March 27, 2008

Early reaction to the Byron Report on Gaming and Net Use by kids

While the Byron Report, which I blogged about earlier, is itself is fairly unremarkable, sensible even, it will be the reactions of those in Government, in schools and in homes that will make or break it.

Thanks to Peter at Softease I was brought to a (shock horror) balanced piece in the Telegraph (our right-of-centre rag) about this potential risk:

Let us, by all means, have a clampdown on a dodgy industry and computer classes for grown-ups. Even if we cannot persuade our children to take up jigsaw puzzles, we will be better at ordering our Tesco shopping online. But equipping children to thrive on the internet cannot be learned from any social rulebook or state-sponsored seminars in geekishness.

Online security is best taught in the offline universe. That means giving children, of whom one in 10 has never been read a bedtime story, more parental time... It also means crushing some adult myths of lost innocence.

As Robin Alexander, who is heading the Primary Review of education, hinted last week, we don't have a crisis of childhood. We have a crisis of alarmism. There is a risk that the Byron report, however sensible, will unleash that panic.

Children have always been seen as prey, at the mercy of any demon invented by adults. Just as the wolf did not kill Red Riding Hood, the big bad internet will not swallow up our babies. Some of its risks are avoidable and unacceptable. But children, resourceful and resilient, have always sought a private world, free from adult scrutiny. When playing fields are concreted over, playgrounds deemed out-of-bounds and youngsters plagued either by failure or the pressure to succeed, it's not surprising they retreat into a techno-Narnia

Parents and politicians cannot make this world wholly safe. Maybe the best they can offer, for all the talk of education and crackdowns, is to equip children better to deal with hazards placed in their way by adults. Byron's findings sound moderate and balanced. That may not defuse a media firestorm about the (largely unproved) evils of the internet. As the Queen shouted across the courtroom where Alice sat: "Sentence first - verdict afterwards."

Jolly good stuff. And, unfortunately, maybe correct. The Times concentrates on the comparison of the evils of the net, the evils of gaming and the evils of cancer sticks in its rather mumsy piece, the core message being hidden deep in para five:

She will call for a massive campaign to educate parents, teachers and childcarers about how to ensure that children get maximum benefit from the digital world without being exposed to its dangers.

Quite how we don't expose the danger and educate about it remains to be seen. It's like trying to teach our children to swim with no pool, to look at the view with no window, to come up with metaphors with no Pablo Naruna.


Meanwhile, the BBC has a cryptically entitled video report you can watch ("Children on violent computer games"), which from its title alone seems to immediately go against the spirit of the report. You might be better off watching the news report from this morning's BBC Breakfast, illegally captured at personal risk to life and limb by yours truly:


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Hi Ewan,

Why focus on the big problem of "expose the danger"rather than pragmatic opportunities,parental support. After all the first pool your own child will gain confidence or even learn to swim in, is probably going to be a paddling pool in your back garden, then a community swimming pool with lifeguards, teacher, parents supervising etc. Your unlikely to throw her into the open ocean to start with if YOU or indeed any parent is worried about sharks ( even if the size of the real problem is much less than the media will have you believe), She will be able to learn and gather skills, you can help her assess risk, prepare herself for more dangerous places in these safe home / school community pools as and when she grows older.

Here is a memory for you.

We had enjoyed the excitement of exploring the caves on our way to Devils Bay, it was good to leave other’s behind and find peace in such beautiful surroundings.

Hannah knew that many years ago pirates had left treasure in these caves and if she was going to find some doubloons on the seabed, she had to learn to snorkel.

Hannah aged 5 looked quite comical wearing this pink mask with her face squashed beneath the rubber seals, she was initially reluctant to breath through the mouth piece. In the determined mind of a five year old little Girl, she just wasn’t going to do it, it had that awful smell and felt so uncomfortable. I often present challenges for Hannah, it’s what Dad’s do, although there is a right time and if she is too tired, there is definitely a wrong time. I felt confident that today was a good day to make some more progress with her snorkel and when push comes to shove, she knows she can trust me, (at least I think she does). So after lots of encouragement the snorkel went back in and stayed in as she slowly knelt down into the warm turquoise water.

The Baths is truly a magical place for a little one to learn to snorkel, one of nature’s most beautiful, and although Hannah was too worried to appreciate that at the time, I think she does now.

Small shafts of light burst through each end of the granite cave, with the crowds behind us, all you could hear was a gentle ripple which would caress as it washed over you, the cool air in the shade of the huge boulders made the water feel warm just as if you were in a bath. The texture and shape of the boulders, with their arched walls and curved roof seemed to protect Hannah as she finally plucked up courage and began to lower her face into the turquoise water.

As her heart beat faster, I chuckled to myself as I could hear her breath quicken. She began to sound like a dog panting through her snorkel. Then after just a few seconds more she suddenly jerked her head out of the water and shouted Fish, Fish, Fish, spurting the mouthpiece out, amazed and excited with what she had just seen.

Thanks to those little fish, she was hooked and her natural curiosity meant she wanted more. We chatted about slowing down the dog pant breathing and she quickly learnt how to float and swim keeping her head in the water. Gaining confidence in the safety of the natural pool, she steadied her breath and began to swim in circles chasing those little fish until she was drawn to the deeper blue water beyond. At that moment, together we swam out of the cave to feel the sun on our backs. What would she find out there? Well that’s another story.

There are lots of different pools in which children learn to swim, I wouldn't have jumped into a choppy open sea with sharks swimming around with Hannah no more than you would. Andy Preston

I agree with you entirely, Andy, and think your analogy is apt. What tends to happen, though, is that we end up trying to learn to swim with no water at all and end the process of learning with no water still! It's as you say, exposing little by little to what the potential for good (and bad) can be, but not doing it all via textbook.

I can understand your frustration. It is a shame that outcomes as you put it, “swim with no water or no water still” have a tendency to happen, especially if kids are left high and dry. We have all seen enough unsustainable projects, just like the recent mini-legends. I don't think this needs to be the outcome. However, if you expect educators who have a duty of care to children and or parents to go along with dropping their loved ones into the open ocean it will be.
I share your frustration but wonder if there may be a risk of entrenching the divide between digital opportunities for children and those who are simply not able / prepared to give them. Basically, what are being left hanging in the middle are lots of practitioners fed up with expectations that cannot be met as well as no “no water still” for learners. The risks and negative media coverage continues to create fear and loathing of social networking sites etc and so they are banned with military precision in schools along with disruptive mobile phones etc. Things won't change in a sustainable way delivering BEBO plus the beauty of open blog evangelism, along with a “Death by risk aversion”, health warning.

Indeed this may link the same fear and loathing to creative opportunities for learners afforded to young people by digital technologies, if unsafe online communities are presented as a pre-requisite. Initiatives with real pupils, parents have fizzled out. Surely it is time to accept that maybe there just isn't enough peace of mind amongst the real change agents, communities of pupils and parents, practitioners even if a lead has persuaded the educators to say OK lets give it a go. So asking educators to take a leap they cannot isn’t creating sustainable progress, it may well be entrenching the divide between educators harnessing good stuff, the creative educational opportunities that digital / social technologies provide young people, or indeed helping them to prepare young people for more dangerous online communities. Ownership , Creativity, Differentiation, Authenticity, fantastic, can all enabled with creative practice, digital media and communication in a school pupil parent community, just how big does the audience need to be to create the purpose / energy to make it happen? Wouldn’t it be better to help educators take real steps where the textbooks were being complemented with digital media opportunities but with peace of mind, sustainability rather than the current tendency you are seeing.

Andy, you're overstating the negative connotations of social media and mixing that up with social networking. You're also not picking up on my core message: it's not about using Bebo et al, it's about learning from them and adapting the VLEs and in-school communication tools we already have access to, adapting our pedagogy and the way that students might use these tools.

Your tone, for the vast majority of teachers I work with, is patronising in the extreme, and is exactly the FUD that I hear and see at trade shows.

My message is nuanced, not an extreme. Please don't repeatedly state that it is. The nuance is important: we need to provide a mix of audiences and, yes, we need to end up with students able to cope with and comprehend the worldwide one, since that is where they will operate in the 'real world'. Products like your own, and Honeycomb in particular, provide ideal learning grounds before stepping out there. But they are not the end game, and it is wrong to suggest that they are.

Education is complex, the explanations of how we get to an end game are, too. Safety and the www are not mutually exclusive, and it's not good enough to say that teachers can't and won't understand the nuances to get to the point where we can use the web safely and to effect.

As Byron puts it, parents (and teachers) will have to catch up and stay up with the expectations of young people, which outgrow walled gardens with increasing speed.

Hi Ewan,

I am clear on your messages, re Death by risk aversion, use of social networking sites etc, you gave them in your presentation in New Zealand, which I enjoyed. Couple this with what you have said has a tendency to happen,eg the recent mini-legends, unfortunately it is real. Sorry if anyone feels patronised but the schools we are working with actually wish to explore best of both worlds, children empowered as creative producers with digital media, but safe where safety is needed, because of duty of care, community peace of mind, sustainability.

You bet your next flight ticket that plenty of social media concepts are needed, in addition to perhaps an open blog, which may be a part of the strategy for certain curriculum outputs. However, the vast majority of head teachers, teachers would not touch that approach alone. Perhaps the terms Social Media, Social Networking (which we know have attached so much fear) are a bit too close for comfort, not to miss your nuances.

I am not sure why you think I am suggesting any particular end game. I would however, much rather see more help for educators to take achievable steps towards children enjoying their journey through creativity with digital media whilst in the care of schools than the current tendencies you mention. I am sure you would too. You may think this is a nuance in your presentation message; I seem to be seeing a risk of entrenching the divide between digital opportunities and learners. Hope you agree it is a critical issue and a useful debate either way.

Re exactly the FUD that I hear and see at trade shows. I know you have never paid us a visit. Is this just a generalisation? If so it could be offensive? Trade shows only allow a very limited amount of information to be shared, much better to judge on word of mouth, track record, reference sites etc especially to judge sustainability.

Andy Preston

The mini-legends scenario is not that common, thankfully. That's why there's so much chatter about it. It's rare.

Also, I have never proposed that we use social networks in class, simply that we learn from them.

If there is one thing we seem to be agreeing on, it is the need for gradual moves towards an understanding of how to access the open web, the wild web if you will. Thanks to 'solutions' that you and others provide the safe version will always be around. My concern remains how we wean the kids and teachers into post-school reality, so that they have an opportunity to fail on the real thing, but in the safety of a scenario which is less critical than that which they will find in the 'real' world of work.

It would be tricky to know the size of the problem of initiatives such as mini-legends or the example you gave a while back re 90 bloggers at Haddington. What these examples bring is transparency to the emotion, by that I mean the peace of mind, as well as that driven by duty of care, that is needed for any online community initiative to be developed, supported, sustainable within schools. This appears to be especially true if you want parents to be comfortable / enthusiastically involved. This alongside creative opportunities seems to be a useful co-opt of energy because it can do an awful lot for children’s sense of pride well being, peace of mind as well as achievement. It is good to hear your main concern. However, is weaning into post-school reality with opportunities to fail on the real thing selling to educators? Even when they have been told it is free. Which I have to say,is misleading because it is not free, it costs identity which is sold on and is not something educators can really give away. My concern is about bridging digital divides between educators and confident creative young people. If mixed messages re social media / social networking are entrenching these divides then you have a self fulfilling prophecy of schools with young people trying to learn to swim with no water at all and end the process of learning with no water still!

What do you mean the "size of the problem of initiatives such as... 90 bloggers at Haddington"? It's not a problem - it's been a resounding success. Parents have been involved, comfortable and enthusiastic about seeing what their young children are capable of.

I really don't understand the rest of your point here, though. Identity isn't being 'sold', metaphorically or physically, since teachers and students follow the old rules of thumb for identifying themselves on the web, and always have the information required to make a decision as to whether they, or their children, wish to opt out.

Hi Ewan,

I don’t think we are debating exposure to ‘creative risk’ at all, unless of course you accept my concern that the missed nuance in the messages, you are putting out, quite brilliantly I might add, coupled with the real risks (not creative ones) that educators perceive, cannot take, does actually entrench the divide between digital opportunities and learners! I’m afraid that is the real world and you know it because it is what you have said tends to happen “no water still”. Perhaps this is a much bigger limiter of creative risk than both of us would like.
Re “The alternative is that we are late to, or perhaps never wean children off the 'safe' VLEs, intranets and communication tools.” This sounds like the same kind of extreme, FUD you mentioned in your comment about what goes on at trade shows.
Who do you mean by we here anyway? I would say the “we” is a better-informed parent / child partnership, something echoed / actioned by the common sense of the Byron report. Just because a school invests in something that manages, certain risks unacceptable to them, doesn’t limit options for individual learners. However as you state the tendency for “no water still”, is doing and so may well be losing the opportunity to for more learners to take more creative risk..
I don’t think head teachers are particularly concerned with investment to emulate real world risk in a risk-free environment, I see them wanting to raise achievement through creative practice, personalising learning and co-opting parental support and wanting to embrace these opportunities for their learners a positive pragmatic, sustainable way that manages certain risks but not “creative risk”.
I reworded this para slightly.
After all the first pool your own child will gain confidence or even learn to swim in, is probably going to be a paddling pool in your back garden, then a community swimming pool with lifeguards, teacher, parents supervising etc. Your unlikely to throw her into the open ocean to start with if YOU or indeed any parent is worried about sharks (even if the size of the real problem is much less than the media will have you believe), She will be able to learn and gather skills, her teacher and you can help her ( assuming there is plenty of space in the curriculum) take creative risks, assess other risks, prepare herself for more dangerous places in these safe home / school community pools as and when she grows older.
Re Haddingtons, my perception is based on what you pointed the Naace community at back in May 06. An apology if this isn’t correct.

re the identity being sold, I would say it is, many young people / parents are unaware who to for what purpose. You have written about this on a number of occasions.
Andy Preston

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About Ewan

Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

What does Ewan do?

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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