Thanks to Jim McNelis for posting a link to Wired’s “A MySpace Cheat Sheet for Parents.” Our local paper here in Lubbock, Texas, last Sunday ran a news article about MySpace on page 1 of the life section, (“Cyberspace creates an open window for predators of youth” – get a free login on bugmenot) which was a typical “get scared because pedophiles are out to get your kids online” sort of article. Of course that message has validity, but it is sad these types of articles seem to be the most common these days when it comes to educational technology. Christopher Harris’ reminder that the FUD (Fear, Uncertainty, and Doubt) being fanned by journalists today relative to MySpace should be put in perspective is good advice.

Without a doubt, school administrators and classroom teachers need to be doing a better job helping educate parents about the dangers of cyberspace, like those getting a fair amount of publicity (justifiably) because of social networking sites like MySpace and Xanga. If schools don’t strive to provide this type of educational learning for parents, who will? Certainly parents can read articles like the one in our local paper, but I wonder if those articles really EDUCATE people about what to do, what the risks are, etc. Journalists certainly have an important educational role to play in society, but I wonder how often they strive more for sensationalism rather than educational reporting? Neil Postman would have tended to agree with the former analysis I think, at least if I read his book “Amusing Ourselves to Death: Public Discourse in the Age of Show Business” perceptively.

I think we have a huge need for community centers today that serve as resources for the young, the middle aged and the old. I am not an expert on community centers, but I see a lot of prospects here. Kids want to play computer and console games, and get together with others who do too. I can envision a great role for community centers having at least one day a week for supervised youth gaming in a computer lab. If these get popular (and why wouldn’t they, besides the fact that students in some neighborhoods are too busy with too many scheduled activities already) then admission could be limited by tickets. To get a ticket, students would have to bring a parent or guardian to an evening discussion about Internet safety issues, as well as a discussion about great places to go online for fun and school research.

Maybe this is unrealistic dreaming, but I don’t think so. We DO need to be educating each other constantly, about both the dangers and the opportunities which abound in our 21st century digital environment. I think schools and community centers are natural places for parents and young people to gather around for both fun and learning.

In addition to talking about the dangers and the “dark side” of cyberspace, however, I am convinced students and parents should also learn about the great opportunities which are available via the Internet. News articles like that one in our local paper last weekend about MySpace should be balanced by news stories about the GREAT things happening in our schools and community centers with technology. How students are videoconferencing, instant messaging, and emailing pen pals across the nation and globe to learn about each other’s cultures and environments. How students are developing their research, writing, and oral presentation skills by producing regular podcasts about their community and school. Stuff like that.

But are things like that happening in our community? In our schools? I am not positive, but I don’t think so. I think most teachers and students are content to use computers for Accelerated Reader tests, computer aided instruction, Google-powered Internet research, word processing and PowerPoint presentations. My response to that? Yawn! So much potential, but so little use– especially of disruptive technologies!

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7 Responses to MySpace education

  1. Here Here

    Right on

    I’m positive it’s not happening on a wide scale.

    At our regional tech conference in the Northwest NCCE, Hall Davidson asks the crowd of 2000 tech educators in his keynote, “how many of you do podcasts with kids?”….not one hand went up…shame on us.

  2. Mark Ahlness says:

    Wesley, I agree. Dangers and opportunities – what a strange, loaded combination to have to deal with. I’ll be trying next week when I host a Family Internet Night in my classroom. I think I’ll lead with the opportunities ๐Ÿ™‚ – as I don’t want to lose everybody right off the bat. Figure if I send them home with a few questions about Internet safety in their own houses, that’ll be best. Nobody else is out there for the parents, so it has to be us teachers. It doesn’t help when a local newspaper recently quotes my district as saying (incorrectly) that MySpace.com is not blocked in our schools.

    And Glenn, I would have put my hand up if I was in that room. Now, to be honest, I’ve done exactly TWO podcasts with my kids, but have lots more in the works – they will be out there in the next couple of weeks. Makes me wonder why our corner of the US is lagging so far behind others. I’ve been watching lots of other regional tech conferences – they have a very different feel… – Mark

  3. Wesley Fryer says:

    Good for you Mark, taking on the parent education challenge in your educational sphere. That’s what we all need to do.

    The March 2006 issue of ISTE’s Learning and Leading with Technology (unfortunately not a free download) has a great article on “Digital Citizenship at All Levels.” This idea of digital citizenship is a great one teachers can use in the same conversation with parents about Internet safety. It’s not just about being safe on the Internet, heck, if that is all we want to do we could just ban Internet use. We want students to learn responsible and effective Internet use (which is also safe) so they can thrive in the digital environment. Best of luck in your upcoming preso, Mark. More teachers need to be following your lead! ๐Ÿ™‚

  4. Jim McNelis says:

    Thanks for the mention Wes! I shouldn’t have been surprised but when I brought up cybersafety at a school board meeting, there were some members who had never heard of myspace or the other websites. It’s kind of dismaying. I mean my parents had no clue what I was into when I was a teen, but they actually WERE immigrants (not digital, but Irish!). ๐Ÿ˜‰ We’re all busy professionals and everything, but depending on the media to educate us as parents is asking for trouble.

  5. Wesley Fryer says:

    I totally agree Jim, we can’t just sit back and let parents and others assume the news articles they read in the press or see on TV fully communicate the spectrum of dangers as well as beneficial uses of educational technology. I think technology departments ought to consider taking ths challenge on formally at levels. Part of what they can do in this dialog with parents is showcast the innovative and great things students and teachers in their districts are doing with technology. So this can be parent education as well as district-PR rolled into one.

  6. MySpace represents a gulf between generations. Both young teens and their parents have misconceptions about MySpace. I’ve studied MySpace thoroughly, and I’m writing a book about MySpace safety (“MySpace Safety: 51 Tips for Teens and Parents”).

    Many teens seem to think that what they post on MySpace is visible only to their close friends — they are stunned when they find out a parent or teacher has seen their page.

    Some parents seem to think the answer is to just ban the kids from going to MySpace, or banning them from using the computer. But, that’s banning what is normal behavior for teens today. Today’s 15 year olds have been connected to video and screens and computers for their entire life. This is the world as they know it, and an attempt to ban a perfectly normal way of relating with each other will do nothing more than send their online activities into secrecy.

    On the http://www.HowToPrimers.com web site I’m posting entries that are first drafts for sections of the book. There are so many examples where MySpace provides a capability that’s very nice–but if the MySpace function is used without consideration that you’re posting on the web and that the postings can be read by anyone, then the users themselves introduce risk.

    Hence, my wife and I are writing the book. How many predators are there out there? Plenty (just visit your state’s sexual criminal online registry and you’ll probably be surprised).

    Safety on MySpace is really a lot like safety on a playground. You don’t drop off your kids, go away for a few hours, and hope nothing bad happens. You stay there, play with them yourself, and the would-be predator who strolls down the street sees you there and keeps walking.

    Anyone who says there isn’t danger is deluded. But the real danger is due to parents being inadequately involved, being too computer illiterate to correct the naivete that results in unwitting risk-taking by their young teens and underage MySpace users.

  7. […] In a recent blog post about the media hype surrounding MySpace, Wesley Fryer (Moving at the Speed of Creativity), expresses concern over media sensationalism and their lack of responsibility towards educating people instead of scaring them to death. I agree completely with his views on educating parents, students, and the community as a whole about the many resources and opportunities available online — and available through these kinds of social networking sites. […]

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