Communicating a planned strategy for the purpose of adoption was exactly the purpose of the Walled Gardens blog post for EdTech 541. I wrote the letter from my own point of view to administrators and/or parents. In my early EdTech courses I was discouraged from using Edmodo because of concerns about safety for our students. Not only were they worried about adult online predators, but students bully one another. The blog was meant to allay fears and explain how an environment could be set up that provided a very reasonable amount of privacy and safety. I discussed password protected meeting sites for students that would keep unwanted eyes out and make anonymity impossible when students were commenting on the site. Privacy settings for various types of sites (social media, photo sharing, Google Docs, etc.) could also help ensure that students are protected while using the web for education. The argument was made that while there are safety concerns, there are also many benefits from students interacting with kids from other cultures and countries (Cofino, 2010). Using a blog post can be an effective way to let parents and administration know that you understand their concerns while also providing a plan to deal with them, which I feel can lead to positive results for all involved. Fears about privacy and safety are two of the reasons, in my anecdotal observations, that parents keep their students from having much online activity. I wrote the walled gardens blog post to allay some of these fears and encourage adoption of many of the Web 2.0 tools that I felt could help students succeed in the short and long term.
Walled Gardens Blog Post
If you can truly set up a “walled garden,” where teachers and students can interact, and students have access to sites that may traditionally be blocked, then I believe social networking sites could be another another tool in the box to engage students and make learning more meaningful.
One of the reasons I have been reluctant to encourage the use of sites that may expose them to predators or other dangers that exist online. As a male teacher, I even worry about having communications that could be seen as private that may somehow lead parents or administrators to think anything inappropriate is taking place. Another less sinister problem is gaming. It seems like the second some students get free time in the computer lab, or just get bored with the work they’re doing, they go to their favorite spot to play games. But, as Reed states in her article posted on EdTechMag.com, global collaboration may lead to creating a more connected generation of students. The compassion created through relationships fostered online may lead to problem-solving initiatives in the future because students are more aware of needs worldwide (2010).
Just one of the ways social networking can be used in my classroom is through capturing photography and video to create digital storybooks and post them online. Without the use of walled gardens, I am almost positive that I wouldn’t try this project. But with the many protections offered by a multitude of social networking sites, collaboration among a group of students in a class, classrooms in different states, or students around the world can be done without many of the fears we have as educators. In a unit about the geographic livability of a place or region, one of the lessons will be to create a digital storybook to show various images that convey the elements of livability. By using the privacy settings on sites like flickr and Photobucket, students can safely store and organize digital images or video. Social networking sites allow many students in a group to work on the same project from their home, a school’s computer lab, the local library, or a coffee shop. Another tool used in this lesson could be Google Docs. Students will use this site to prepare storyboards and notes for their presentation. Again, as a Web 2.0 application, Google Docs allows file sharing to be done from various sites and makes collaboration easier outside the classroom. Once the projects have been created, they can then be shared and compared to projects created by students in classrooms around the world using connections made through sites like Teachers Connecting and ePals. In her blog about connecting students globally, Kim Cofino shares many creative methods for linking students to help them see how similar they are across cultures, and give them opportunities to solve problems and share ideas through collaboration (2010).
Although it is just a quick and very broad overview of one lesson in a single unit, it is meant to show that many sites today offer excellent chances for educators and students to collaborate while operating in a safe environment.
Reed, J. (2010). Global Collaboration and Learning – EDTECH: Focus On K-12. EdTechMag.com. Retrieved March 4, 2010, from http://www.edtechmag.com/k12/events/updates/global-collaboration-and-learning.html.
Cofino, K. (2010, March 4). How To Connect Your Students Globally | always learning. always learning. blog, . Retrieved March 4, 2010, from http://kimcofino.com/blog/2009/10/04/how-to-connect-your-students-globally/.