Category Archives: Safety in Cyberspace

A Heartfelt Appeal from a Caring Principal

We live in such a busy world where many morals and values have taken a back seat and parenting styles are vastly different to when we were children. Obviously we need to move with the times and adapt methods of parenting to the issues of the moment, but the bottom line is that common sense should still prevail and parents should still be parents and not ‘pals’.  This came through very clearly in a recent article from our school newsletter, written by our Senior Primary principal, Gareth Allman. With his permission I have posted it below:

Dear Parents and Pupils

As I am going to pen words of caution once again on this topic, I fear that people might believe that I am not a fan of technology and social media, and that thereby my words might lose credibility. Allow me to say that this is not at all the case – I am a huge, albeit amateurish, user of technology!

The role of Blackberry’s instant messaging platforms in the riots on the streets of London is by now well documented. The disturbing video footage of youths going on the rampage and looting stores is a vivid reality check of how something as simple as a phone can create so much damage. It was brought to my attention last week that many of our pupils are playing a game on their phones called ‘AMS’. This is an acronym for ‘ Ask Me Something’. Whilst it could be innocent, this is sadly not the case, with many questions being posed requesting strong lurid and sensual feedback. Now I know I could be perceived as an old crock and that when I was 12, if we had had cell phones, my questions would have been along the lines of, “Do you have petrol for your scrambler?”, or “How many pellets do you have for your pellet gun?” in advance of a walk in the bush! Yes, our children are growing up in a different environment and that’s not going to change. But this does not mean that we throw our arms up in the air, despair, and wish for the ‘old days’. It is incumbent on us as teachers and parents to be pro-active in the management of our children. I would even go so far as to say many parents need to take back the ownership and rights of parenting.

Children need to be checked on. And whilst they might retort with something along the lines of, “Don’t you trust me?”, this is not the essence of child rearing. In fact, parents might well be able to say that you do trust them. You trust that they will make mistakes! And that it is your responsibility to help them to learn from their mistakes.

Children need to be taught that they need to think before they post something. They need to understand that a social media mistake cannot be erased. They need to understand that a bad post can lead to bad reputations. They need to ask themselves, “Will I be comfortable with my father or grandmother reading this?”. It is way too easy to write something and ‘hide behind a screen’. They need to ask, “Will I be comfortable in asking this to an audience such as my class?”  They need to understand that acceptable behaviour is not only required in public space, but in cyber space too. That Scotland Yard warned last week that those inciting violence on Twitter will be sought out and punished, shows the need for smart cyber space behaviour.

A fortnight ago I wrote about positive discipline. The follow through of that is consequences. Consequences are necessary in that they help modify behaviour. They transfer the need to be responsible from the parent to the child and place the problem squarely on the shoulders of the child. If boundaries have been determined for acceptable use of a phone, and they have been breached, take away the phone. Take back your right as a parent and do not fall into emotional games.

So, what are we as a school doing to educate our pupils in this regard? Besides the pastoral care and on-going incidental interventions, some parents may be aware that we are developing our own Life Orientation curriculum so that it is relevant to the needs of our pupils. One module that has been introduced is around the issues of being  ‘cyber smart’. Mrs Stadler has also published a brochure called ‘Staying in Touch’ which was distributed to pupils and parents in the first term. In addition we are in the process of securing a guest speaker to address the Grade 6’s about being cyber smart.

We are all concerned about Keeping Your Kids Safe. This great South African website has some good ideas for doing so. [Click on the words].

Alternatively, use your phone to scan this QR code:

 

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Moral dilemma or just old fashioned?

I’m on a bit of a mission at the moment and forgive me if this sounds like a rant, because it’s just how I feel about the topic of underage use of social media services and communication tools such as Facebook, Mxit, WhatsApp and other such services.

I work in a Senior Primary school where most of the children are between 10 and 12 years of age. A large number of these children (I feel a survey coming on, since I do not like to speculate on statistics) are using Facebook regularly and they also use MXit or more recently WhatsApp on their cell phones. (I know of Grade 4 children using WhatsApp). They also access You Tube regularly and a few of them even post videos on You Tube. So what’s my point? ALL these service have age restrictions on them and 99% of our children are too young to be using them! That raises the question then, are these children using these services without their parents’ knowledge or even worse WITH their parents’ knowledge?

Don’t get me wrong – I am an avid user of social media. I love Facebook and cannot live without Twitter. I know that MXit has changed the face of communication in South Africa and that WhatsApp is rapidly following suit. It is not the services that I have a problem with – my problem is that I am a person who works by the book. I believe rules are put in place for a reason and if they are there to protect children, why on earth would we want to break them? I can only think that ignorance is the problem. Our parents just don’t know enough about the ins and outs of services they allow their children to make use of. And what exactly are we teaching our children if we allow them to “bend” the rules by altering their birth dates? If the parents allow them this now, what else are they going to allow in the future? Where do they draw the moral line? Are these parents not bowing to the very peer pressure they are trying to guard their children against??

I’d really appreciate comments on this post. Am I missing the boat somewhere, or am I just old fashioned?

For your interest, I have looked at the terms of service for the following services to see what the age restrictions are: 

Facebook: 13 years old

MXit: 14 years old (with parental permission)  

WhatsApp: 16 years old

You Tube: 13 years old to view, 18 years old to post videos

The Spin-offs from a conference…

Since attending the inaugural EdTechConf two weeks ago, there have been a few spin-offs worth mentioning (well, some I can’t mention yet – some exciting things in the pipeline.  Watch this space!) 

Firstly, as a direct result of my having attended Tim Keller’s talk on Smart Cyber-Parenting on the Thursday evening, we have managed to secure his services to give the same talk at our school on Tuesday evening, 7 June.  This is such a worthwhile talk and should not be missed by any parent with a tween or teen.  In fact, when I told my daughter who had attended the first talk with me, she asked if she could go again, because she found it so interesting! 

Then, yesterday I got a call from Mathew Phillips at Sun Valley Primary.  He had seen my presentation on ICT integration at the conference and he asked if he could come and spend time with me in our lab, to see exactly how it all works.  So today I had a visitor!  Mathew spent time talking to me and looking around our lab while some lessons were in progress, and then I took him across to our High School where he was given a tour of the ICT Centre and Library as well as our Data Centre.  We also stopped in at the Junior School to show him our Junior School lab.  Mathew was suitably impressed and went home with a lot to think about and mull over.

Lastly, I needed some input about uploading videos into a wiki I am working on, so who did I call on?  Fiona Beal, of course!  Fiona works at Fish Hoek Primary School and, although we have met on a few occasions before, we reconnected at the EdTechConf.  I sent her an email with my query and in the blink of an eye I had an offer of help in the form of a blog post – see here: http://bit.ly/lvZORc

Now that’s the power of conference networking and a great PLN.  We are in this together – why not pool resources and share ideas?  Our students can only benefit from it.

The Best Conference Ever!

On this past Friday and Saturday morning I and two of my colleagues (@folklind and @juanita_o) attended the first ever EdTechConf held in Cape Town.  So often one attends a conference and walks away feeling that your time has been wasted or that it could have been shorter or even that you got nothing out of it.  That was not the case for this conference – in short, it was nothing but excellent.

I was also very honoured to have been asked to be part of a Best Practice Panel discussion and present a short insert on how we handle ICT at my school and which Web 2.0 tools we have used successfully, and I was very pleased to have been able to add to the value of this conference.  In reflection, here are the highlights of the conference for me:

  • The talk by @timkeller (Tim Keller) on Smart Cyber-Parenting – Online Safety for Parents and Kids.  It was nothing short of brilliant.  Extremely informative and brimming with eye-popping statistics to support his talk. (This took place on the Thursday evening before the conference.)
  • The talk on Technophobic Teachers by Arthur Preston (@artpreston) was spot on and very humorous!  We can all identify with members of his Technophobe family in our schools, but as he rightly said – there is help at hand!
  • The panel discussion titled “You put WHAT on Facebook?!” – this was eye-opening and confirmed many of the thoughts and opinions I have on the topic of student-teacher relationships on Facebook.  It also highlighted many legal aspects we need to take into account.  The introduction by Gavin Keller (@gavinkeller) was serious but hilarious at the same time.  Much food for thought!
  • The many people I met, especially those I had been following on Twitter.  How lovely it was to meet them face-to-face!  I also expanded my PLN which is why I was there in the first place.
  • The wonderful tools and resources we were given to take away and explore at our leisure, including a flash drive full of resources and a wonderful session by Maggie Verster (@maggiev) on how to bookmark all these resources in ONE place.

I look forward to ETC 2012 and I hope to take some of my teacher colleagues with me next time.  This conference is not just for the tech geeks and ICT managers.  It is for the teachers who work at ground level, in the classrooms.  They are the ones who need to be there, as they have the most to gain.

A word of thanks to the organisers Tim Keller and Art Preston, as well as the team at The International School of Cape Town, for a very memorable event.  Anyone interested in reading about the conference, log in to Twitter and search for #edtechconf.

Facing Facebook…

I am an avid “Facebooker”. There is hardly a day that I do not pop in to check my news feed and see what’s happening to my “Friends”. Quite often I post a status message, but not always – just when I feel like it. Unfortunately though, I pop in a for a “quick” look and before I know it I’ve lost 30 minutes or more, reading all the status updates, checking new photos added, ‘liking’ pages and more. The reality of it is that Facebook is a time thief – 10 minutes turns into an hour in the blink of an eye, stealing what could be productive time; time which could have been put to far better use, if one had to be honest, that is. It is also a fantastic social networking tool and has enabled me to connect with people I haven’t seen or spoken to in 30 years and it is for that very reason that I can’t resist it.

However, neither of the above is why I am writing this post today. I have just come across a post (thanks to Twitter – another one of my “vices”), by Vicki Davis or @coolcatteacher which touches on aspects of Facebook which I have brought to the attention of our parents and our staff – the issues of ‘friending’ our own children and the ‘friending ‘of our students.

Before I carry on, let me say that the Internet is NOT and does not have to be the huge ogre that it is made out to be. It is an awesome resource which, when used wisely and responsibly, is the most amazing tool available to children adults alike. It is our duty as parents and teachers to give our children the tools to make use of this wonderful resource in a safe and responsible way. However, the consequences, when it is NOT used responsibly or in an unmonitored manner, can be very nasty indeed.

Back to Vicki’s post. It is an excellent read and provides some excellent insight into the Friend settings on Facebook, many of which most people are not aware. She also touches on the issue of underage Facebook users, which is something close to my heart. I’m a real stickler for following rules as I believe that rules are put in place for a reason. If you may only be on Facebook from the age of 13, then so be it. That is why my own daughter does not have a Facebook profile – she’s only 12, and I will cross that bridge when she turns 13. As for parents who allow their underage children on Facebook, well I have always advocated that these parents should ‘friend’ their children with the idea that they can keep an eye on their children’s Facebook activity as a protective measure. Vicki’s post has put a completely new spin on this and gives excellent reasons as to why this is possibly not a great idea.

Vicki also addresses the issue of teachers ‘friending’ their students. I do not approve of this, as I feel it is unprofessional, especially at primary school level when there is a great difference between teacher and child in terms of interests and experience, not to mention age. Do your students really need to know what you did last weekend or what your friends have to say about you? I think not, but that is my personal opinion entirely.

Please read her article for yourself. Whether you disagree or not, it makes good reading: Cool Cat Teacher Blog http://bit.ly/gstwVV

For similar or related posts:

Unsocial Social Media – http://bit.ly/hMwuct

Why Teachers Need to Use Social Media – http://bit.ly/gSr

Virtual ‘hanging with friends’ (where, when, how…) – http://bit.ly/f83qpO

What’s the right age to give a child a cell phone? – http://bit.ly/fphnJd