Saturday, 12 January 2008

Internet – tool or way of life based on fear?

As a result of reading an article which purported to be Good Teaching Practice in the on-line magazine of ICTOPUS I have become very concerned with the creation of clubs that provide a 'safe environment' as though as these are desirable. Furthermore I believe they have provide children with a very second rate learning environment. My worry is compounded by the discovery that many reputable people and organisations are supporting this approach. Even the Governments of Canada and Australia are apparently supporting this approach. Here is the text of my posting on the ICTOPUS blog

You can read Robert Hart's article, SGP 15,by registering with ICTOPUS - a new organisation that supports and is run for the benefit of Primary School Teachers in the UK

I was deeply disturbed by Robert Hart’s article, the attitude of the ICTOPUS team to it and to the readership of Sharing Good Practice for not raising questions . There that puts everyone in there place!

Bob’s approach is one I would strongly recommend to every teacher to shun. In fact this article has encouraged me to take up an offer I have to talk regularly on Radio Cumbria in a two minute slot at the unearthly hour of seven thirty a.m. If Government and prominent people are backing this approach there is something drastically wrong with society and it needs to be countered from outside of education. My first piece will be to dissuade listeners and schools in my area from getting involved with the activities of Intuitive Media.

Why the ICTOPUS team : for their lack of judgement in allowing this article to run as though it is “Good Practice” – one of two things should have been done either the word ADVERTISEMENT should have been pasted prominently at the top of the page or Bob should have been asked to remove all the deceptive spin that he has used in presenting his information.

As for you, dear reader, how come you too weren’t disturbed by the message being transmitted? Has Bob managed to brainwash everyone with his skillful publicity?

As I wrote on this blog within 30 minutes of reading the article the opening phrase put me on high alert.:

“The human species is evolving rapidly”

We have become highly tuned to spot a sales pitch and here was one coming up. People who make exaggerated statements have usually got something to sell. This was true. Heather failed to reassure me that this was just “a metaphorical stylistic device”.

On reading on, the word “Research” is used frequently. We normally associate this with an independent person who is reporting on something they have investigated – good research always provides the data upon which statements are made so that graduates, as most of us are, trained to analyse information, can check the reliability of the information given. No original data is provided.

Far from being objective, the article turns out to be written by the person who is promoting the product. We can therefore expect it to be biased.

I asked a colleague of mine, Christine Atkinson, experienced teacher and the author of several Maths text books, to look at the article. She found the presentation confusing I did and is writing to ICTOPUS separately.

We have spin by the bucketful – We have a photo of a happy carefree confident yound girl depicted but this is not Emily or the person whose activities are being described. She may in fact be a very depressed, worried, withdrawn young woman who rarely goes out of her house except to school. Why the use of a surname 'Sanderson' if Emily is just made up. I get the feeling that every trick in the book is being used by this highly successful team of people behind Intuitive Media to convince us that what they are doing is desirable. The clubs described are ‘protected environments’ from ‘predators’. Where are the parents? - the children’s natural guardians. Are the children really being encouraged to grow up by their parents and teachers? To be able to deal with strange situations, to be able to discern potentially dangerous of misleading statements. This surely is how teachers and parents can help children.

The POS syndrome mentioned in the Panorama by Jeremy Vine is specially worrying. Children writing in their chat rooms that they have a Parent looking Over their Shoulder indicates a lack of trust between parent and child and this is the issue that needs tackling. Why aren’t the parents having fun, working alongside their children dealling with any ‘predator’. I can imagine my child calling out to me “Dad, I’ve hooked a Perv. Come and join me as we string him along and find out who he/she is.” “Then we can get the police on their trail.” Word in the chat rooms would soon get around for ‘Mister Nasty Predator’ to be on the look out, as there were ‘Equally Devious Protectors’ who were out to ensnare them, posing as children and with Blue Uniforms round the corner.

I feel that I've written enough for now - I have a lot more to cover but will do this another time. This surely will give Bob something to reply to!

I decry the puerile concept that children can teach themselves. Do we put our toddlers together and leave them to it to learn a language? Children and young people need as much contact as possible with adults that will inspire them and then help them to attain their dreams. This is in my view the prime purpose of being a teacher - to be so enthusiastic about what we have found out for ourselves that students want to strive in their turn for their own goals. For me Bob Hart's clubs are a very poor second best.

Learning is not gained casually. Emotions are very powerful. They are contageous - hence the Lynch Mob and the powerful Orator.

Hilary Clinton almost sheds a tear and a whole state swings behind her. Wow. We can all benefit from others who stimulate us emotionally and go on to support and encourage us as we pursue our goals. This high level of stimulation will not, I believe, come about from shutting up our children with a few 'mediators' who are there to help us interact socially and a few experts who aren't their to help us on a regular basis in the way a parent, neighbour, retired craftsman/hobbuist, or even teacher can. Long live the 'real world' where you get scratched by brambles and the sun shines as you take the dog for a walk or smell and enjoy the texture of vegetables as you cook your hard working parents their dinner (as I did). What I would love to encourage is, far from putting the kids in touch with each other, is for the parents to get together with teachers in and out of the classroom and provide stimulation and leadership for their kids. Children at present have got far too much power. Feels like 'Lord of the Flies' to me.

So how did you fare with this load of emotion from me - with some reason thrown in for added flavour. Have I provoked you into action? Look forward to hearing from you.
Doc Geoff



Geoff Dellow said...

Sadly the discussion of this article has been erased from the Ictopus blog.

This casts grave questions in my mind about the policies being followed by the Ictopus team

Geoff Dellow said...

Here now the comments that I received from you:
From Dave Walsh:


Once more an inspirational piece that made me think and ... go and read the article. Why didn't I read it before, well, because the summary had not sold me on the concept that it was 'good teaching practice' that merited my time .

After reading it, although I can see the basis of your concerns, I have to also point out my view that:
* Although Emily may well be a 'real' student, her use in the statistical portrayal is one of a stylised one
* The statistical data provided was interesting .. but .. culled from one section of the market - Superclub users - a subscription based service. In addition I am assuming (perhaps incorrectly) that Emily is a secondary school pupil.
* The data collected doesn't preclude her from using the open internet as well; indeed as she is so active, it is highly likely she will have moved into 'open waters', particularly as she is trying to provide open contact details and provide direct email addresses.
* Given the content of the article , is the summary (or inferred summary) that we should adopt this approach really a true one? One approach may well be more beneficial to one student but not all - in Emily's case she may be slow in school and a whirlwind on the 'net but are we actually measuring the same thing! This isn't a comparison that can be usefully made. All that can be gained is a little more understanding of the habits of Superclub users and their technological experience - was the subscription paid by the school if Emily only gains 30 minutes computer time there? Probably not.

I suppose your main emphasis is that 'closed' clubs are not teaching pupils well - Emily agrees (with 77% of her peers) - they prefer learning at school with a real person in front of them. The universe is big and you can't know what it is you like until you've sampled it - opera may not be for everyone but how would you know if its for you if you've never heard it. In these pupil only groups , new experiences are likely to be based on trends and styles rather than quantum leaps - well at first anyway.

Do I think its good practice - well yes and no.. developing Emily's technological desire to communicate - yes; just limiting her to an 'online' safe garden - no. As a school administrator with the mantle of health, safety and accountability on my shoulders - a safe haven may not be ideal but it is safer than open waters.

An interesting thought would be, how do these statistical numbers break down by gender? Is this approach helping girls develop their technological skills more? - what do we think of the government scheme to set up computer clubs just for girls?

Dave Walsh
12 January 2008 19:29:50

Geoff Dellow said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Geoff Dellow said...

From David Banes:

Geoff its a long and complex discussion that's needed - I once had a
discussion with my sister in law that started with her saying "As a
parent - My Job is to stop anything bad happening to my children" My
reply was "You'll fail then - as a parent my job is to help my children
learn to cope when bad things happen"

I think the real answer is that safe environments are where we learn
basic skills - like driving your car but only in a car park - gradually
we improve our skills and understanding, and then begin to take greater
calculated risks - Online we need to do the same - to start in an area
that is controlled but gradually become increasingly allowed to
encounter risk but to have developed the knowledge of how to "drive

I think the levels of safety need to vary from life stage to life stage
and at each life stage we encounter new risks across a range of areas,
financial, emotional, physical etc

So no easy answer - and raises a question as to whether protecting
children in the immediate - allows them to develop the skills to cope
with risks in the future

Hope this helps

David Banes

Geoff Dellow said...

From Maggie Hos-McGrane:

Online clubs etc ... some thoughts: OK I have come across these before and have shunned them like the plague. My first experience of all this online interaction between kids was with (talk2learn I think it was called then). I was based in Amsterdam at that time and doing an international project on butterflies with students in schools on a line from the Arctic to Mediterranean (Norway, Sweden, Denmark, Holland, UK, Spain). We wanted an environment where our students could interact with each other so tried it. We gave up because we wanted it to be closed .... only students at our schools should be able to see what we posted, in fact it turned out lots of other people could post messages to our kids on these pages - nothing about butterflies but just comments like "I like your site come and look at mine".

I have real concerns about sites where kids are able to post things like photos, contact details and so on. Here in Thailand we have discussed this with teachers in other Thai schools and we have seen an increasing number of our students being targeted by child sex-tourists who are coming to Thailand and are trying to contact these kids before they arrive (mainly via MySpace

With our younger students I have had parents telling me they are concerned about free sites which seem fun at first, but then increasing the children are pressurized to pay for "extras" for example clothes for the penguins in the Penguin Club. It's basically commercial exploitation of parents via the children!

Like you, I would much rather our young people were outside, playing sports or whatever rather than cooped up indoors in front of a computer. However on trips to England over the past few years I have heard so many parents saying things like "I wouldn't let my children play outside" - they are concerned about child abductions etc (which are really rare), yet they don't appear to be concerned about who their children are texting or interacting with online when they are in the house. Worrying.

As a teacher I seem to get a lot of emails from companies about these online Clubs - some even offering homework support and so on. Some of these have been passed on to me by the Head of the school, but I have not seen anything very interesting in any of them. I'm more interested in trying to get some guidelines about online safety put into the curriculum here - especially as we have a 1-1 tablet program from Year 10 upwards where the students are given their own tablet computers to use in school and to take home and from that time onwards they seem to be permanently connected to the internet.

I was talking to a teacher from another school in Bangkok and she told me that they have set up an "internal" Facebook-type site at school for students to use - she teaches how to design the site and what is appropriate to put on. She says she thinks the students are using this "safe" and monitored site, rather than one outside the school, but I guess she really has no way of knowing.

One problem is that the students are way ahead of the parents - when we asked our parents what PIR or POS meant nobody knew. Many are not concerned about what their children are doing online because they don't know what they are doing!

We have had some issues with our students with online bullying (mostly sending messages). It's harder to deal with because some parents think this is nothing to do with the school if it is happening at home, yet the very place where students should feel safe, their own homes, is a place where the bullying was happening.

I hope some of these comments are useful, and at least you know that here in Thailand we are facing the same issues and pressures!


14 January 2008

Geoff Dellow said...

From Christine Atkinson:

I was very excited by Issue 13 about hand-held technology but rather worried about Intuitive Media advertising in Issue 15. In Issue 13, Philip gave educational reasons for pupils to each have a mobile phone to use when out shopping and bringing the data back to the classroom for a teacher like Sue to use in maths. In Issue 15 Robert Hart advocates learning from peers away from adult leadership.

The statistics provided by him are mixed up with information about a particular student. This leads to the reader mixing the 'average student' with the 'particular student'. I understand that many classroom teachers would also be involved with the supervision of the clubs but there is insufficient data for the quality of this supervision to be judged by the reader. The graph of access to the internet has no scale for the intensity colour, would a key to the colouring be difficult to accommodate within the article? In general the statistics are presented in a way that prevents a reader forming a balanced view of the quality of the service.This is clearly an advertisement,it is biased and should be labelled as such.

Should "Ictopus" allow an organisation to advertise in such a way under the heading "Sharing Good Practise"? It would be better to provide a balanced view of these clubs. Would you be able to supply some links to reviews of Intuitive Media in the national press?


14 January 2008

Geoff Dellow said...

From Paul Vale Vale:

I think you raise an issue within really important subject which is both topical and needs colleagues views/opinions/examples of concerns/success airing.

Just to clarify - I am currently being funded by the Oracle Education Foundation to lead an on-line project this year called the "Lets Play Project". It follows up the project I lead last year called 'The 101+ Club'. The idea is based on my use of - (when I worked as a full time teacher in schools facing challenging circumstances for Manchester's School Improvement Team) - a web-based user name and password protected medium that allows teachers and students to create their own inter-active web-sites.

It works most successfully when (like your flash projects) teachers invest time in getting involved with:

* how it works
* what you can do
* allowing students to have freedom to construct web-pages consisting of basically anything that can be uploaded from a computer (ie. writing, pics, photos, animations, video, music, podcasts - (haven't tried flash - so am not sure about that!!)

..... in order to share, compare and celebrate achievements within the project with each other, other schools in the project in the UK and with our 3 project schools in Rumania, Germany and Holland. There are just so many positive strands to this ..... Manchester LA have downloaded the evaluation of last year's project on their MEWAN website:

You need to scroll half way down the page to: 101report -

Oracle's is moderated - in other words - there is no-one paid to be on-line and is available all the time - and teachers need to be prepared to explain the 'rules' (ie netiquette of being polite, when they send people messages, uploading appropriate material, use of language etc) - and then monitor students web sites. I work alongside teachers to show them how to get involved, monitor students pages etc. We have had some amazing stories of success in terms of engaging the most disaffected of students, altering attitudes to work/school/their teachers etc.

Oh yes - and for me less important - but it seems to tick all the necessary boxes .... it increases ICT skills and Literacy - because children (and their teachers) become prolific ICT users who write loads .... and has the potential to raise standards across all areas of the curriculum.

Comparing with Intuitive Media's SuperClubsplus - which I also used prolifically until it became subscription only - there are significant differences in what the children can do - however, one of the main difference for me are that SuperClubsPlus have activities set up for children to work with and enjoy - whilst the web-pages children create and any conversations are mediated (ie. there is someone on-line who polices what happens on the website). Live conversations/chatrooms are therefore open at certain times during the week.

Although both restrict what children can do - they are a far safer alternative to Facebook, Myspace, Bebo, MSN Messenger .... and worse web-sites such as Piczu .... which are not moderated and children are vulnerable to any adult making contact, able to download infected and inappropriate language, images, video, music etc - as well as being targeted by bullies etc.

My view is that the DCSF, BECTa, OFSTED and subject organisations such as Naace should be setting up and/or funding safe(r) web-sites/web-areas that strike a balance between allowing students to have their own web-space to be creative and communicate with their friends (and possibly their teachers, parents?) - and ensure it is safe for them to use - without them becoming too prescriptive and over-policed.

I would be therefore be interested to see if anyone has a better and/or safer alternative - as young (and not so young) adults are increasingly using the internet, chatrooms etc - and children will almost certainly be using such mediums.


13 January 2008

Geoff Dellow said...

From Les Galloway:

Looked at Robert Hart's article and was most un-impressed. The introduction was rubbish. Evolution does not proceed on a 25 year time scale - all that has happened is that much more superficial communication is happening to a wider circle. As an academic paper it was also very poor - I would have been ashamed to have written it - it wasn't even good journalism. If ICTOPUS is supposed to be promulgating good practice in education then God help us. Agree with your criticisms on this (read later).

Didn't really get a strong flavour of concern for "safety" from the article. But in general I think we can be very overprotective. Children can never be made safe and the more we try do do so the more vulnerable we are making them in the longer term.

I am reminded of a letter to a paper some years ago. An elderly gent had been walking along a residential street when a girl of about 3 called to him over her garden fence and asked "Are you a stranger?". He asked why she wanted to know and was told "Mummy says I mustn't talk to strangers".


13 January 2008