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To be or not to be – support Al Upton

March 18th, 2008 by Graham Attwell

This story is all over the net and I can’t resist wading in.

From Wikinews: “South Australian primary school teacher Al Upton was ordered to shut down an educational blogging initiative last week following a directive from the South Australian Department of Education. Al Upton is internationally recognised for his educational blogging efforts over the past 5 years, but his recent project known as The Minilegends has attracted concerns from parents generally relating to interactions between children and adults online..”

This case raises big issues and it is good that the educational technology community has reacted so strongly.

What is notable about the Minilegends project was the care Al had gone to in tecahing students about not only internet safety but how to develop their own digital identity and presence and the issues around that. He had also informed parents in advance about the aims of the project and had obtained parental permission for the children to take part.

The reasons for the close down notice appear to revolve around two issues and both warrant further discussion. The first is that the children used real photos of themselves rather than avatars. Al’s view is that students benefit from seeing their own images. If students – of whatever age – are going to develop an authentic on-line presence then pictures play a big part in this. And pictures are a representation of ourselves. Witness the many ridiculous photographs people use on Facebook or the student prank videos on YouTube. Are these a real image of who they are? What pictures we choose to use is a message we are saying about ourselves. Is it possible to set an age when it is safe ot use a real photograph to represent ourselves? Clearly not. The key issue is that developing and managing our digital identity is seen as pat of learning in just the same way as developing other social skills. Of course this raises issues about safety. But so does just about any other learning activity. Sue Waters links to a Review of the February/March issue of the journal American Psychologist and titled, “Online ‘Predators’ and Their Victims: Myths, Realities and Implications for Prevention. Definitely worth a read, she says, because it highlights many of the concerns are myths and that “there is no doubt that Internet predators are real, and do pose a threat. But the real danger is the public’s deeply flawed understanding of the problem.”
The second issue is the use of adult mentors to support students. I really don’t know what to say. We have daily interactions between adults and children. What seems to be sparking the panic here is because the interaction is on-line. There is a real danger to saying that whilst children can talk with adults face to face they cannot do so digitally.

If one good thing comes out of this it may be that we will get an open debate about the use of the internet for communication and learning. How have we got to the absurd situation that Bebo, Facebook and the burgeoning Disney sites are seen as OK for kids, whilst a well thought through educational project is closed down?

One Response to “To be or not to be – support Al Upton”

  1. Exactly my point!
    It becomes even more ridiculous when the adults invited to take part in the interaction were Al’s teacher colleagues…
    Sometimes I wonder…what is wrong with people???????!

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