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Friday, February 08, 2008

Social networking in the classroom?!

There was a debate going on recently over at The Economist, and the pro-social-networking side won. For parents or anyone interested in social networking's benefits and not just its risks, let me zoom you in on a very meaty discussion, starting with points from the Economist debate's opening arguments, both pro and con (not answers, not just good food for thought): From Prof. Michael Bugeja at Iowa State University: "Facebook or MySpace are programmed for revenue generation, especially the vending of marketing data and the advertising base that can be established because of that data. To do so, those networks rely on technology developed by military (to surveil) and industry (to sell). The fact that both happen simultaneously is no fluke because the programming is designed to amass psychographics on users too busy depicting each other like products to notice the surveillance.... Social networks advertise access to this diverse world while simultaneously confining users to affinity groups so as to sell, sell, sell."

From Ewan McIntosh, Scotland national education technology adviser: "In Scotland, I've been fortunate to work with thousands of school children and hundreds of teachers, creating mini social networks based around a rather traditional 'social object': the classroom. Students have been empowered to publish not just their best work, but the many drafts it takes to get there. They've received feedback from 'real' people outside school and, surprisingly often, the occasional expert has paid a visit.... Importantly, they've received more communication, feedback and interest from the one group they value most: their parents."

US social media researcher danah boyd wrote a blog post about the debate, saying she's frustrated with both the debaters' opening arguments, giving her reasons and making this central point: "In their current incarnation, social network sites ... should not be integrated directly into the classroom. That said, they provide youth with a valuable networked public space to gather with their peers."

I don't think these three experts disagree, actually. My takeaway is that MySpace, Facebook, Bebo, etc. themselves - with their user-psychographic aggregation and commercial goals and with their users' purely social goals - don't belong in the classroom, but none of the arguments seem to rule out the educational "social networking" US teacher Vicki Davis has adapted for her Flat Classroom Project, which turns classrooms in multiple countries - 3 across the US and 4 classrooms in China, Austria, Australia, and Qatar - into their own learning social network. Don't miss Vicki's detailed description in her comment at the bottom of danah's blog page. Parents and educators alike would find the Flat Classroom Project (the name a take-off from author and New York Times columnist Thomas Friedman's The World is Flat) an inspiration - see this blog post from Vicki's co-founder Julie Lindsay in Qatar, which includes an email exchange with Tom Friedman. For the perspective of young social networkers themselves, see this interesting blog post from UK tech educator Terry Freedman.

Related link

  • Here's teacher Sue Waters on why educators need to understand social networking and what about it should be taught in schools: "We need to teach people about SNet-iquette (Social Network ettiquette), and the positive and negative effects of their online 'behaviour' and how they are creating an online 'digital footprint.' I believe educational institutions should be 'leading the way' in educating people about these things. Therefore, by encouraging staff and students to use these sites as educational tools, we are encouraging the conversations necessary for people to work out what is, and what is not, appropriate in an online environment."

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  • Thursday, February 07, 2008

    Teens posting personal info: Study

    For their safety online, kids have been cautioned for years not to give out personal information online. Well, we now know from researchers at the University of New Hampshire's Crimes Against Children Research Center that giving out such info isn't in itself a safety risk (see "New approach to online-safety education suggested"). We now have further insights into teens' info-sharing practices in the Journal of Adolescence. Here's what Profs. Justin Patchin and Sameer Hinduja found: "Many youth have recently embraced online social networking sites such as MySpace to meet their social and relational needs. While manifold benefits stem from participating in such web-based environments, the popular media has been quick to demonize MySpace even though an exponentially small proportion of its users have been victimized due to irresponsible or naïve usage of the technology it affords. Major concerns revolve around the possibility of sexual predators and pedophiles finding and then assaulting adolescents who carelessly or unwittingly reveal identifiable information on their personal profile pages. The current study sought to empirically ascertain the type of information youth are publicly posting through an extensive content analysis of randomly sampled MySpace profile pages." Among other things, Patchin and Hinduja found that...

  • 8.8% revealed their full name.
  • 57% included a picture.
  • 27.8% listed their school.
  • 0.3% provided their telephone number.

    They concluded that "the problem of personal information disclosure on MySpace may not be as widespread as many assume, and that the overwhelming majority of adolescents are responsibly using the web site." Here's the very long link to their article.

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  • Wednesday, February 06, 2008

    MySpace opens to widgetmakers

    Like Facebook, MySpace has opened its doors to people who create parasitical little software applications for profiles on its site. It's offering developers tools to create these little apps riding on its "platform," the New York Times reports. Called "widgets," they can add a lot of fun and functionality to users' experience on MySpace and could make the site that much more "sticky" for its users. Adds the Times, "MySpace has always allowed users to embed external programs, sometimes called widgets, in their pages; companies like YouTube and Photobucket got their start on MySpace’s back, in fact. But MySpace will now overtly endorse and attempt to nurture that widget ecosystem" and allow widgetmakers to make money from the applications they build.

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    Social sites safer than chat, IM: Study

    Parents, don't just talk with your kids about social networking - chat sites and instant messaging really need to be in the conversation too. Despite the news media's focus on social-networking sites as the locus of online child exploitation, it turns out chat sites and instant-messaging are where most sexual solicitation and cyberbullying is happening. But even in those "places" online, "only 15% of children [aged 10-15] experience unwanted sexual solicitation and only a third report being harassed online," reports HealthDay News, citing a new study in Pediatrics. Here's the difference found between social sites and IM or chat: 4% of the nearly 1,600 children surveyed "reported experiencing an unwanted sexual solicitation and 9% reported being harassed while on a social networking site. Solicitations were reported 59% more often in instant messaging and 19% more often in chat rooms than social networking sites. More surprising, harassments were reported 96% more often in instant messaging than in social networking sites," say the study's authors - Michele Ybarra of Internet Solutions for Kids and Kimberly Mitchell of the University of New Hampshire - in the study's press release. Their advice for parents: "Internet safety is not just about whether your child is on MySpace or not. You should know what your children are doing on MySpace and Facebook. But you also need to know what your children are doing in school, after school, at parties, at the mall, online - basically all environments in which they engage."

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    Tuesday, February 05, 2008

    PC Magazine on parental controls

    Parents might be interested in the latest reviews of filtering and monitoring software here at PC Magazine. The top-rated products are Net Nanny 5.6, Bsafe Online, Safe Eyes, and Webroot Child Safe. Note that these are "client" software products you install on the family computer. If you have the latest operating systems on Mac and Windows PCs, you can simply configure and use OS-level parental controls that are pretty feature-rich. But all these - OS or client - work only on the computers they run on. Kids' access on any other Net-connected computer or device (including those at friends' houses and, increasingly, cellphones) can be unfiltered, which means it's also good for kids and parents to work together on testing and using the filters between kids' ears: critical thinking and media literacy! Here, too, PC Magazine's parental-controls buyers' guide - a little old, but still offering good advice.


    Monday, February 04, 2008

    18-year-old registered sex offender

    He was 17 when he downloaded child-abuse images. From the news reports, we don't really know why he did so. We do know that when he was interviewed by prosecutors, he "made full admissions," saying "he had no idea why he had done it," and "had no previous convictions, cautions, warnings or reprimands," the Hemel Gazette reports. We also know that "he had been spending a lot of time isolated and alone on his computer" because, his attorney said, "he had been bullied at school. At the beginning of 2006, when he was 16, he was beaten unconscious in the street by a gang, including bullies from the school." His sentence is a fine and two years of community service, and he will be on his local sex-offender registry for five years.

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