Monday, November 5, 2007

Rules for the Social Web

On Friday, we had the opportunity to participate in a webinar featuring Doug Johnson, a nationally known writer and speaker on school technology and library issues. Doug is the Director of Media and Technology, Mankato School District, Minnesota, and the author of the Blue Skunk Blog (one of my favorites!) The handouts from the webinar are available on Doug's web site. Doug discussed the social web and what schools can do to protect students from harm as they travel to virtual worlds.

What is the "social web," also known as "Web 2.0" or the "Read/Write Web?" The World Wide Web is evolving from a "read only" Web to one that encourages interaction. Web 2.0 is not a separate Web, just a new way of using the existing one. The social web includes social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook, blogs (online journals that invite comments. like the one you're reading), wikis (web sites that invite editing, like Wikipedia), social bookmarking sites (like, where you can save your favorites online and share them with others), and 3-D virtual environments like Second Life. (I haven't explored that one yet!)

Although the Child Internet Protection Act requires that schools filter Internet content that can be classified as "child pornography, obscenity and harmful to minors," the Web. 2.0 opens new safety concerns that aren't as easily addressed by the filters. MySpace received much negative publicity after NBC's "Nightline" ran a story on pedophiles using the site to meet minors. Cyberbullying becomes an issue when students use the Internet to spread cruel messages or images about their peers. And some think that students put themselves in the most danger by posting personal information and images that put students in a negative light when viewed by parents, teachers, coaches, and many other adults who have access to the Web.

So how do we protect these kids from themselves? Educate, educate, educate! Free online Internet safety curricula from organizations such as ISafe and netsmartz can help teachers and parents get the word out. School districts can offer programs on the topic of Internet safety. (Unfortunately, the program Keystone offered to parents and the community on October 4 was poorly attended.)

These new tools of the social web have much educational value, as they allow students to integrate into their learning these resources that they use so effortlessly at home. Districts must balance the need to protect students from harm while providing technology tools that enhance learning, and, as Doug Johnson states, "honors the spirit of intellectual freedom."

Doug's handouts include the following quote from Vicki Davis's "Cool Cat Blog:"

. . . it is not the tools that are inherently good or evil but rather
the use of the tools.
A hammer can kill someone but it can also build a
A nail can be driven through a hand but it can also hold the roof
over your head.
A fist can hit but a fist can also be clasped in your hand
in love.

We do not outlaw hammers, nails, or fists -- we teach people to use them properly. So should we do with blogs, wikis, podcasts, skype, and any other tool that becomes available for use in the human experience!

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