cyber ethics with an additional 40% receiving between one and three hours of training in their school districts. Add a dollop of confusion about laws, policies, and the ethics of situations that didn’t even exist a year or two ago. Sift in parents who believe all sorts of different things about what school should allow kids to do online, and bake in an oven of stress about standardized testing in core subjects with no time for “extras” like citizenship, digital or others.

In fact, last year, Julie Evans of Project Speak Up said that students reported to her that teachers who get training in Internet safety restrict Internet access even more out of fear and confusion.

This is a recipe for confusion and confusion leads to paralysis.

I think the answer is evolving towards shared decision-making at all levels (including students), accepting that this is a rapidly changing situation and can’t be “finished”, and moving towards including these lessons into larger programs that address ethics, safety, civics, and community norms of behavior. The more we ghettoize “cyber” safety and ethics, the more likely it is to be misunderstood and dropped for lack of time.


Digital Citizenship Includes Rights as Well as Responsibilities

“Although not all American adults feel this way, the United States seems to have more respect for the rights of parents, schools and authorities than it does for the rights of children. And this includes control over what children can see and where they can express themselves by limiting access to certain websites including (in the case of schools) social networking sites. And while I fully understand the inclination to protect children from inappropriate content and disclosing too much personal information, adults need to find ways to be protective without being controlling. That’s a tough balance but one worth thinking about as we struggle for ways to parent and educate in the digital age while respecting the rights of young people.

So, as we go forward to discuss digital citizenship, let’s remember that citizenship is a two-way street. Citizens do have responsibilities but they also have rights.”

via Larry Magid: Digital Citizenship Includes Rights as Well as Responsibilities.

New – A Parents’ Guide to Facebook

Anne Collier and Larry Magid of Connect Safely.org have released a timely new booklet, A Parents’ Guide to Facebook. This link will take you to a site where you can not only freely download the  PDF booklet, but also an interactive at-a-glance chart with recommendations for how teens should configure their privacy settings with links to the pages on Facebook where they can actually change those settings.

It’s designed to help you understand what Facebook is and how to use it safely. With it, you will be better informed and able to communicate with young Facebook users in your life more effectively. That’s important because 1) if something goes wrong, we want our children to come to us and 2) as the Internet becomes increasingly social and mobile, a parent’s guidance and support are ever more key to young people’s well-being in social media and technology.

If you are a teacher teaching Internet Safety, it’s important to get parents on your side – the side of safe and knowledgeable use. Sharing this kind of information proactively with parents BEFORE a crisis is crucial.

Besides this new Parents’ Guide to Facebook, Connect Safely provides other excellent information about youth, social media, and how to stay safe using (not banning) the Internet in homes and schools.

Open myths, closed responses about ‘digital natives’

The latest issue of the Journal of Computer Assisted Learning (Volume 26, Issue 5 – October 2010 – Wiley Online Library) has a special section of articles on various aspects of the “net generation” and “digital natives”. This is a topic I’ve written about a couple of times, noting that while students may be facile with technology it doesn’t mean they know anything about it. This myth creates misunderstandings and false generational prejudices that may seduce educators into feeling that youth don’t need their guidance and wisdom in this area, when in fact, the exact opposite is true. It also creates excuses for teachers to deny that technology must be incorporated into classrooms. (see Digital natives/immigrants – how much do we love this slogan?)

The Journal has some fabulous looking articles – but I can’t read them. Most of you can’t read them either. It’s a closed journal. Sorry, only for academics and researchers. Here’s the problem. The “digital native” myth is being perpetuated in popular culture, books, and keynote speeches, all easily accessible. These rebuttals, well-researched (I assume), peer-reviewed, and not sensationalized, are locked behind closed doors.

So when teachers hear that the curriculum is being modified to meet the needs of “digital natives” – what can they do? When educators present at conferences about this issue, should they cite the abstract to refute the silly (but free) sloganeering? When they talk to friends, neighbors, teachers, or the school board who think that kids “brains are different now” can they pull from a deep knowledge of brand new, relevant research? No – it’s not available.

I’ve taken the liberty to cut and paste the abstracts from the articles here. But’s that all we get!

Beyond the ‘digital natives’ debate: Towards a more nuanced understanding of students’ technology experiences Bennett, S. and Maton, K. – The idea of the ‘digital natives’, a generation of tech-savvy young people immersed in digital technologies for which current education systems cannot cater, has gained widespread popularity on the basis of claims rather than evidence. Recent research has shown flaws in the argument that there is an identifiable generation or even a single type of highly adept technology user. For educators, the diversity revealed by these studies provides valuable insights into students’ experiences of technology inside and outside formal education. While this body of work provides a preliminary understanding, it also highlights subtleties and complexities that require further investigation. It suggests, for example, that we must go beyond simple dichotomies evident in the digital natives debate to develop a more sophisticated understanding of our students’ experiences of technology. Using a review of recent research findings as a starting point, this paper identifies some key issues for educational researchers, offers new ways of conceptualizing key ideas using theoretical constructs from Castells, Bourdieu and Bernstein, and makes a case for how we need to develop the debate in order to advance our understanding.

Beyond natives and immigrants: exploring types of net generation students G. Kennedy, T. Judd, B. Dalgarno and J. Waycott – Previously assumed to be a homogenous and highly skilled group with respect to information and communications technology, the so-called Net Generation has instead been shown to possess a diverse range of technology skills and preferences. To better understand this diversity, we subjected data from 2096 students aged between 17 and 26 from three Australian universities to a cluster analysis. Through this analysis, we identified four distinct types of technology users: power users (14% of sample), ordinary users (27%), irregular users (14%) and basic users (45%). A series of exploratory chi-square analyses revealed significant associations between the different types of technology users and the university that students attended, their gender and age and whether the student was local or international. No associations were found for analyses related discipline area, socio-economic status or rurality of residence. The findings are discussed in light of the rhetoric associated with commentaries about the Net Generation, and suggestions about their implications for teaching and learning in universities are offered.

Net generation students: agency and choice and the new technologies C. Jones and G. Healing – Based on research investigating English first-year university students, this paper examined the case made for a new generation of young learners often described as the Net Generation or Digital Natives in terms of agency and choice. Generational arguments set out a case that links young people’s attitudes and orientations to their lifelong exposure to networked and digital technologies. This paper drew on interview data from mixed methods research to suggest that the picture is more complex than the equation of exposure to new technologies and a generational change of attitudes and capacities. Starting from the position that interaction with technology is mediated by activity and an intentional stance, we examined the choices students make with regard to the technologies they engage with. We explored the perceived constraints students face and the way they either comply or resist such constraints. We concluded that agency actively shapes student engagement with technology but that an adequate conception of agency must expand beyond the person and the self to include notions of collective agency identifying the meso level as an activity system that mediates between the students and their technological setting.

Debunking the ‘digital native’: beyond digital apartheid, towards digital democracy – This paper interrogates the currently pervasive discourse of the ‘net generation’ finding the concept of the ‘digital native’ especially problematic, both empirically and conceptually. We draw on a research project of South African higher education students’ access to and use of Information and Communication Technologies (ICTs) to show that age is not a determining factor in students’ digital lives; rather, their familiarity and experience using ICTs is more relevant. We also demonstrate that the notion of a generation of ‘digital natives’ is inaccurate: those with such attributes are effectively a digital elite. Instead of a new net generation growing up to replace an older analogue generation, there is a deepening digital divide in South Africa characterized not by age but by access and opportunity; indeed, digital apartheid is alive and well. We suggest that the possibility for digital democracy does exist in the form of a mobile society which is not age specific, and which is ubiquitous. Finally, we propose redefining the concepts ‘digital’, ‘net’, ‘native’, and ‘generation’ in favour of reclaiming the term ‘digitizen’.

via Journal of Computer Assisted Learning – Volume 26, Issue 5 – October 2010 – Wiley Online Library.


Students safest using the internet when they are trusted to manage their own risk

From the UK Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills

Pupils in schools that use “managed” online systems have a better knowledge and understanding of how to stay safe when using new technologies, according to a report published today by Ofsted, the Office for Standards in Education, Children’s Services and Skills.

“Managed” systems are systems that have fewer inaccessible sites than “locked” systems and so require pupils to take more responsibility for their own safety. “Locked” systems make many websites inaccessible and although this ensures pupils’ safety in school it does not encourage the pupils to take responsibility for their actions or prepare them for dealing with systems that are not locked.

Online safety means empowering AND protecting

The online-safety messages most Americans are getting are still pretty much one-size-fits-all and focused largely on adult-to-child crime, rather than on what the growing bodies of both Net-safety and social-media research have found.

… still focuses on technology not behavior as the primary risk and characterizes youth almost without exception as potential victims.

… fails to recognize youth agency: young people as participants, stakeholders, and leaders in an increasingly participatory environment online and offline.

… is still negative, lacks context, and is largely irrelevant to youth.

To be relevant to young people, its intended beneficiaries, Net safety needs to respect youth agency, embrace the technologies they love, use social media in the instruction process, and address the positive reasons for safe use of social technology.

On ConnectSafely.org,  co-directors Larry Magid and Anne Collier offer insightful (and sane!) resources for educators and parents about being safe in the digital world.

  • Safety Tips & Advice
  • News & Views
  • Slideshows & Handouts

Resources like this can help educators and parents move beyond the hysteria about children and the digital world. It’s crucial that adults find ways to include and guide youth in positive exploration and use of these new tools and technologies. Demonizing and criminalizing normal behavior won’t solve anything and creates a climate of fear that alienates people and stifles discussion.

Resources like ConnectSafely.org make me hopeful that the climate is changing and a new maturity is emerging about youth and digital technology.