Sometimes I feel like, as a teacher at an international school, I am so insulated from the “real world.” Case in point: A couple of months ago my wife came home and was so frustrated with the disruptive behavior of one of her students that she ”was that close to sending him to the principal’s office!” I laughed out loud at her, but went on to remind her that at her former inner city public school in the states this was a daily occurrence for her. But I have to admit that in the area of cyber-bullying my school feels as “real world” as I’d ever want it. Perhaps it’s the ease of access. I teach fourth grade and most of my students have smart phones, access to computers, and a strong desire to communicate on-line. However, just because they have the hardware, it doesn’t mean they’re equipped to use them.
In my classroom my students are very aware that I’m experimenting on and with them. I have to. I’ve learned that if I’m ever going to implement new technology in my classroom I can’t wait until I have all the bugs are worked out or I’ll never use it. So when I launched Edmodo, a secure social network for the classroom, a couple of months ago I knew there would be times that we would hit walls. I developed a very informal responsible use agreement with my class. They were allowed to use the chat feature on the home page to say anything, as long as they treated others the way they wanted to be treated and they did not use language or images that they wouldn’t use in front of their own parents. My students have gone beyond my wildest expectations in respecting this. At least part of the reason for this is, and I agree with Dan Dykwel, president of the Palo Alto Council of PTAs when he says, “Often it’s self-regulating. If somebody posts something nasty, kids descend on them and say, ‘Stop this.'” My fourth graders are not posting anything “nasty” but they often post without thinking about the consequences. For example, one time a group of girls set up a play date without including three of the other girls in my class. This led to some tears and to a wonderful discussion about feelings. It never occurred to the offenders that not including others might feel just as hurtful as saying something mean, but it was. As Danah Boyd states, “Empathy is the core of the problem and the solution.”
I think if we’re going to use it we need to be the ones who teach it. When I say teach it I don’t just mean the technical aspect of using the internet. I think we’re getting better at that. I mean the hard part where we have to roll up our sleeves and show students that being civil online is no different than being civil in person. I think it’s important that a child’s first experience in social networking should not be their own Facebook page, but rather the closed environment that a class wiki or Edmodo page offer. Then, when the teachable moments arise l, there’s someone able to identify them, and offer guidance.