One of the more interesting and instructive stories relating to WikiPedia and web 2.0 from last year (early 2006) was the tale of U.S. Congressional staffers eventually caught “virtually vandalizing” the WikiPedia pages of Congressmen from opposing political parties. These actions resulted in a Wikipedia investigation and a WikiPedia publishing ban on certain US Congressional staffer IP addresses. In the context of WikiPedia and wiki use in classrooms generally, some voice concerns that students will make poor choices that are disruptive and potentially offensive to others. Those concerns are well founded, but cases like this story highlight the importance of addressing issues of ethics and responsible digital resource use both inside and outside of schools. The response of educators to the risks and dangers associated with read/write web use by students should NOT be to ban school access to WikiPedia or prohibit the use of wikis for instructional uses by students. Rather, educators should acknowledge the risks involved in technology uses but also the obligations we have to provide relevant opportunities for learning in formal and informal settings in our increasingly digital information landscape.

Technology continues to provide a window into the behavior of others that often reveals problems and dysfunctions not directly technological in nature. The Foley scandal was one high profile case from last year like this which involved instant messaging. The technology was not “the problem,” but rather the window that revealed the problem. Frequently I think people form negative opinions of technologies, like instant messaging, blogs, and wikis, when they should be more neutral about the tool itself and more critical of the bad decisions and choices some users (but certainly not all) make with these tools. The media often reinforces this bias against interactive digital technologies, unfortunately. Cases like the WikiPedia Congressional staffer vandalism controversey are worth highlighting and discussing with learners of all ages because they stress the importance of ethics and responsible digital citizenship. We need to have more conversations about these topics in our homes and in our classrooms.

looking at the computer together

The article from last month, “Congressional aide admits trying to hire hackers — to boost his college GPA”, reveals more ethically reprehensible digital behavior by another Congressional staffer. Again, technology in this case was not the root problem, but it did provide a window into a problem of ethics and integrity. What are learners of all ages doing in your school and community to help each other understand and PRACTICE responsible digital citizenship? Formal curriculum materials and guidelines for digital citizenship, like that developed by Mike Ribble and others at Kansas State University, can be helpful. Ultimately, however, I am convinced learners need to immerse themselves in “walled-garden” environments which permit safe digital social networking to really understand and internalize these ideas.

In 2007, I continue to advocate for safe digital social networking environments in schools with free resources like Think.com and Imbee.com. I don’t think parents should completely relegate the responsibility to teach digital citizenship and digital ethics to teachers and schools, however. Parents need to be involved in learning about safe digital social networking alongside their children. Club Penguin is the latest digital social networking environment I’ve learned about which appears to be fun, engaging, and moderated for children as well as adults of different ages to virtually explore. In the next month, I plan to do more exploring myself in Club Penguin (along with my wife and 9 year old), and also interview via a skypecast some others I know who are big fans of Club Penguin.

How are you going to personally learn more about safe digital social networking? You can read articles and blog posts about it, but ultimately to understand dsn I think you have to do it yourself. Environments like Think.com are limited to school groups, but anyone can join Club Penguin or Imbee. When we are interacting with others in these environments, teachable moments inevitably arise which provide opportunities to discuss and learn about digital citizenship in a meaningful context. The “wild west” of DSN might be exemplified by environments like MySpace and SecondLife. We need to acknowledge that large numbers of people (young and old) are and will continue to interact in these environments, and strive to help each other acquire knowledge and skills to remain safe but still enjoy the excitement and fun of these interactive environments.

For these same reasons, I think learners in schools as well as in homes should be actively editing and writing the WikiPedia. Students in classrooms should be using wikis to collaboratively author documents. Teachers should create wikis together, and assist their students in editing wikis. We have to walk the walk of digital social networking and web 2.0 use in order to “talk the talk” that is both credible and relevant.

If you haven’t finalized your resolutions for the new year, or are open to adding or amending a new one, consider participating in some different digital social networking environments in 2007. Consider participating with and alongside other members of your own family. When you learn something new from your experiences, resolve to share those insights with others in both face to face as well as virtual formats! Collaborating and learning together is our only hope to remaining relatively well-informed and relevant about the dynamically changing digital culture around us. It is through conversations with each other which have a meaningful context because they flow out of lived experiences (rather than theoretical abstractions) that we can most effectively advance the causes of digital ethics and digital citizenship.

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