Here in the United States, we live in a relatively free society compared to some other nations. North Korea and China come to mind first in this regard, but there are many others too where individual freedoms are more sharply limited and restricted. I highly value and treasure those freedoms, and try not to take them for granted.
Online, learners young and old often have a great deal of freedom as well. I think this is an inherently good thing. User-created content (UCC), also known as User-generated content (UGC) or consumer-generated media (CGM), allows degrees of freedom which often make teachers, principals, and other traditional caretakers of students in schools very uncomfortable and nervous. The basic reason for this, in my view, is that schools are typically organized to support the value of CONTROL over the value of FREEDOM. Digital technologies, and the Internet in particular on the other hand, tend to support the reverse: Freedom over control. This tendency is something Robert Bork identified in his book “Slouching Towards Gomorrah” several years ago, when he quoted another author (whose name I don’t recall, unfortunately) who observed that “technology tends to be on the side of anarchy.”
This is a philosophic way to begin sharing a few reflections on the subject of virtual vandalism. Virtual vandalism is, of course, not new and I think it’s here to stay. It’s a part of life in a free society and on a relatively free Internet. (Barring many K-12 school networks, of course.) The fact that learners of any age can use digital communication tools in constructive or destructive ways should be at the heart of many conversations in our homes and classrooms about digital citizenship and ethics.
Before sharing the examples below, I’d like to preface my comments with several important observations.
- I love the web-based, interactive digital storytelling environment which is VoiceThread. I am not affiliated or financially connected/renumerated in any way by VoiceThread, my passion for using this tool and sharing it in presentations and workshops comes strictly from the great value I think this environment has for learning and interactive communication.
- The VoiceThreads I have created along with my own children and others I’ve helped in workshops over the past couple of years have been commented on by hundreds of people. Amidst these comments, VERY, VERY few have been negative or objectionable. When I have contacted VoiceThread staff about a concern, they have been quick to respond appropriately.
With those statements in mind, I’d like to share some reflections about an example I think points to our need to encourage constructive media creation in our schools and homes. Yesterday and today, for some reason VoiceThreads on my account received many more comments than usual. This Safari RSS bookmarks bar screenshot shows 23 new VoiceThread comments for today. There were actually a few more which I viewed today before deciding to record a screencast and post these thoughts:
Students and learners in general are so UNFAMILIAR with the experience of creating and authoring content online, in many cases I think, that the opportunity to “scribble” on a VoiceThread digital story strikes them as a fun, funny, and desirable experience. This is a screenshot of one of the comments I deleted this evening from my then-3 year old’s VoiceThread, “Getting a New Haircut.” This is a very popular VoiceThread online, showing up (currently) on the first page of results when you click “Browse” on the VoiceThread homepage. Since I still have comments open for this VoiceThread, sometimes people like to scribble as this person has:
My first thought is that parents and teachers should turn kids who want to do things like this on VoiceThread loose for hours on TuxPaint, a free / open-source drawing and painting program for kids. There kids can scribble to their hearts content!
Of course one of the most exciting and attractive things about the Internet today and the social web is the fact that what we do can be seen by others, so the experience of drawing on a private, non-web-based drawing on TuxPaint is likely very different than the experience of being able to comment and potentially vandalize a VoiceThread digital story created by someone else.
There is another thought which comes to mind when I see virtual vandalism on a site like VoiceThread, however, which is the point I want to strongly emphasize in this post. We need to encourage and guide our children and students to constructively use their powers at the keyboard rather than destructively hurt or vandalize. I recorded a 3.5 minute screencast this evening and uploaded it to YouTube using SnapZ Pro X to demonstrate and discuss this idea, in the context of a recent VoiceThread comment my son’s “Washington DC Experiences” VoiceThread attracted.
This is the description of the video screencast I posted to YouTube:
This is a brief reflection on something which is inevitable with user-created content: virtual vandalism. I believe as educators we need to provide opportunities and guidance for students in the constructive uses of media, so they can channel their creative energies in edifying and beneficial ways. Of course it’s ultimately up to individuals to choose how to act, but we should try to guide them toward constructive commenting as well as content creation.
I am not whining or complaining about relatively harmless comments like this on VoiceThread. I do want to make the point that we need to give kids more opportunities to constructively create and share media. This is a key element of our statewide “Celebrate Oklahoma Voices” oral history and digital storytelling project. We need more projects like this in our schools and communities.
If you are a teacher connected to any of the students who left any of these scribbled or rude VoiceThread comments, please DO NOT interpret the message of this blog post as a request or suggestion that you stop using VoiceThread! Quite to the contrary!
Rather than stop the conversation, I encourage all teachers to use situations like this as teachable moments to discuss the importance of representing ourselves and our schools/organizations positively on the open web. We also should discuss the real effects our words, drawings, and actions can and do have on others with whom we share them.
Let’s take the need for conversations about digital citizenship, safe digital social networking, and cyberbullying prevention seriously. If you don’t start the conversation with your children and students, who will?
Internet users as well as cell phone owners have TREMENDOUS powers literally at their fingertips today. Just as the holder of the keys to this sports car could choose to make wise or foolish choices, we all can do the same at the keyboard or on our cell phone.
What are we going to choose to do with the amazing powers at our fingertips today?
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On this day..
- Embed Twitter Widget in Dot Net Nuke (DNN) Website - 2015
- Disadvantages of Openly Sharing Media - 2014
- Yukon Students Learning Computer Programming with Scratch - 2013
- Introduction to the Common Core State Standards by Karen Robertson - 2012
- An Iterative Google Search (with advanced options) solves a MS Word File Saving Problem - 2012
- Learning about Glass Blowing in Santa Fe, New Mexico (videos) - 2011
- Good Memories from Denton and UNT - 2011
- Virtual DNA Fingerprinting Lab (1 to 1 Learning in Yarmouth, Maine) - 2011
- Brainstorm & Find Available Websites with DomainStorm - 2011
- Getting Creative with Windows Live Movie Maker on a Netbook - 2010