Understanding Digital Citizenship

Alec Couros was the speaker in Changemooc this week.

He is clearly a popular speaker and there were a number of people attending who obviously regarded him with a great deal of affection.

Alec talked about digital citizenship in terms of Cyber-safety (keeping safe and being able to discern truth from hoaxes and myths); Memes (value laden digital viruses); Copyright/copyleft (we used to consume information, now we produce, remix, share); Network Literacy; Identity (81% of children under the age of two have some form of digital footprint and some even have a footprint before birth); and Activism. See http://mooc.wikispaces.com/couros

Alec hasn’t posted his slides yet – but there are plenty more here – but as he told us and exemplified he has developed his own style of online presentation, which I think was very effective. You certainly couldn’t get bored. He had a lot of slides, but a lot of those were simply images. Text on the slides was limited – and he talked over his slides with a great deal of passion and enthusiasm. Perhaps most impressive was the number of videos he asked us to view during his presentation, which kept it interesting and lively. I think he must spend an awful lot of time online and particularly viewing videos as he seems to be all over the web.

Whilst there was a lot in his presentation that was new to me and fascinating, there were a couple of things that left me questioning.

The first was that during the presentation, the videos that were shown and many photos, left me with the word ‘voyeurism’ floating in my head. I felt as though I was being introduced into people’s lives where I had no right to be.  It left me wondering to what extent the internet encourages us to be ‘voyeurs’.

The second was that I wonder how ethical it is to share another person’s identity online – particularly if that person is a child. I have questioned this before in a discussion with Dean Shareski

I know with absolute certainty that I would not like people to be sharing personal details about me online without my knowledge, understanding or agreement and I doubt that children are in a position to agree to this.  It’s not that I have never mentioned my children online – I have, but I do not understand why a personal communication of love between a parent and child needs to be conducted in view of the whole world. Alec showed one such example of a father sending online messages to his newborn and growing child. What I don’t like about this is that the child cannot object to this. The child doesn’t even know the effect that this might have on their identity and is in no position to control it.

So I do not think that digital citizenship means that you have to be ‘watching’ the lives of people you do not even know, or that you have to share the details of your nearest and dearest with the whole world.

#PLENK2010 – Open courses and the ‘Granny Cloud’ phenomenon

Thanks to Alec Couros for further information about his open course – EC&I 831: Social Media & Open Education – and for the link to his call for mentors for this course which made for very interesting reading – and has had me reflecting on the question of how to scaffold open courses further – or whether we need to scaffold them at all.

Voluntary mentoring of online courses is not a new idea. John Smith, Bron Stuckey and Etienne Wenger always use mentors on their Foundations of Communities of Practice online course in CPsquare. This is not an open course, but mentors work voluntarily, having first participated in the course themselves. I was privileged to be a mentor myself for one the courses. As in Alec’s course, the mentor plays a different role to the course convenor. In CPsquare this is to support participants in finding their way in the course, to support them in their learning and interaction, to promote and encourage discussion and to support the course facilitators in their management of the course. This sounds similar to what happens in Alec’s course – the difference being that in the CPsquare course all mentors are already known to the course convenors and have been participants on the course for which they are a mentor.

Alec’s idea of a ‘call for mentors’ also struck me as very similar to Sugata Mitra’s ‘granny cloud’. Mitra is renowned for his ‘Hole -in- the -Wall’ experiments in India, which resulted in evidence that children can organise their own learning and teach each other – see http://www.ted.com/talks/sugata_mitra_the_child_driven_education.html for details. However, there was also evidence that the experiments did not always work – see Arora’s work and this blog post for an introduction. Following this critique by Arora, Mitra decided that children’s interest and motivation to learn in the absence of a teacher would be more likely if they were supported by what he has called a ‘granny cloud’. So he recruited hundreds of British grandmothers who are willing to voluntarily connect with the children online and answer their questions – a very similar idea to Alec Couros’ call for mentors.

These ‘experiments’ in learning with minimum intervention from a teacher raise all sorts of complex questions about the role of teaching, both in traditional settings and in open settings. The one that strikes me as being important is how the quality of mentoring is controlled. What sorts of checks do we need to have in place to ensure the safety of learners and that they get a ‘fair’ deal. Under what circumstances would it be worse to be ‘mentored’ than to be left to manage your learning on your own?

I need to read around a bit more (Mitra, Arora and Couros) and see whether these questions have already been addressed.