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In our talks with researchers and educators about online habits of students, I frequently point to the data as often compiled by groups such as the Pew Internet and American Life project and show how our students are already online...we can choose to join them or not. I share with them the belief that as a teacher, it was my job to prepare the students I was charged with every year for the real world. My job was to prepare them to safely engage themselves with their surroundings. So, if they sped past a stop sign and were pulled over...they couldn't give as an excuse the fact that they couldn't read the sign. The conundrum comes now comes when we extend this discussion to the online communities.
In increasing numbers our children are online, and creating multiple identities while online. For some reason, while it is my duty to prepare them to be safe citizens...I am not to prepare my students to be safe online citizens. There are numerous ways in which I can safely teach my students how to safely interact online. Customizable social networks (NINGs) allow the teacher to create a social network that they build and control all elements of. They can choose who is allowed in, what material is posted, what is discussed. The students are still allowed to build an online identity, but under the watchful eye of the instructor.
As a researcher that studies and tries to understand ways to connect what is happening online and in the streets to what happens in the school....most of this is extremely exciting. But, recently a couple of reports over the last month have brought about some small cause for alarm.
The first is the report by the Council for Research Excellence that exclaims that the average adult is exposed to a little over eight hours a day staring at a screen. This would include televisions, computers, cell phones, ipods, etc. In not having an opportunity to read the report, and dissect the data as UConn has taught me to do, I can not quickly buy into any results. But, knowing my behaviors and those of students I have worked with...I tend to believe that this finding is not far off. The concern for me is that as I have found in my work, adolescents tend to be technologically saavy, but not informationally saavy. They have the toys and tools...but don't know how to use them effectively. Studies like this show that as they move into adulthood, these trends multiply.
The second study shines a little more light on how adolescents deal with and navigate this time spent online. In a report by the Pew Group, the study looks at adults who embrace mobile technology and the connectedness they feel. The results show that "youth", labeled as being in their twenties, sometimes feel overconnected with all these new toys and tools. As shown in previous reports from the Pew project this problem has somewhat been addressed by teens.
As educators, we need to provide opporunties for our students to learn the ways and mean of being a safe internet citizen. In the same way that we prepare them for the world and the future...we need to prepare them for all the worlds and futures they might encounter. But, as adults, we need to begin to take a look at our relationship with the internet and connectivity and learn how to deal with it on our own. We need to take the time to determine what is a safe and healthy relationship to have with technology.
Now...I'm off to answer the 20 emails that piled up on my BlackBerry while posting...