Its Not Spying, Its Parenting!

I was catching up on my now rather long Google Reader “unread” items when I came across an article on the excellent Online Mom blog. The article commented on the arrest of three men in the US accused of raping children they met through an online social network. It is a scary reminder that despite the safety measures put into place by the network concerned (Skout) or any other social network, online predators seem to be able to skirt around these. (Skout suspended their teen community network – see ongoing response here)

When presenting at schools on the issue of keeping our children safe online, I am often asked whether parents should insist on checking their children’s phones and other devices. Some parents seem to feel that this is an invasion of privacy. I completely disagree. Your child’s safety is paramount and trumps any feeling by your child that you are not trusting them. The following paragraph appeared in the article to which I alluded earlier and is an excellent representation on my feelings on this matter :

Kids still make mistakes and it’s important that there’s a parental safety net for when they do. So pick up your daughter’s cell phone once in a while and check a few of her texts; make sure you know what social networks your child is using; pull up the browser history on the family computer and see what everyone’s been up to. It’s not spying, it’s parenting, and in this fast-paced digital world our kids need it more than ever.

Let me hasten to add though, that I do believe it would be best to chat with your child about their phone before simply picking it up and going through it. Open and honest communication is the best way to handle your child’s use of technology. Ensuring that your child feels comfortable speaking to you about his/her online activities and that you make conversation about social networks and online behaviour open in your home, is an excellent way to assist your child in keeping safe online.

Cellphones in the classroom – an African perspective

Through the network of teachers in my PLN I have the privilege of meeting some amazing educators from all over South Africa. One such teacher is Robyn Clark of Sekolo sa Borokgo, an independent school in Johannesburg. We met up at a conference in Pretoria last year and met up again at a conference in Durban last month when we both shared as speakers. What I love about Robyn is her willingness to embrace challenge and change as well as her drive to be a teacher who makes a real difference in her pupils’ lives.

Robyn’s innovative and open approach to the use of cellphones in her classroom is evident of her desire to use the tools available to her pupils to teach them more effectively. The recent call to ban cellphones from schools in South Africa (a short-sighted and, quite frankly, ridiculous call) by the National Association of School Governing Bodies elicited a great deal of response in the media. With emotional responses on both sides of the argument, it is good to see a piece of balanced journalism from China Network Television who recently visited Robyn’s school to see how they were using mobile phones as a tool for learning.

Televised insert available here:

I wonder how the National Association of School Governing Bodies would respond to this?

Well done Robyn!  You are an inspiration to your fellow-educators. Thank-you for being a difference-maker!

Mobile Phones In The Classroom – A Challenge

A recent USA survey has shown that the use of cellphones in the classroom is at a tipping point – click here to read about it.

According to the Developing Telecoms website 90% of all telephone lines in Africa are mobile and market penetration is expected to reach more than 50% this year – representing a total of more than 500 million people in Africa owning a cellphone, several countries have broken the 100% market penetration threshold and some countries’ cellphone markets are growing at more than 100% per annum.

A 2008 research project which tracked cellphone usage among school children in South Africa, specifically in a township school, showed that when pupils used a cellphone for learning purposes they achieved better results than those who did not. When one considers the incredible market penetration of MXit, the popular mobile messaging  service with 27-million subscribers, and the pervasiveness of mobile phones in the youth market, it is surprising that most schools still maintain draconian no-phone policies. Pupils are told that mobile phones are not welcome in the classroom or on the school premises at all. They are told that the one device with which they communicate and share information is not welcome in the place in which they spend 8 hours a day learning to communicate and share information!

It seems to me that a more open approach is required. I recently heard cellphones referred to as “mobile learning devices”. I like this as it sets the tone right from the outset. It says to the student that if you want to use your cellphone for learning it is welcome but if you intend to use it in inappropriate ways and in a manner which will distract you from learning then you had best keep it at home. If our teachers are willing to use mobile phones in their teaching and pupils know what is expected from them, I believe the temptation to abuse this everyday piece of technology at school will be greatly reduced.

Imagine if your pupils could use cellphones in the classroom to record science experiments on video or through a series of still photographs and then upload these to an online sharing site complete with all the necessary notes, observations and conclusions. Imagine allowing your pupils to take their mobile phones on a field trip to interview experts, celebrities, museum staff, curators of national monuments and so on and then using that audio record to produce a piece of primary research or use as part of a report-back session. Imagine your pupils using Twitter from the mobile phones with a class specific hashtag to produce an ongoing backchannel to your lessons. Imagine your class using their mobile phones to record the planting of seeds and tracking their growth for tabulation in a Natural Science module.

The possibilities are endless if only we are brave enough to venture into waters many of our colleagues find frightening.  Are you brave enough? Will you take that first step into a brave new world where your students can use the technology with which they are most familiar to learn about that which they are not?

Innovative usage of mobile learning in schools is starting to take hold, with
forward-thinking educators understanding that today’s students don’t just want mobile learning — they actually need it.