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Friday, November 20, 2009

WoW: The guild effect for teachers

There are lots of good reasons why an assistant superintendent of schools would start a guild in World of Warcraft (WoW) – all laid out in a fascinating profile of the Cognitive Dissonance Guild and its educator members in The Journal this month. But the reason why Catherine Parsons, assistant superintendent for curriculum, instruction, and pupil personnel services for Pine Plains Central School District, N.Y., started the guild was "to uncover education's brass ring: student engagement." A lot of teachers' professional development happens in the guild as well (the name reflects the seeming disconnect between several pairs: public perceptions of videogames on the one hand and on the other hand: 1) what videogames can teach teachers about learning; 2) what massively multiplayer online games can teach teachers about education worldwide when they're all playing a game together; 3) the members' professional development and networking; and 4) traditional or formal learning.

But the members simply aren't feeling any such cognitive dissonance, and their ranks are growing. The guild now has 100 active members around the world – all in the field of education. Here are some things they've learned about learning in WoW: The game "draws on multiple skills across multiple disciplines," higher-order thinking, and problem-solving. Players have to be able to read, communicate, and use analytical and statistical skills (e.g., a statistical comparison of one weapon vs. another). They learn economic concepts such as supply and demand and budgeting. Parsons told The Journal that the four wars going on in WoW pattern conflicts in world history. So players learn concepts involved in social studies and history and "writing and lore." She says players even use a form of statistical analysis in building their characters - what sort of talents to use, what weapons to use. She said 13-, 14-, and 15-year-old students whom teachers can't get to do "those kinds of computations" in class have no problem doing them in World of Warcraft. Tech coordinator Lucas Gillispie, who runs the WoW in School site, "took inspiration from observing that a particular herb [in the game] that allowed his avatar to go invisible was always growing in a thick clump of weeds." He thought of a lesson plan for comparing WoW ecology to real-world ecology.

My own first piece about the guild effect – in terms of online/offline well-being and safety – is here. See also "The power of play" and "Play, Part 2."

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Thursday, November 19, 2009

A lesson in US lawmaker's call for P2P ban

Whether or not even feasible, a call in Congress for a ban on P2P file-sharing by government workers is very instructive for households where kids share a lot of music. The main takeaway: A lot more than music can get shared. But let's back up. The story is that Rep. Edolphus Towns (D) of New York, chairman of the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee is calling for the ban because of "an embarrassing security breach [that] revealed details of dozens of ethics investigations," the Washington Post reports. "The information came from a committee document that a junior staffer had exposed on her home computer, which was using peer-to-peer technology. A non-congressional source with no connection to the committee accessed the document and gave a copy to The Post." Clearly the file-sharing software on her computer wasn't configured to share only music files. And clearly a huge mistake. But if not at the federal level, the solution at the household level is simple: With any file-sharers at your house, look at the preferences and see how they're configured. See which folders on the computer are designated for sharing files – hopefully not income tax files, household budget files, family correspondence, medical files. Personal security breaches have been known to happen. See "P2P's risks: New study" and "FTC on P2P."

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Vietnamese fear Facebook blockage

Vietnam's more than 1 million Facebook users are worried that their government may be blocking the social network site, the San Jose Mercury News reports. "Over the past week, access to Facebook has been intermittent in the country, whose government tightly controls the flow of information. The severity of the problem appears to depend on which Internet service provider a customer uses." One ISP's technician said his company had been ordered by government officials to block Facebook, but senior management said that hadn't happened. "Access to other popular Web sites appears to be uninterrupted in Vietnam, a nation of 86 million with 22 million Internet users."

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Wednesday, November 18, 2009

'Meep,' a principal & students' free speech

It's against school rules to say "meep" at Danvers (Mass.) High School. In fact, it's also apparently against school rules or the law – not sure – for a lawyer in New York to email that indefinable word to the principal of Danvers High because, when she did, she got a reply saying her email had been forwarded to the Danvers police, that attorney blogged. This and other "meep" stories that have been flying around the fixed and mobile Web is actually a story about authority in the post-mass-media age. If it ever got to court, student calls to yell "meep" en masse at some point during the school day, for example, could possibly pass the substantial-disruption test that, if met, courts have said permits schools to discipline students who are otherwise exercising their free-speech rights (see "Court rules on student's blog post").

But could something this fun and nonsensical get to court? I mean, "meep" is the favorite (or only) word in the vocabulary of Dr. Bunsen Honeydew’s lab assistant on The Muppet Show, the Calgary Herald reports (but also the Roadrunner's favorite "word" - remember him?). Which fact only heightens the predicament of Danvers High's principal. School administrators really need to know how the Internet works. As GeekDad points out in his Wired blog, "the principal’s warning sounds awfully like a challenge." Exactly. Attorney Theodora Michaels explains that, on the Internet, "attempts to silence information – or even nonsense – are consistently met with a proliferation of that very information (or nonsense) beyond anyone's wildest dreams. Anyone who tries to stop people's honest criticism of their conduct – especially if they show that they're highly sensitive to criticism (Going to the police? Seriously?) – is likely to be the target of further criticism. Their overreaction becomes a source of lulz," which can have quite a snowballing effect (see for more). Which means that, in the post-mass-media age, authority gets dispersed – or distributed.

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Murdoch & 'fair use'

For students, teachers, and parents interested in the ongoing conversation about the "fair use" of other people's content in the classroom, Web profiles, presentations, blogs, etc., this article in is great: It's the view from two intellectual property lawyers of News Corp's Rupert Murdoch's threat to block Google from searching his news sites (you know, minor sites like the Wall Street Journal's and Times of London). He says that he's trying actually to monetize his content at the same time that Google's making it free. The thing is, Google allows anyone to block its Web crawlers (which index the Web for its search engine) by using the Robots Exclusion Protocol (simply adding that exclusion code into the software code of their sites). So the lawyers in the article think Murdoch "must have other reasons for these threats" (like somehow changing Fair Use law?). [Thanks to teacher and Flat Classroom Project founder Vicki Davis for point this piece out. See also "Remixes & mashups" and "EFF's copyright curriculum for students."]

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Tuesday, November 17, 2009

Afterthought: Social norming & digital citizenship

This is an addendum to my earlier post on digital citizenship. Would appreciate any/all feedback.

About a year ago I heard a great story on NPR about a successful risk-prevention program at the University of Virginia, Charlottesville that "relies on peer counseling, social events and solid information to challenge misperceptions students have about drinking" instead of the less successful rules-and-enforcement programs at most colleges and universities. I thought, "Yes! That's what online-safety education needs!" We'd been working on the "solid information" part for years (often hobbled by misrepresentation of the research in order to scare the public). But more emphasis needed to be on the social and peer-counseling part of this risk-prevention discussion, I thought.

That's where digital citizenship comes in. Peer mentoring, social norming, being there for friends engaged in self-destructive behavior, being the sort of bystander who helps end bullying situations demonstrate the "Internet safety" of the participatory Web. Community – a sense of belonging – further reinforces that peer support. Belonging to, conscious citizenship in, a community is protective. I think that kind of peer support might be more automatic or reflexive in communities of strong shared interest like a World of Warcraft guild, a writers group, or fandom, but if the public discussion about Net safety encourages "users" to view themselves as "citizens" or stakeholders in their communities' well-being, we may see more of this in the huge, more general "spaces" like Facebook and MySpace too. After all, these sites aggregate smaller affinity communities, and Facebook is just a giant collection of its members' social networks, each its own mini community.

So maybe – if we all really focus our messaging and education on this protective, empowering approach, on citizenship – "Internet safety" will be largely preventive (of course with intervention for youth engaging in risk), meaningful to young people, a support rather than a barrier to 21st-century teaching and learning in their schools, and part of the solution to eating-disorder, self-harm, and other self-destructive community online.

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Teen texting while driving: Data

A quarter of teen drivers in the US (26%) say they have texted while driving and "half (48%) of all teens ages 12 to 17 say they’ve been a passenger while a driver has texted behind the wheel," the Pew Internet & American Life Project reports. "Boys and girls are equally likely to report texting behind the wheel as well as riding with texting drivers," Pew adds, and the likelihood of riding with drivers who text grows as teens get older. It's not that they don't understand the risks, Pew senior research specialist Amanda Lenhart suggested, it's just that teens' strong desire to stay connected can outweigh safety. Some related data: 75% of all US 12-to-17-year-olds own a cell phone, and 66% use their phones to text; 82% of 16- and 17-year-olds have a cellphone and 76% of them text. [See also: "Teen drivers: Take a text stop."]

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Monday, November 16, 2009

From users to citizens: How to make digital citizenship relevant

"Digital citizenship" is a rapidly expanding conversation in the online-safety field. Is it one we should be having? Is it relevant to young people, the "citizens" we all have in mind? On a recent conference panel, Prof. Tanya Byron of the UK seemed to suggest not – too abstract or complicated maybe. I agree with her a lot of the time but not on this point, because I think digital citizenship is what makes online safety relevant to the people Net safety is supposed to protect.

In a participatory media environment, focusing on citizenship helps everybody understand that: 1) they're stakeholders in their own well-being online, 2) they're stakeholders in their community's well-being as well as that of fellow participants (because in a user-driven environment safety can't logically be the sole responsibility of the community's host), and 3) they have rights and responsibilities online. Digital citizens have a right to the support of fellow members, as well as of the community as a whole, and in turn the responsibility to provide support as well as cultivate a supportive environment. As my friends at Childnet International in London say at, digital citizenship is about "using your online presence to grow and shape your world in a safe, creative way, and inspiring others to do the same."

Two other recent conversations got me thinking about how digital citizenship might be made even more relevant to youth:

  • A student on a conference panel saying, "My friends and I never read the terms of service." (Of course not; they're written by lawyers.)
  • A colleague in another country wondering if "citizenship" means the same in his country as in mine. ("Digital citizenship" was mentioned a lot at last month's Safer Internet Forum attended by representatives from more than two dozen European countries plus Brazil, New Zealand, and Malaysia - see this account.)

    Continuing the latter conversation, I asked my colleague what it meant to people in his country and, reflexively, he mentioned "rights and responsibilities." We all need to talk about this more, probably, but based on what I heard at the Safer Internet Forum and in this conversation, we have a viably universal, workable concept.

    What do terms of service have to do with it? On the social Web, services (games, social network sites, virtual worlds, etc.), the communities of users they host, and users themselves all have rights and responsibilities. So I suggest that...

  • "Terms of service" are really Statements of Rights & Responsibilities but might at least incorporate language to that effect and have terms of both the site's rights and responsibilities and those of its users. Maybe this would help make the statements more readable. It might also help shift thinking away from a narrow legal focus to a broad participatory approach that fits the current media environment (I wrote a bit about community self-regulation or "the guild effect" here).

  • Service-wide support. Social media services such as Facebook, MySpace, Xbox Live, World of Warcraft, and cellphone carriers support good citizenship, or user rights and responsibilities, not just in terms of service but also in features, documentation, moderation and customer service, and marketing – as an industry best practice.

  • Support at home & school. Parents and educators blend the online and digital versions of citizenship into conversations and lessons about behavior, empathy, social norms, ethics, and critical thinking from the moment children begin using technology, at least in preschool.

    The equation's incomplete without all the above, I think. For example, we can't reasonably expect a social site's support of citizenship to end bullying behavior all by itself, but it can help when backed up by similar messaging in users' homes and schools. But "what's the big deal about citizenship?" we might be asked by teens and Tanya Byron. The simplest answer in the research is that people who engage in aggressive behavior online are more than twice as likely to be victimized (see "Digital risk, digital citizenship"), so the civility of good citizenship is protective.

    But Tanya, I'm right with you: If "digital citizenship" becomes just another term adults use or yet another "subject" students have to learn – if youth don't see it as their ticket to full, rich, healthy participation and membership in the highly participatory media, culture, and society they find compelling – we're talking to ourselves.

    Related links

  • "A [proposed] definition of digital literacy & citizenship" for educators to consider (send your thoughts to anne[at]!)
  • A team of 12- and 13-year-old New Zealanders won that country's national Community Problem Solving Competition with their project "Creative Cyber Citizens," which uses Hector's World to teach younger students digital citizenship. Hector's World is an internationally recognized educational site designed to teach 2-to-9-year-olds online safety and digital citizenship, the latter now being the main focus Net safety in New Zealand. The winners will now work with a college in NZ to raise money to compete in the International Future Problem Solving finals in the US next May.
  • "Parents have rules to follow online too," a post in the Facebook blog by parent and editorial director Liz Perle. Great tips! I only add one: Approach your children/students and their social media use with respect.
  • "Online Safety 3.0: Empowering & Protecting Youth"

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