Whenever I start to think about the digiverse I’m drawn to the analogy of water and swimming. Learning to swim is something children will do naturally, particularly if the element of fear is reduced or eliminated. Some believe that children should learn to swim while still infants. Certainly, in utero they had an affinity with water, it is their world, and there can be no fear, the rules for survival are implicit. The rules are also implicit once a person has learned to swim, once they’ve learned to trust that they have a point of buoyancy and they won’t sink like a stone.
Soon they learn that their point of buoyancy with full lungs brings their body higher in the water. There’s even a system known as drown proofing that allows one to stay bobbing like a cork, without moving hands or feet, catching a breath on the upward movement before sinking back into the water, only to rise again to exhale and take another quick breath before sinking again. There are basic rules of survival in this situation rules that are intrinsic to the laws of physics, laws that were theorised by the ancient Greek philosopher Archimedes.
Once we have learned to swim, fear of survival in water is a remote and seldom encountered state. Remaining safe is an almost subconscious process. Learning to survive is the key, the very foundation.
Abraham Maslow’s theory of a hierarchy of human needs, the simple triangle with survival at the bottom and self actualisation at the top, comes to mind. Applying this to water, the stages are clear. For some the final stage might even imply insights and understandings of water that extend beyond the mere physical or social perhaps entering more subtle and symbolic realms, but I’ll leave that to Carl Jung.
Learning to swim in the digiverse
Two years ago I began writing about student access to Social Media sites. I argued that:
Incorporating Web2 tools into our practice allows us to adopt a constructivist approach and encourage our students to actively experiment, reflecting on and attempting to solve real-world problems, creating knowledge and discussing what they are doing and how their understandings of this process might be changing.
Much has changed since then. My digital classrooms revolve around Edmodo, with extensive use of Project Based Learning often presented in the TALE Laptop Wrap shell but going well beyond the limits envisaged for the simple Laptop Wrap. Both Blogs (Edublogs) and Wikis (Wikispaces) have been introduced, the latter with rather less successfully than the former. There is an ongoing discussion on digital communication embracing such areas as using search engines and framing searches; accessing data bases; copyright; plagiarism; digital, visual and formal literacy; choice of appropriate fonts; appropriate registers for communication; public and private forms of communication; the rights and roles of administrators, editors and subscribers; the Intranet and Internet. There’s much more discussed but in short we are engaged in the discourse of the digiverse. Yet in all of this our journey is constantly frustrated by filters and barriers. Some I’m able to circumvent using the Department of Education and Communities procedures currently in place, but much remains an ongoing source of frustration. Nowhere is this more apparent than in the blocking of online video services such as YouTube and Vimeo to students.
In my earlier post I also quoted Dr Tanya Byron, from Safer children in a digital world : the report of the Byron Review, who made a fundamental point that at the heart of the matter our focus should be on empowering and equipping children to use technology safely and responsibly. She stressed the importance of promoting safe and responsible behaviours in using technology both at school and home, further stressing on page five of the report that:
Just like in the offline world, no amount of effort to reduce potential risks to children will eliminate those risks completely. We cannot make the internet completely safe. Because of this, we must also build children’s resilience to the material to which they may be exposed so that they have the confidence and skills to navigate these new media waters more safely.
Internet filtering and the educator’s duty of care
As educators we have a duty of care which, to be meaningful and responsive, must be grounded in contemporary realities. In schools today one of the most pressing elements of real life is the social fact that students are extensively engaged with the Internet and social media and that this has a ubiquitous and unfiltered presence in schools. In reality schools are awash with unfiltered access to the Internet. At any time, to make the point once more, students can gain access to any site that they choose using a smart phone linked to the 3G network. It is no longer sufficient to remain relatively passive in the face of this reality, perhaps comfortable in the knowledge that official points of contact with the Internet are filtered.
Duty of care involves actively confronting and dealing with the real life experiences of students, teaching strategies to move beyond mere survival, acquire safe practices in Internet and social media use and to move on as empowered operators to the creative social application of digital technology. If we aren’t doing this we aren’t fulfilling our duty of care.
Crowd sourcing and creativity
Crowd sourcing is a post industrial approach to change and innovation that is unleashing the immense creative power of globally connected social media. It represents a new standard in the productive application of the digital tools that our students are beginning to use. It represents their future, yet it’s in our present.
Tom Hulme, Design Director at IDEO in London and open source innovation pioneer, spoke recently on crowd sourcing, at the Brisbane Ideas Festival. His presentation was re-broadcast this week by the ABC’s Big Ideas Program. Audio recordings of his address can be downloaded from the ABC website. There is also a video of his address.
IDEO has a global network of 16,000 participants from 178 countries who regularly contribute their ideas to the solution of a diversity of human problems. IDEO’s approach is to lift digital relationships and the sharing of ideas well up Maslow’s hierarchy. It affirms Creative Commons approaches and underscore the immense creative potential in the crowd.
As educators we must ask – How do we prepare our students for such developments?
Clearly we are moving away from education based on the industrial revolution and its expectations. Shifts in commercial and business paradigms are rapid and enmeshed with changes in the digiverse. There are new measures of success such as the Design Quotient (DQ), a points based measure of people’s contributions in the crowd. Its a measure of competence in digital communications, networking ability, the extent of someone’s contribution, of their creative insight and their capacity to solve problems.
If education systems in their approach to the digiverse only operate at the survival level, filtering and teaching safe practices as a theory, there is little chance that they will remain relevant.
The DQ which you might see on something like an Open Planet Ideas profile is a measure of just how active someone has been in the inspiration, concepting, and evaluation phases of a challenge that relies on crowd sourcing. DQ also measures the extent of a person’s collaboration, increasing every time they comment or build on other people’s inspirations and concepts. When they take part in a challenge, they build up their DQ by accruing points. Some people are already including their DQ in their CVs and I dare say on Linkedin.
There are growing and compelling arguments for unfiltered access to the Internet in schools. The educator’s duty of care is not merely a question of safety and must also address the direction and relevance of the pedagogical process.