So, what is this project all about?
Well, although I am still very much in the reconnaissance phase of my Action Research project, I have identified an area of general concern; student’s online behaviour and their responsible use of digital technology. It really worries me that a google search of many people I know turns up a lot of 'unsavoury' stuff and not a lot of positive information. Increasingly, the relationships kids form in the online world, impact on their lives at school. I also have an assumption; that part of the problem with the kid's behaviour is that not enough adults have the understanding required to become part of the online world and so are not providing the support and role modelling needed to guide and nurture children to become ethical citizens of the digital age.
One of the reasons I have chosen this topic is because in my 30 yrs of teaching, the introduction of computers and mobile phones, followed by the introduction of the internet has changed not only my perception of the world but has also required the greatest shift in educational thinking . Technology has had a huge impact on every facet of human life and its implications for teaching are enormous. It is my opinion that so far, some teachers, parents and administrators have been slow to catch on and reluctant to change their teaching strategies and stereotypical views of what a teacher student relationship looks like in the digital age.


The educational metaphor of digital natives and digital immigrants coined by Marc Prensky (Prensky 2001) makes a lot of sense to me and I am very eager to explore this disparity of generational understanding further. I think that with the introduction of 1:1 netbook learning last year and the release of the Department of Education and Early Childhood Development’s Ultranet this year, now is an optimal time to look at ways of bringing the natives and immigrants together.
As an early adopter of internet use myself, I have been well placed to observe the way students relate to each other through digital communication. The increasing rise of social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook has also provided a window for me into the online world of the digital native. As a teacher living in a small community, I form relationships with students on many levels. Many are children of friends and family, some play sport with me, almost all are related to me in some way other than as ‘just’ their teacher. Because of these close relationships many of the children at my school have added me as their ‘friend’ on Facebook and MySpace. There is not room in this essay to discuss the pros and cons of this but I am hoping the discussion of appropriate ‘cyber’ contact between teachers and students will form part of my action research in some way. What is relevant to this document is that because I have been ‘invited’ into the students’ online world, I have first hand observation of the way that they relate to each other in this space.

Not only do I see what the kids who have chosen me as a friend say, I also see what others post on their pages, including photographs etc. One of the observations that I have made is that some of the behaviours I see online are very different to the behaviour I witness offline. I also observe that some of the communication that goes on online, impacts quite severely on students’ relationships with others at school.

Over the last couple of years we have had several major incidents at our school involving digital technology. There have been many cases of cyber bullying, we have had incidences of sexting and increasingly I counsel students who are worried about what other students are saying about themselves and others online. As a teacher and as a person I feel a moral and ethical responsibility to do ‘something’ when I notice these incidences, yet as an administrator I am often cautioned about interfering in issues that have occurred outside the immediate school environment. This raises a whole host of unanswered legal and ethical questions. I have read several pieces about American and Canadian law regarding online behaviour and I am keen to explore what is happening in the Australian justice system.

At a school and a network level I have already spent countless hours looking at ways to encourage online safety and to make students aware of their ‘digital footprint’. What I have found so far is that there is actually a plethora of resources available to schools to help with cyber education but a lot of these programs run in isolation from the rest of the curriculum. It is therefore my assumption that what’s missing is the adult understanding and knowledge required to make these resources relevant to the kids. And I think the reason for that ignorance may be that we; us as parents and teachers, and they; the children, actually come from different worlds now.
The students of the 21st century have been born into a time when going ‘online’ to talk to your mates is as natural as going next door. These kids are native speakers of technology, fluent in the digital language of computers, video games and the internet. They aren’t following rule books or instructions, because they are traversing previously unexplored territory and making up the rules as they go.

For them, ‘online’ is a very real place, where they learn, play and socialise.
To paraphrase Marc Prensky (2001), we are, at best, immigrants into the online world. Most of us as educators have slipped into the digital world still doing most things the old way, or at best adapting our strategies to encompass some of the new technology.

The advent of the internet and more importantly the world of Web 2.0 is the first world changing event in history that has been driven almost entirely by children. In his article, “Footprints in a digital age” (Richardson 2008), Will Richardson uses another metaphor. He likens the internet to a bus crash waiting to happen and sees what’s happening in schools as something like this;
Our students, after eagerly climbing on board are sitting in the front seats; one of them (and as teachers, each of us knows which particular one of our kids), is driving. A lot of teachers have actually refused to get on the bus at all and have long since been left behind. Those that have got on are down the back, hanging onto the seat straps while the bus races down an unmarked road under the guidance of kids who have never been taught to drive and have absolutely no idea where they are going! They are making up the rules as they go along. It is an exciting but sometimes dangerous journey.

From an organisational point of view, the reaction so far has been to try to apply the brakes by banning sites or restricting the use of electronic devices or simply to try to stall the bus by trying to maintain traditional teaching methods with one hand while hanging onto to the bus straps with the other. Parents have often taken the ‘digital ostrich’ stance, choosing simply to ignore what they choose not to see.

In order to clarify my ideas and get a clearer picture of my action research plan, I have listed the ‘whys’,

The issue: Student’s online relationships and behaviour and the digital footprint they are leaving behind them.

Why is it an issue? Because their online persona is sometimes detrimental to themselves and others.
  • Because they don’t show the same ethical and moral responsibility online as they do offline
  • They disclose personal information that can be damaging to themselves and others.
  • Perhaps because they don’t think through the consequences.
  • There are very few imposed boundaries in the cyber world.
  • There are very few experienced role models online.
  • Because they are digital natives and adults are digital immigrants.
  • Because ‘Online’ is a new society evolving with children at the helm.
  • Perhaps because some parents don’t see the online world as a real space.
  • Perhaps because some adults are afraid of online technology because it’s unfamiliar to them.
How do I know the adults don’t know?
  • Because I’ve asked them.
What do I think will make a difference?
  • Education , awareness, participation
How can that be achieved?
  • The Ultranet
  • Opening up the school computer lab & involving students in running info sessions.
One of the reasons behind the choice of this topic is that I had already been ‘bubbling’ plans to research this area before beginning the MSL. Last year, as part of a network professional learning team, we identified this area as one of concern and undertook a simple gathering of data to inform our network principals of the need for acknowledgement and action. Our plan was to form a group of student leaders from across the network to inform our practice and provide student led parent information sessions. For several reasons this plan never came to fruition but I plan to use a lot of the ground work in my project and have contacted all the participants from that team to ask if they are interested in participating in my MSL project. Last year I attended the Premiers Digital Summit with several of our student leaders. Here I listened to Robyn Treyvaud and was inspired by her work with students in the Mallee.
Our school is part of the Alannah & Madeleine foundation e pilot schools project and as such I will be able to tap into their resources for both advice and funding.
The introduction of the Ultranet is an obvious opportunity to inform and educate in a cyber space. I have had meetings with our ICT coordinator and our Ultranet lead user group to establish their input and discuss ways the impact of the Ultranet could be measured. I hope the most important collaborators and participants in this project will be students. If this research is to guide their journey, then I need to talk to the people in the driver’s seat.
At this stage I believe that most of my data will be qualitative and the methods of obtaining this will be via surveys (online and in person), small focus group discussions and observations from my own and the students and parents’ view. I hope to utilise Web 2.0 tools where possible by tapping into relevant 21stC blogs, setting up a wiki for participants, conducting online surveys and using facebook groups to monitor and record data. Depending on permissions granted, I also hope to include quantitative data based on recorded and logged instances of online behaviour before and after the introduction of the Ultranet.