This year I decided my grade 9 class would join the Digi Teen project, an amazing global collaborative project dreamed up by Vicki Davis and Julie Lindsay. As participants in this project my grade 9 technology class is engaged in researching different aspects of digital citizenship and collaborating with peers from other countries to edit Wiki pages. They are also participating in a Ning Educational Network within which they can get to know their teammates and other students from around the world. It is the experiences both I and my students are having on this Ning that I want to share.
Story 1 – “The teacher and the chat room”
I was the most nervous about involving my students in the Ning as I knew that it had potential to ring alarm bells with the parent community at my small private school on Vancouver Island, and I took pains to do my due diligence in informing parents and having conversations with my students around issues of personal and private information, digital etiquette stereotypes. I also made sure to check in on the Ning periodically to make sure everything was ok.
During one of these visits I stumbled upon the Ning chat room and realised that somewhere around the world there was a class of students on the Ning and in the chat room. Most of the chat seemed to be the students saying hello to each other in various ways, but a couple of the comments were quite inappropriate. So, being an administrator on the Ning I did what I thought was best and deleted the chat immediately.
But the comments kept coming and I was pretty sure that some of the were meant to be hurtful to others. So I decided to join the chat. Heart racing I entered a comment something like ‘Hey guys I’m a teacher over here in Canada and I’m concerned that some of what you are typing isn’t very appropriate”. I knew it sounded pretty stuffy but was at a loss to express myself properly in such a limited medium. As was expected l got some quick replies along the lines of ‘we are just having a bit of fun’. So I started typing away trying to express myself when I started getting replies of a much different nature. More apologetic and thoughtful.
What had happened was that their teacher in Australia had gotten wind of the chat and had taken the opportunity to talk to the class about it. What a learning opportunity! To follow up I started a discussion thread on the Ning asking ‘Where do you draw the line between having fun online and being innapropriate’. And I was really pleased to see some of the thoughtful replies posted by some of those Australian students.
So what is the take away lesson from this experience. I think it is that there is a lot of value in allowing students to make mistakes in an environment like the Ning where they can make mistakes and learn from them. I was nervous about the Ning component of this project because of the potential for my students to make mistakes on a public site, but if they are never given a chance to really fully participate in real world experiences then how are they ever going to learn how to navigate these experiences successfully.
Story 2 – “The war in Iraq”
This story is much shorter. One of my students started a discussion thread on the Iraq war. A tricky discussion to have when schools from both the USA and Middle East are involved in the project. The response she received from a girl in Quatar was incredibly mature and balanced. You can find it here if you are interested.
This short story has really reinforced for me the power of these global collaborative projects, and it’s not over yet. I wonder what other teachable moments and wonderful connections will happen next?