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Learning through social networking. ‘Social Capital’ vs Mitigating Risk March 28, 2010

Posted by teachandreflect in Uncategorized.
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As I approach the end of my reading on this issue I’m concluding that both sides of the debate have very strong and quite persuasive arguments. But both sides also seem to be lacking the kind of empirical evidence needed land the knockout punch. To grossly oversimplify matters, in the one corner we have ‘the education authorities’, implementing measures (i.e. content blocking, restricting access to popular social networking sites, creating closed artificial ones) that they believe will protect our children from harm whilst operating within the physical or virtual school grounds.  We as parents and citizens expect and pay our government to provide this level of protection when our children are in its care. There is plenty of evidence available to support the view that strangers and bullies can and do seek to cause harm to children when using social network sites. As Notley and others have argued, sometimes the actual location of such harmful encounters is misunderstood or misconstrued, and not at all linked to activity on popular networking sites. However, instances have occurred, and are likely to occur again, and I feel it is right for governments to exercise a healthy degree of caution when determining these types of policies. Even one or two children harmed in circumstances where such harm could have been prevented is a cause for government and societal concern.

However, Notley, Byron, Moyle and Co. suggest a philosophical approach which would empower students to make the appropriate, independent choices about their online activities. After all, the minute they graduate college or high school, these folks need to be able to take care of themselves, right? How are they going to do that if they have been equipped with the critical thinking skills and literacy to operate in the now obiquitous online world? Unfortunately for scholars holding these quite defensible views, there may not yet be sufficienct empirical evidence to support a case for building ‘social capital’ in a way that justifies the full removal of safeguards to our children’s psychological welfare.

Perhaps, in the end, there is a danger in seeing this as one of the many dichotomous debates in education, for there is some degree of compromise and flexibility on both sides of the coin. As noted in my earlier post on the NSW government response to the laptop controversy, and as seen in the UK government’s endorsement of Byron’s report, governments do appear to be exhibiting more flexibility in these realms. Likewise, sensible advocates of the educational utility of social networking like Kathryn Moyle have not thrown the policy baby out with the bath water. While Moyle argues that we should embrace openly available online technologies in our teaching, she still acknowledges that these activities should be ‘secure, with appropriate access to the content being held as required by the respective members of the school community’ (2010, p.5) .

Provided everyone in this debate continues to have the interests of the child at heart, a collaborative approach is best. And we would all be better at doing that if we had been networking socially from an early age, no!?

Byron, T. (2008).  Safer children in a digital world: The report of the Byron Review, Department for Children, Schools and Families, and the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, United Kingdom.

Crook, C., Cummings, J., Fisher, T., Graber, R., Harrison, C., Lewin, D., Logan, K., Luckin,R., Oliver,R., & Sharples, M. (2008).  Web2.0 Technologies For Learning: Current Landscape – Opportunities, Challenges and tensions. BECTA, United Kingdom.

Moyle, K. (2010). Building Innovation: Learning with Technologies. Australian Council for Educational Research: Victoria, Australia.

Notely, T. (2008). ‘Online network use in schools: social and educational opportunities’. Youth Studies Australia 27(3):20-29.

Office for Standards in Education, Children’s services and Skills [Ofsted]. (2010).  The safe use of new Technologies. Ofsted: Manchester, United Kingdom.

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