127 posts categorized "GlowScotland"

January 05, 2012

Collaboration 7: Implementing the Wrong Solution

Wrong solution
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Implementing the Wrong Solution

Following on from misdiagnoses, is finding the wrong solution. Learning Management Systems, as described earlier, were the wrong solution to the wrong problem. IT managers were convinced that some IT, instead of some psychology, would help solve the problem of teachers not sharing their work and ideas.

The same's true of those trying to 'protect' young people by not allowing them or encouraging them to post to the open world wide web: the problem is not so much internet predators as the lack of media literacy skills to not put oneself at risk online. The right solution here is not internet filtering or setting school blog platform defaults to 'private', but to set school blog defaults to 'public' and initiate a superb media literacy programme for every student, parent and teacher.

Morten T Hansen's answer is that we need disciplined collaboration, where leaders i) evaluate what opportunities there are for collaboration (where an upside will be created), ii) spot the barriers to collaboration (not-invented-here, unwillingness to help and preference to hoard one's ideas, inability to seek out ideas, and an unwillingness to collaborate with people we don't know very well).

Picture from Noel C

January 03, 2012

Collaboration 2: Collaborating in hostile territory

Hostile Territory
One of seven posts about collaboration and why it nearly always fails to deliver results, inspired by Morten T Hansen's Collaboration.

The quality of the teacher is the number one factor in the improvement of an education system, collaboration is the key factor in improving the quality of that teacher.

Collaboration helps increase academic success, yet most collaboration doesn't work. Here is one of Morten T. Hansen's six key reasons for collaboration failures:
 

Collaborating in hostile territory

Sony was a company that took pride in its decentralised specialist divisions, divisions whose pride led to them competing against each other. When five divisions were asked to collaborate to create a new music behemoth, Sony Connect, the result was disastrous.

The personal computer division based in Tokyo, the portable audio team behind the Walkman, the flash memory player team, Sony Music in the US and Sony Music back in Japan just couldn't work together, so strong was their competition. The PC and Walkman groups released their own competing portable music players, and the Music and other electronics divisions of the company released three competing music download portals. The US group wanted to use flash memory and the MP3 format. The Japan group wanted to use minidisc and Sony's proprietary ATRAC format for music downloads. By May 2004, a very disconnected Sony Connect finally launched and was taken apart by the media and users.

In the meantime, Apple innovated its narrow, well thought-through line of MP3 player products with no competition worth the name. Apple's divisions had, through Steve Jobs and a culture of unity, collaborated on one perfect player. Sony's interior competition had decimated any chance of creating one dream competitive product.

Competitive units (within an institution) cannot collaborate.
(I've added this note after a great comment, below: competition within an institution breaks collaboration. But competition and collaboration are not mutually exclusive. If a leader can unite an organisation in collaboration and turn competitiveness to the outside, then the collaboration will work very well - think: football teams, corporations, or a country of school districts uniting to realise the benefits of scale that come from a nationwide online learning community, rather than letting commercial organisations pick up the financial benefits by uniting to pick off 32 Local Authorities at once.) 

So, then, what does this mean for education? In a school there are many competitive units: individual teachers have, traditionally, been the kings or queens of their manor, the closed-door profession meaning that what happens in their classroom, good or bad, is their responsibility. The result can be a competitive one - "my kids", "my class", "my results". Where teachers are recompensed on performance in any way, even in the form of feedback from superiors, this heightens the sense of competitiveness, making collaboration between teachers in a school impossible. The ingredients of competition - closed doors, one-teacher-one-class, rewards and praise for good performance - may have to be dismantled first, before collaboration can be encouraged.

Between schools within a district, a similar competitive nature exists, if not more so, as schools vie for finite resources from one source - the district. Therefore, for a district to enable collaboration between schools yet more ingredients need removed or altered: funding has to be allotted strictly on a per-pupil basis, not on projects or bids, for example.

Update: Peter Hirst points out further examples of school systems removing competition to enable collaboration, notably in Finland:

Thought I'd link you to an article that intrigued me... The main basis is that by removing competition in Finnish schools collaboration thrives and they succeed - there's no private schools, no school league tables, no performance pay and no standardised tests...

It is no surprise, therefore, that international collaborations of the kind that eTwinning encourages might work better for teachers and schools than collaborating closer to home, but the question that now remains, is collaborating for what? If there's nothing to be lost through competition, there is also, perhaps, a perception that there is nothing to be gained. Cue: collaboration for collaboration's sake.

Pic from Andrew Becraft

April 04, 2011

Why the cloud's important for education: saving $199,995 on one test

Server Farm Cloud Computing
Most school management teams glaze over when you talk about cloud computing. But if I told you that one science test, administered across New South Wales, was delivered for $199,995 less thanks to being hosted in the cloud for one day, rather than on dedicated servers in the education department, would you be interested?

That's exactly what happened, and it sets on a grand scale why the relatively small student-by-student savings we see from digital material being held on a server farm in Texas, rather than a server in the school grounds or Local District offices, are so important in these straightened times.

Such services might be Google Apps being introduced to schools, and the use of web-based "software as a service" (SaaS) programmes such as Every1Speaks to capture and share learning. If schools can look after these pennies, then tens of thousands of dollars and pounds are freed up for teaching and learning.

Using the cloud to cuts ties with out-of-date learning environments

And as more schools feel tied to wonky learning environments that don't really serve their purposes, feeling tied more to the email services provided therein rather than the learning resources themselves, there is a super opportunity to cut ties and bring in the best of breed in email, shared platforms, communication tools and video conferencing on an 'as-needed' basis. This cuts not only the actual cost of services to near nil, but also cuts the educational cost of students using quickly outdated online tools that a school paid for upfront.

Here is the blurb from the Microsoft site, as they explain how their Azure service cut the bill:

The New South Wales Department of Education (DET) is the largest department of education in the southern hemisphere. They wanted to improve the way they conducted Year 8 science tests to replicate what students did in the laboratory and believed interactive online science testing could test a wider range of skills than just pure scientific knowledge. However, DET estimated for them to host an online test for 65,000 students simultaneously would require a A$200,000 investment in server infrastructure. With the help of their partner, Janison Solutions, DET launched its Essential School Science Assessment (ESSA) online exam. In 2010, they trialled an online science exam hosted by Microsoft Azure that went out to 65,000 students in 650 schools simultaneously. Paying A$40 per hour for 300 Microsoft Azure Servers, DET estimated the cost of hosting the online exam for one day was just A$500.

Not only that, but the maintenance and robustness of those servers is handled by the experts, rather than an education department, and if more scale is needed, it gets added on without anyone ever needing to know.

It works on a State level. It needs to start working more on a school by school level.

Pic from Sugree

March 25, 2011

Content is not king

Cory Doctorow

Listening to a presentation in Belfast from m'old colleague Andrew Brown from LTS, he reminds me of this quote from blogger, storyteller and, yes, content-creator Cory Doctorow, pictured:

Content isn't king. If I sent you to a desert island and gave you the choice of taking your friends or your movies, you'd choose your friends -- if you chose the movies, we'd call you a sociopath. Conversation is king. Content is just something to talk about.

One of the key points I've been driving in the past year has been the importance of schools providing places for conversations and exploration to take place, perhaps through a design thinking-based pedagogy and process. Such a process takes the onus off the teacher to be the one preparing resources for children, effectively doing the learning for the youngster. Instead, it forces interaction around content, rather than content to be consumed or 'learnt', to take centre stage.

Pic from Joi

January 10, 2011

Quite possibly the best virtual learning environment in the world

William Bill Rankin
Dr. William Rankin is an associate professor of English and Director of Educational Innovation at Abilene Christian University in Abilene, Texas. He describes an amazing learning tool, a virtual learning environment so successful its engagement levels can be tranched as follows:

  • 86% of participants use it for social knowledge construction
  • 58% for system-based reasoning
  • 37% for counter arguments
  • 28% for harnessing data or evidence to win an argument
  • 11% for model-based reasoning

And the name of this learning platform?

World of Warcraft.

December 04, 2010

What makes an online community explode during snow days?

EduBuzz
In a small Local Authority in Scotland, thousands of students, parents and teachers have been getting together to learn and share their snow-day experiences on an open source blogging  platform. 25,000 visits a day, 1827 posts and 2477 comments were left throughout the three or four days of closed school this week on eduBuzz.org in East Lothian, Scotland.

Disclosures: Throughout 2005-6 David Gilmour, me and a growing bunch of enthusiastic teachers throughout East Lothian set about planning and launching eduBuzz. It's a WordPress MultiUser platform where students, teachers and parents can share their learning as often as they want. In 2005, I ran a project for LTS to look at how to best engage teachers nationally online (each semester we engaged at least two thirds of our demographic: languages teachers). Learning and Teaching Scotland (LTS), the organisation behind the national schools intranet Glow, then funded me part-time for eduBuzz.org's development throughout 2006.

Glow has also been hailed as successful during the snow-bound period in one or two Local Authorities, but it's not really clear how successful - there are no national statistics yet for last week (the only usage information we have are 32 pdfs of rather vague, annualised, local data [how many are unique visits, returning visitors? What's the bounce rate?). From a couple of press stories and tweets it seems to have had about 700 daily clickthroughs on its shortened links, and 900 visits a day in one of its two most active Local Authority areas.

If we were to extrapolate the East Lothian success over these snow days in engaging people online (25,000 visits a day for 15,000 students) then we might have expected at least 415,000 visits from the 250,000 students off school this week. Glow hasn't performed this well, though, so what lessons might be out there for us to learn from the likes of eduBuzz and similar platforms in schools around the world?

What lessons on community has the snow-driven use of online communities shown us?

I was asked in November at a Scottish Government policy consultation:

"If you don't think Glow in its current form is what Glow should be, what would you do differently?"

I don't now know the whole recipe I'd have, but the one we mixed up in East Lothian five years ago has worked better and better over that time, with continued growth. I'd argue that the spike in traffic when snow somes to the country shows that it has a high local or at least Scottish audience. What are the elements I see in eduBuzz that have not been designed into Glow?

  • Make it work as a place where people choose to go. It's not obligatory to go to eduBuzz on a snow day, but a large minority or small majority choose to. It needs to feel like an online microcosm of that one kid's classroom, where the teacher has curated materials and resources and the students make up the vast majority of discussion, more often than not leading it.
  • Make it a place that's easy to get into: we chose eduBuzz.org as a web address and 'brand' because we needed something that a five year old (or a sixty-year-old looking after their grandchild) could remember. It's unique, not a common noun or verb, so it shows up top on Google, even when you misspell it. There is no log in required until the point where you want to write your own personal site post.
  • Make it open, presenting the path of least resistance to engage:
    • read, view or listen to content without having to log on anywhere;
    • leave a comment without logging on (we made the decision to trust people, believing most folk are generally pleasant online when given the trust to be so).
  • Make your management open.
    EduBuzz open meeting David Gilmour, the community manager, almost daily updates the community on its usage, the highs and lows of traffic, how people are using it. He also helps makes 'manual connections' between schools who he spots are doing similar things. Because David, as a person, is so strongly tied to the initiative it means that educators and other users feel they're reaching out to a real person, not a Government body. The Glow team have harnessed tools like Twitter and their blogs to make that connect, too, but the challenge now is finding a way for this to scale without having to pile on more employees.
         As for statistics on usage and openness of leadership, there is huge room for improvement on Glow. Traditionally, Government has seen itself as a corporation: we will not release statistics of how our sites are being used lest they be held against us at a later date. However, showing the community what's working and what's not helps engage them even further in developing better content, better forms of online discussion and, when you're on the up, it makes people feel part of something large and exciting when they can see they're part of a throbbing community.
         East Lothian's then Director of Education, Don Ledingham,  stretched to making the management meetings of the eduBuzz network totally open. Our fortnightly meetings were open to anyone, including those outside the Local Authority, meaning we often had a mix of parents, student teachers, visiting teachers and managers from around the Department coming along to offer their ideas and advice.
  • Provide a social-network-like 'wall' of latest activity so that it's easy to see what's going on elsewhere (we made a mistake in the early days of eduBuzz [my fault ;-) ] of going for a clean, Google (or GlowScotland.org.uk) look - the bounce rate reduced by half the moment we started displaying most recent content on the front page. People tend to rely more and more on these streams of information (you take what you get when you stop off by, and don't worry too much about what you missed from hours/days before) that are well-placed throughout communities (you don't have to go to a homepage to see these streams; they're visible on individual sites, too).
  • Remember the two audiences you have: for teachers you can make this feel about learning, but for students it's about providing a place they can easily connect to their class community (most students in schools are still too young to engage in 'real' social networks, or the ones they do engage in do not unite them together as a class cohort).
         If the idea behind your community is to upload lesson plans and content for learning, then your community will feel like a classroom storage cupboard: dark and slightly threatening.
         If the idea, as it is with eduBuzz, is to provide a hub for the relationships of the individuals within each classroom and each school, then the whole atmosphere changes. It's not about being there to suck down content or to pick up homework that teachers have dropped off for you. It's about seeing your mates. And to take these communities from out behind a password protection, to put the communities out in public, means that these communities can naturally form into networks.

There are a ton of other things that have been 'done' to increase engagement, but the hat tip has to go to the teachers throughout East Lothian who, over the past five years, have come to believe in the benefit of sharing what goes on in their classroom day in, day out. That one principle is the hardest thing for people to 'get', and in East Lothian a significant and increasing numbers of teachers, the gatekeepers of a successful online learning community for schools, have certainly got it loud and clear. Nationally, there needs to be more of a campaign to help educators get to grips with the questions around sharing, issues that stretch beyond education and schools, and issues that too many have not yet understood. As well as being a tools issue, it's a media literacy one above all.

You can read more about the eduBuzz journey and how it grew in the early days to what it is now in my 2008 presentation, We're Adopting - A Social Media Strategy for Schools.

November 18, 2010

What is a community?

"Community is a larger loose group with a common background defined in more focus by a smaller group with a goal who act."

I just came up with that in response to a question around the future of professional development on Scotland's national intranet, Glow. I was quite happy with it. What would you add? (In 140 characters, of course ;-)

November 09, 2010

Do I Have Your Attention?

This is one of my favourite moments in the film, The Social Network, that has been remixed as a beautifully produced piece of Prezi, filmed, and set against the dialogue from the film. It's let down by an apostrophe that doesn't belong and a lack of dictionary or spellcheck use, infuriating since the rest of it is rather clever.

Update: a corrected version and the backstory published now on this blog.

While we're thinking about attention, how often do schools and teachers assume the attention of youngsters, of parents, of our colleagues? My gut feel: nearly all the time.

  • We assume that learners want to learn because they chose subjects.
  • We assume that learners will want to learn because we like the way we do something.
  • We assume parents care about their child's education.
  • We assume that our colleagues want to learn how to do their jobs better/differently.
  • We assume that adults know how to learn on their own.
  • We assume that chuldren don't know how to learn on their own.
  • ...

We need to work consistently at gaining attention, retaining attention and turning that attention into value, much in the same way as a tech startup like Facebook would do (check out Dave McClure's busy but genius presentation on attention and metrics if you want to delve more into how). I'm fairly convinced that somewhere in these tech startup metrics are the assessment tools for the new forms of learning that are emerging, but fighting against assessment structures of old that don't fit anymore.

And in using new metrics to measure success, we can engage in new learning with more confidence, new learning that is almost certainly more likely to get the attention of those around us.

October 18, 2010

[ #ediff ]: I'm neither right nor wrong: Technology Futures in Scotland, a braindump

Our group's brainstorm of Glow from a student perspective
Discussions about how attention, finance and effort get spent on educational technology at a national level in any country all too often get drawn into a "We're right, they're wrong" play-off.
It's been hard trying to formulate some thoughts after a meeting I was invited to last week by the Scottish Government. In Scotland, on the back of one day, at least, I felt the beginnings of a crack of enlightenment in some frank, sometimes painful discussions about where Scotland's educational technology line of vision might head in the future.

The discussion was conducted under Chatham House Twitter rules, in that the points from the discussion could be made public, but the person from whom they emaninated not. It meant that we were able to call it as it was, challenge and question each other for more detail. It does, though, make blogging about the experience tricky. I've been stung too often in the past from people with agendas, journalists who want to just make stuff up and those who oh-so-wisely but oh-so-naively believe it, by those who hear but do not listen.

There are some good roundups of the content of the day, and some of the discussions:

Instead of duplicating those points, I think I'd like to dump some perhaps unrelated thoughts that came up through the afternoon discussion I was part of, looking at learning from a student's perspective and thinking about what that might mean for a national technology for learning strategy.

1. Do we need Big IT doing stuff for us, can we just do it ourselves, or is there a sweet spot somewhere inbetween? With me on the day was Andrea Reid, a Quality Improvement Officer from the south of Scotland, and in her summary of the day she quotes one of her students, summing up a latent tension any centralised or national technology initiatives hold:

I was with a group of P7s and part of their group getting over a high wooden wall, with no footholds ( about 12 feet). It was one of those team efforts where everyone had to get to a platform on the top, and I promptly interfered and gave advice. One boy took himself out of the group and wandered off to the side – completely adamant he wasn’t getting involved. Eventually he came over and said to me – “Look when you stop helping us I’ll get involved.” Point duly taken I backed off and he worked with the others to get everyone over in a really fast time. His leadership and collaboration with the others was outstanding. At feedback later his comment to me was "When you learn to trust us to solve our own problems, you’ll find we can do it and even if we can’t we’ll have tried our best". Clever boy, who had been really hard going in class previously – disengaged and hard work. Big lesson for me…

The assumption that Government knows the problems that need solved and then goes in to sort it all out is one that has blossomed in the last dozen years or so. But, as we hit these times of austerity, it's the lack of cash to go around that's forcing (or allowing us to take advantage of) an attitude of "it's not what your country can do for you, it's what you can do for your country".

Does Government not have to think about how it goes about Big IT, and whether it goes about Big IT projects at all? There were as many of us wanting to see an increased role of an open marketplace as having more investment in the state-run Glow learning platform, in a "where would you put your money" exercise.

2. National technology for learning projects that are about connecting learners, parents and schools seem to have forgotten something: Facebook has all the mechanics required to do this, and the critical mass to make discovery of others easier. Facebook might only be useful for the adults and older students amongst our learners, but where it fails, Moshi Monsters, Club Penguin etc come to fill in the gap. Could we not harness the open market better, rather than trying to compete against them?

3. "Safe" is the (wrong) key word of most national learning technology initiatives. In Scotland, the 'safety' of Glow has been over-stated, and has been used as a crux by some to avoid delving into the issues that Facebook and other social networks and virtual worlds bring in the real world, both for adults and for children.

4. No online service should ever be so unintuitive and hard to use that it requires training to learn how to open it, let alone how to harness it for deeper or more collaborative learning. Design is vital, and has been ignored - is still ignored - in national education technology projects. Get BERG to do it right.

5. The underlying problem for national education technology has nothing to do with technology. We're solving the wrong problem by throwing money at training and code, when the real problem lies in collaboration itself. Collaboration across age, stage and school subject gets more difficult from nursery onwards. Nursery is the fragile balance between schooling, play and life-learning that we should struggle to maintain throughout formal education. Until we get to grips with how to better plan learning, particularly in secondary education, then the vast majority of "collaborative" technology is a wasted effort. We should be looking at how we can have more schools consider their curriculum through the lens of a learning wall, how they can generate truly student-led learning.

6. National collaborative technology projects assumed that the gatekeepers - parents and teachers - think sharing is a good, worthwhile activity. Sharing is a good thing, and is the lifeblood of great creative ideas (no hyperlink to prove it - there's a ton of literature and evidence out there; start off with my delicious links if you like). But vast swathes of teachers don't think so. If there are still relatively few teachers sharing on weblogs, for example, it has nothing to do with the weblogs or other choice of sharing tool, and everything to do with their perception that spending some time thinking, reflecting, committing to (e)paper and sharing that with as wide an audience as possible is a futile, useless, time-consuming activity that competes with many others of greater perceived importance. It would be worth £35m working out how to crack that one first.

7. National technology projects have largely failed to delight. The reason games-based learning is so popular in the past four years more than any four year period prior to this is down principally to the exponentially improving field of video game narrative, graphic, motion controllers, augmented reality and storyline. The second key ingredient in helping this culture spread is a committed (but tiny) team of individuals who can help empower teachers to weave their own stories around those video games, and in turn inspire learners to do the same. Had the Consolarium team been peddling ZX Spectrum text adventures in 2010 I doubt there would have been the same excitement and tremendous uptake of a new set of contexts for learning.

Great technology and national condoning and pushing of it have combined to delight.

While social networks, virtual worlds and social media have been delighting growing numbers since 2005, national technology projects have tended to not only fail to condone their use for learning, but to distract potential users - publish here, not there, they try to persuade us. "Facebook is used by teachers for their personal lives, not for learning" I've been told. But I don't play video games to learn, either, yet I and many others are happy to harness them for learning in a different context.

8. National technology projects tend to see decisions made on beliefs and passions, not on transparent data. I want Glow's homepage to tell me:

  • monthly unique visitors
  • segementation of visitor types: teachers, learners, parents, admins, LTS staff etc.
  • number of pages served
  • dwell time
  • number of unsuccessful log-ins
  • bounce rate
  • percentage of returning visitors each month
  • peak user access times
  • key pages served
I then would love to see data-driven decisions taken as to whether certain elements of Glow are working or not, and a weekly or monthly trial of new ideas to see if the public bite. If data is made public then we can see the rationale for decisions, rather than seeing them being made on gut insinct, the legacy of the project's history or who has been involved at any one point. I could ask for that information monthly on a Freedom of Information request. Or we could just see the decision-making process as transparently as it should be.
9. In Scotland we tend to be happy with being the first in the world, not the best in the world. Glow was the first national schools intranet. It might be the last, too. The implication is that an intranet is the best medium through which to connect learners, teachers and parents on a learning journey. Why is it? It may not be.
Is there something less compelling about the International School Bangkok's portal of learning that Jeff Utecht has kicked off, connecting to the world, where every student and teacher regularly contributes their learning to each other (and anyone else who wants to listen in) through freely available and free platforms?
Or what about the part automated, part teacher-produced feedback mechanisms of the Indian Mindsparks platform, letting students learn new concepts and reinforce their classroom learning on their own terms?
Or what about the transformative power of a teacher simply sharing to the world, in the form of video, what he and his students have made over a week: a village on stilts anyone?

Tinkering School 2010 Seniors - Village Building from gever tulley on Vimeo.

By limiting ourselves to promoting so heavily what we were the first to produce we limit ourselves away from harnessing the great new platforms and communities that others have forged and which are quietly thriving.
10. In 2005 there was little truly great content on the web. In 2010 we're spoiled for choice. Having great content was one of the things Glow was sold on - successfully - in the early days. Like so many other things, the world changed faster than we could have imagined. TED Talks alone prove the huge value we place on world class content but, unlike much of its education content provider cousins, TED found a business model that allows it to make this learning material free, joining its closer cousins MIT Open Courseware et al. As YouTube seeks out new ways to let us rent or borrow content as and when we need it, what role is there left for a tiny national schools intranet as the curator of 'quality' content? Can one group of curators, however greatly qualified and localised in viewpoint, beat the cream of the world's global curators?
11. We don't want to consume content. We want to learn through experiences whose context is relevant and meaninful to me. Too many have told me about their Glow training sessions with this phrase: "We were told that 'this is how you put up your PowerPoints or class notes for everyone to see." The fact is, this is not the kind of learning we want. If someone feels that their learning can be swiftly and easily uploaded to a site in the form of a PowerPoint or worksheet then something is wrong. How can an online experience back up and augment the real world experiential learning we see in some of our best schools? How can that experience each child experiences differently be represented, shared and developed after the fact? It's certainly not through document stores and half-empty forums.
12. We want a sense of audience - sometimes that's beyond our class, school or country. The biggest challenge with any national platform is going to be that word - national. Our students are already empowered to go international every time.

September 22, 2010

Facebook & privacy - research shows approaches that might help young people

Private
Young people do, and they might just care about privacy more than the adults who care for them. That's what I pick up (with all caveats r.e. my reading between lines as well as on them) from the fascinating research on late teens and privacy that danah boyd has published with Estzter Hargittai:

Overall, our data show that far from being nonchalant and unconcerned about privacy matters, the majority of young adult users of Facebook are engaged with managing their privacy settings on the site at least to some extent...

...Based on data collected in early Fall 2009, Pew found that 71 percent of the 18–29–year–old social network site users they surveyed reported changing their privacy settings while only 62 percent of those 30–49 and 55 percent of those between the ages of 50–64 had. While Pew’s practice–oriented data do not measure youth’s attitudes towards privacy settings, the findings do suggest that younger users are conscious enough of privacy issues to take measures to manage which parts of their profiles are accessible.

While the paper is concerned with students in higher education, who have by now left the high school nest, I think there are some conclusions that we could work backwards into high school and even primary school, given that many in late Primary / Elementary are already experimenting with Facebook.

Above all, I'm increasingly aware of how little research we have in Scotland, in the UK and further afield into how young people approach social networking in our countries. Most of what teachers and school-based decision-makers here see is based on "assumptions that all users have a uniform approach to the site and how their accounts are set up are incorrect [leaving] certain user populations especially vulnerable."

I've also observed a marginalisation of any institutional action around how we teach youngsters to use social networking sites effectively in a schooling setting, with the shield of school intranets and virtual learning environments as "safe internets" abounding since 2006 (about the same time Facebook went public).

Notable in the report are some clues as to how we should approach our discussions and learning opportunities around Facebook with young people. Traditionally, in the UK at least, fear has been used as the number one blunt instrument to get young people thinking about privacy. CEOP (the "chop shop") are the UK agency responsible for chasing up and prosecuting instances where children's protection is compromised, yet their voice of "stranger danger" vastly overpowers those that point out the relatively larger benefits of taking some measured risks online.

Let's consider this notion first, as an adult. As an adult running his own company, but also as someone who wants to learn from other's experiences, I have learned and earned more from publishing my mobile phone number (it's +44 791 992 1830) and a safe contact address (i.e. not my home) as well as my general location (Edinburgh, but also other places I might end up day by day through the Dopplr platform).

As a student, what are the opportunities of sharing, though almost definitely not sharing a mobile number? Well, by knowing roughly which network you are part of it helps friends of friends you might socialise or have socialised with outside the structured social spaces one inhabits (school, home life, cliques) to find you and strike up a longer friendship than a happenstance encounter on vacation, at the weekend outing or foreign school exchange. Just an example, of course, which could just as easily have been in the role of Facebook in helping youngsters communicate around their homework or project work of an evening, or the role parents would like Facebook to play in communicating more between school, teacher, students and parents, or the role it might play in sharing learning of five year olds.

Julie Cunningham outlines the hypocrisy of which we're guilty when isolating online privacy in schools without as much effort deemed worth the while offline.

But these arguments, as I say, are all too often drowned out by the far more conservative (and therefore far easier to condone and express in public) attitudes that one should try to limit one's public sharing as much as possible, sharing only with those we know we know we know, the implication having been that we've met them face-to-face. Government officials request features that sound great, like the Facebook panic button, but which actually create more problems for those who really need help. And the argument that employers will not want to see your real life shenanigans online is just too distant a worry for most teens and tweens. That's just not the way the online world works when these youngsters hit late teen-hood and adulthood. We need to educate, not stipulate.

What approaches might work for increasing awareness of privacy management?

One simple approach to helping youngsters get an even better handle on how to manipulate their privacy settings in the way that will best work for them is just to talk about privacy settings. When Facebook prompted their own users to think about their privacy settings with a welcome screen message:

35 percent of users who had never before edited their settings did so when prompted. Facebook used these data to highlight that more people engaged with Facebook privacy settings than the industry average of 5–10 percent (E. Boyd, 2010).

We also learn that “a student is significantly more likely to have a private profile if (1) the student’s friends, and especially roommates, have private profiles; (2) the student is more active on Facebook; (3) the student is female; and (4) the student generally prefers music that is relatively popular (high mean) and only music that is relatively popular (low SD).” Therefore, if we can get friendship groups rather than class groups in school to learn together about these principles,we might stand a better chance of creating a culture of understanding about privacy.

What also shines through this report is that more frequent users of Facebook change their provacy settings more often, engaging more with the concepts of privacy the site throws up:

Experience with privacy settings in 2009
Avoid fear as a means of making young people think about privacy

The main reason we heartily discourage young people from engaging with those they know they know is fear: fear of stalking, bullying or making friends with someone you've never met face to face. boyd points out the shortfall of 'fear' as a tactic for instructing media literacy in youngsters:

While fear may be an effective technique for prompting the development of skills, the long–term results may not be ideal. The culture of fear tends to center on marginalized populations and is often used as a tool for continued oppression and as a mechanism for restricting access to public spaces and public discourse (Glassner, 1999; Valentine, 2004; Vance, 1984). To the degree that women are taught that privacy is simply a solution to a safety issue, they are deprived of the opportunities to explore the potential advantages of engaging in public and the right to choose which privacy preferences and corresponding privacy settings on sites like Facebook serve their needs best. For example, many young people value the opportunities to participate in communities of interest or peer–based production (Ito, et al., 2009). These communities support a wide variety of public practices — they serve as a distribution channel for participants to share artistic creations or promote their bands; they provide infrastructure for participants to learn about their practice or develop new skills; and, they provide a cohort for collaboration. In interviewing teens, boyd (2008) found that some girls who wanted to participate in these public forums were too scared to do so. Fear paralyzed some girls, limiting their engagement with some of the “geeking out” communities that Ito and her colleagues (2009) highlight. Furthermore, by adopting and promoting a gender–differentiated narrative that focuses on women’s safety matters, core issues about privacy that concern both men and women get overlooked. While our data do not allow a direct examination of these questions, future work should examine the role that safety rhetorics and fear play in online participation and practices.

(Emphasis added)

So what are those core issues about privacy that we might be overlooking in our quest to fear youngsters into a media literate approach to networking?

Photo: Private by splorp, shared, publicly, under Creative Commons licence on Flickr.com

About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is a teacher, speaker and investor, regarded as one of Europe’s foremost experts in digital media for public services.

His company, NoTosh Limited, invests in tech startups and film on behalf of public and private investors, works with those companies to build their creative businesses, and takes the lessons learnt from the way these people work back into schools and universities across the world.

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Do you worry that your school or district could better harness its people, digital technology or physical space? Do you want some actionable inspiration, a mentor for a learning journey with your staff?

In a keynote or masterclass we can give them concrete ideas based on experience, enthusiasm fired by a vision of what can be, and backup before and after to make it happen for them.

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