Patterns of internet use by English students

February 15, 2012

Introduction

The children who participated in this research are ahead of the technology itself in some ways, demanding a higher level of performance and efficiency than it is often able to deliver. Issues such as speed, filtering (especially at school), viruses, spam, spy and other malware are seen as an irritation. Restrictions that are placed upon them at school, whether through web filtering, timetabling, access or other issues, are however tolerated and children are phlegmatic about their schools’ provision of internet services. By contrast they usually find their access at home more enjoyable, beneficial and helpful to their school-related, recreational, private and social lives.

 

According to their own report, it seems that children regard themselves as having a well-developed, sound and perceptive sense of the accuracy and veracity of the information that they commonly access from the internet. They are likely to use the design, web address and general ‘feel’ of a website to assess its potential and likely accuracy. They use their personal experiences when evaluating the accuracy of information obtained from a specific website, and will often self-filter websites that they have discovered in the past to be unreliable, inaccurate or misleading. This is especially true of wikis. Children often evaluate a website by quickly assessing the amount or type of advertising or pop-ups encountered. Websites that include excessive advertising or inappropriate (e.g. gambling) advertising are often avoided by children as they self-censor websites they encounter. This is true of both home and school usage, although the school will usually filter out inappropriate websites before they reach the students’ desktop. Children often indicated that they use effective methods of triangulation or verification when obtaining information of doubtful authenticity. Methods of verification include comparing data extracted from a number of websites, seeking information from an adult or peer or referring to books for confirmation of information.

 

Unsurprisingly, children used search engines more frequently at school than any other category of website. This was stated by them in their surveys and during interviews and was also validated by logs recording their usage. For recreation, in their out-of-school environments they liked playing games, browsing and downloading music and videos. For social communication, across both genders they preferred using instant messaging and social networks as their mode of social communication. Most children reported using the internet extensively for helping with homework and revision, with a preference for using the internet in private areas out-of-school such as bedrooms or other private living and recreation areas.

 

Both online and offline literacy practices were seen to be strongly related to internet use,  with children who reported spending significant amounts of time reading books and magazines also reporting moderately high internet use. The internet was certainly seen by children as forming an important part of their social and educational activities with words such as “accuracy” and ”learning” occurring frequently during the interview group discussions. The internet is clearly valued as a dependable source of information and as a means of social communication.

 

As has been noted in the presentation of findings, some gender differences in internet usage were observed in the survey. Girls generally indicated that they were more likely to use social software such as instant messaging or social networking sites than boys, whereas boys were more likely to use internet games for recreation than girls. Girls’ usage of social networking generally focused around keeping in touch with existing friends rather than making new ones. Children of both genders reported not only downloading music and videos as favoured activities but also the creation and publishing of music and videos as popular pastimes. They also described how they enjoyed constructing artefacts on the internet such as web pages, virtual postcards and other internet-hosted construction activities. Whilst acknowledging the possible gender stereotyping that these conclusions may imply, girls’ higher use of social networking and boys’ higher usage of games may be seen as being consistent with both genders’ offline interests. This is also supported by the apparent greater likelihood of boys undertaking more risky online behaviour than girls, such as visiting chatrooms.

 

Unsurprisingly, children generally perceived themselves as having a greater degree of freedom in internet usage out-of-school than in-school. Those children who felt they had the greatest amount of freedom also reported the highest levels of confidence in internet usage. Relatively moderate usage (up to two hours per day) of the internet seemed to be mostly appropriate, being focused on a range of recreational, social and educational activities. Relatively low levels (less than one half-hour per day)  of internet use were often associated with low levels of reading generally, whereas relatively high levels (more than two hours per day)  of internet use was often also associated with low levels of reading.  Usage at the high end was often also associated with unfocused, random use of the internet such as browsing. Those children who reported structured home supervision and the application of some usage rules also reported a balance of recreational, social and educational usage at both home and school.

 

Notwithstanding children’s observations as noted above on the accuracy of information obtained from the internet, there was also a fascination with its fallibility. Children were interested in encountering information that was apocryphal, misleading or just plain wrong and believed they were efficient and adept at uncovering such websites, although they were unlikely to revisit them for research purposes. Children also found the potential of the internet to distract interesting, depending on the context of what they found and were often intellectually engaged by stimulating diversions.

 

Many of the above observations are supported by postmodern theories. Butler (2002) and Sellinger (2004) have described the internet as being a postmodern phenomenon. Their separate pieces of research have picked out three key postmodern descriptors of the internet, namely its non- hierarchised nature, its virtuality and its mutability. These three descriptors can be related to much of the children’s use of the internet as described in this paper. Its non-hierarchised form relates to and appeals to children in the way in which they can create, share and seek information and communicate using internet-based technologies. The virtuality of the internet places sources of information, recreational spaces and their network of friends in an easily accessible and synchronous environment created by them wherever they have an internet-enabled device, but especially out-of-school.

 

These ideas are also consistent with theories expressed by other researchers. Hernwell has described the internet as being a function rather than an object and describes it in virtual terms (Hernwell, 2005). Gee (2004) expresses similar ideas, placing experience ahead of information and seeing the internet in terms of process rather than product. Again, children’s process-oriented usage of the internet is consistent with ideas such as these.  At an early stage in the  popular use of the internet, Nune was also writing in similar terms (Nune, 1995), realising quickly that the internet had no frontiers and as such was not bounded in the same way as other systems of communication or methods of storing and retrieving information. These descriptions closely match, in spirit anyway, the ways in which children spoke, sometimes naively but often perceptively about the internet.

 

The children’s use of and perspectives  on the internet are also supported by the ideas of Granic and Lamey (2000) who have spoken about postmodernism in terms of perspectivism, multiplicity and decentralisation and by relating  these three concepts to both the internet itself and to learning on the internet. Children’s discussion of the internet and the various viewpoints and relativism that pervades both the content and the spirit of the internet is consistent with Granic and Lamey’s, and although children did not exactly describe the internet in those precise terms, the perspectivism can be related to the points of view that children expressed and encountered on the internet,  the multiplicity related to the variety of people and information sources with which they interacted, and the decentralisation related to the hyperlinked, shared and democratic nature of their online communication and research. This is also coherent with Chapman’s description of the internet and postmodernism in terms of the multiplicity of competing and subjective narratives (Chapman, 2005). These competing narratives can also be seen in terms of how (in)formal  learning itself is seen.  Sefton-Green (2004) describes informal learning as being no longer seen in terms of being merely casual, disorganised and accidental but as being an integral part of the same learning process that occurs in more formal settings. This certainly appears to be validated by the comments by children on the way in which they used the internet informally for educational, social and recreational reasons.

 

Children discussed their use of the internet in very human and interactive terms, in turn revealing many of their values with respect to honesty, respect and other ethical issues. The revelation of these values and beliefs are consistent with the theories of Butler (2002) who has written about how technology reveals the outcome of our human values. However, and the children in the study have indicated this, the use of the internet is not a utopian state of being. There are challenges, idiosyncrasies, frustrations and blind alleys, all of which can on the one hand reduce the effectiveness of the internet for research and communication but on the other hand can help raise the social and intellectual capital gained through working through these issues. Zembylas and Vrasidas (2004) have spoken of the pedagogy of discomfort with respect to online learning and this can be translated to the postmodern context of children’s use of internet where there are unprecedented freedoms, but also challenges, new rules and new responsibilities for parents, teachers and those who care for children in both in-school and out-of-school contexts.

Patterns of Usage

There appears to be some common patterns between students’ responses to the online survey, their discussions during the interviews and the logs on internet usage. The logs show that search engines are by far the most common category of website accessed by students at school. This is supported by the results of the survey where 72% of children use the internet for obtaining information. It is worth noting that the logs indicate that there is often little use of the schools’ websites and the use that is recorded often relates to those schools that set their website as the default homepage upon logging in, with students quickly navigating away. The survey indicates that only 24% of students use the schools’ websites, which raises the issue of the purpose and role of the school website. Is it purely for marketing? Could it be used more effectively for children’s learning? Should it more effectively incorporate learning platforms, blogs, e-portfolios or other more interactive elements?  These are issues that schools may be prompted to consider.

 

The interviews yielded a large number of children’s comments on the accuracy of content on the internet, especially with respect to their learning. The interviews included much discussion about online games, and this is also supported by the survey which reported 81% of students using the internet for games. There appeared to be little variance between what children say they did and what the logs reported as actual usage.

 

I believe that the methodology chosen for obtaining and analysing the data in this paper has worked effectively. Both the survey and the interviews produced rich data that assisted my understanding of the area being researched. My positionality as a keen advocate of the internet and as a senior member of my organisation placed me in a privileged position to interpret the data made available through the methodology. At the top level of questioning, the main research question was: How do year children use the internet both in-school and out-of-school? This was broken down into four subsidiary questions.

 

In retrospect, the main question has been a little less about the children’s actual behaviour and more about their perceptions about how they use the internet, their beliefs and the way they report these perceptions and beliefs. . With respect to the question How is out-of-school internet behaviour of year 7 students similar to in-school internet behaviour? a number of conclusions can be drawn from the data and analysis in the preceding sections. Children were critical of the accuracy of information on the internet, especially with respect to their learning. This was drawn out of experiences with a number of websites that were cited as examples. They did, however, demonstrate good ways of checking and validating information, and felt the internet was a valuable resource. This was consistent with both in-school and out-of-school access.

 

Children complained about the things that got in the way of their internet use. This included their experiences with viruses, spyware and pop-ups at home, yet they also complained about the restrictions placed on them by firewalls and filtering at school. This shows their impatience with the technology and their need for immediacy and reliability of access. Children disliked things that got in the way of them using the internet when and where they liked. I believe this needs a curriculum response, educating children about skilful practices on the internet and explaining the reasons and the technologies involved for firewalls and filtering. However, generally children demonstrated a good awareness of internet safety issues. Schools could further encourage and nurture safe practices whilst providing adequate safeguards such as filtering and caching facilities. A good safety policy and code of practice is important.

 

With respect to the question  How does out-of-school internet behaviour of year 7 students differ from in-school behaviour? and its corollary If the behaviour of year 7 students differs, is this important?, there are a number of observations to be made and conclusions to be drawn. There often appears to be a different relationship between the children and their informal learning and that which occurs in a formal educational setting. Schools should look at ways of making the formal educational experience more related to and built upon that which the children bring from home. In order to do this a deeper understanding must be developed of what children do and how they interact with others online. Bringing the home and school practice together is important. This is more relevant than trying to emulate home practice at school. New kinds of learning are taking place involving, amongst other things, online exploration, collaboration and networking and this should be embraced and contextualised by schools to allow young people the opportunity to practice, enhance and apply their skills in a transferable way both in-school and out-of-school.

 

Children mainly used the internet at home in private or other designated areas, whereas at school, usage was more public and exposed. However, children believed that teachers were less likely to know what they were doing on the internet at school than parents were to know what they were doing on the internet at home. Videos and games were favourite activities for children at home, whereas search engines were favourites at school. Children unsurprisingly preferred using the internet at home, mainly due to the privacy and freedom afforded to them. Those who spent the most time on the internet at school also tended to spend the most time on the internet at home.

 

The use of the internet by young people differs in informal, formal and non-formal settings. However, there are perpetual and changing overlaps between these settings, and the contexts will be largely determined by the learners themselves. In this sense, although we might aspire to a framework for learning with the internet, it is a framework that itself is in perpetual beta form. Children develop self-organised learning practices (or contexts) using the tools which are sometimes taught in schools and sometimes learnt informally. It is apparent that children bring informal learning to school. Schools should use this, but not necessarily appropriate it. This has also been commented upon recently by other researchers (Green and Hannon, 2007).  Schools should also however, look at ways of developing context-based models for learning, and seek to understand ways in which informal and formal learning can be realigned. Children should also be encouraged in the school setting to be creators of content as well being articulate and discerning consumers. This is consistent with trends observed in the 2007 Ofcom report on the communications market where the most notable impact of the internet in recent years was seen to be the conversion of consumers into content producers (Ofcom, 2007, p. 97). It is also consistent with recent research into the CBBC online game ‘Adventure Rock’. In 2008, Gauntlett and Jackson conducted a case study on ‘Adventure Rock’, a virtual world for children aged 8-11 (Gauntlett and Jackson, 2008). This free, downloadable program from CBBC provides creative studios where children can draw pictures, animate cartoons, choreograph dance, compose music and construct machines. CBBC has taken up the challenge of providing safe and appropriate social networking and interactive games for children in this age group. At the time of writing, Adventure Rock is the latest in a series of virtual worlds, created specifically for children in the past two years. Others include Club Penguin, Nicktropolis, Moshi Monsters and My Tiny Planets.  Gauntlet and Jackson describe eight types of players in these virtual worlds: explore-investigator, self-stampers, social climbers, fighters, collector-consumers, power users, life-system builders and nurturers, all engaged in a series of online activities ranging from solitary to sociable. Gauntlett and Jackson found a number of benefits to be apparent in children’s usage of Adventure Rock including the creation of mental maps, rehearsal of responsibility and self-expression. Research such as this is important in informing the future appropriation of in-school and out-of-school online experiences for children.

 

Schools need to listen to children and their use of the internet, and develop strategies to bring together the richness that both informal and formal learning can provide. Schools also need to provide the opportunity for children to practice the skills that they bring from informal learning and enable them to use those skills in a range of contexts and settings. In doing this, schools should not attempt to mimic out-of-school use, but concentrate on enabling responsible and effective use of IP-based technologies by students. The development of a set of ethical, safe and critical approaches to the internet is crucial. However, it also apparent that children already have some good critical skills in finding and analysing information, and that they are good at verifying and validating information found on the internet. On the social aspect of the internet, there is a need to further develop safe practices with respect to social networking, blogging, e-portfolios and other online activities.

 

Given children’s frequent interest and participation in internet games, there is further scope to explore the educational possibilities available through these activities. The fun elements of the internet greatly appeal to children of this age, and the appropriation of creative and constructivist activities continue to be a desired outcome for children. Teaching children to be disciplined users is important too. My research showed that those who spent a lot of time just browsing were often those who had unrestricted use of the internet at home. The encouragement of supportive, responsible parental supervision is important and schools should have a role in promoting this. Where the response from home is apathetic or negative, schools should look towards the education of parents and the provision of the internet during out of hours time in the form of after school, or homework clubs where good out-of-school internet behaviours and habits can be demonstrated and developed.

 

Informal learning using the internet often appears as self-motivated with a strong sense of ownership both of content creation and social networking. It is often generated by a real purposeful need by the children themselves, often with the assistance of their peers.

 

Schools should be places where literacy in new media can be developed. The sample of schools in which children were consulted in the research represents a broad set of demographic profiles across England. As the sample was restricted to children at year seven, responses from other year levels would most probably have shown a different set of responses. This is especially likely with respect to the ownership of social networking sites. Older children may be more inclined to use the internet for communications, to explore and test boundaries and to behave in a more independent manner.

 

All the students included in the sample were from schools with good internet provision and it also appeared that children were also generally immersed in the internet in their out-of-school contexts. In this sense, perhaps the internet is a non-issue, being such a natural part of their lives that it holds no awe or surprise for them. This contrasts with my own response, where I am still easily impressed by new internet-based applications. The danger is that school and home practices will diverge to the point where school provision of the internet becomes increasingly irrelevant to children’s lives, especially if a significant gap between teacher and student competencies emerges and grows.

 

Perhaps a more longitudinal study is required, following the patterns of usage over a number of years and possibly examining other types of ICT usage such as mp3 players, mobile camera phones and emergent technologies.

 

Both internet use and reading are popular activities and seem to be related i.e. children who like using the internet also like reading. This clearly links internet use as being a literacy activity. Games, homework, browsing and instant messaging are favourite activities and the literacy activities associated with these are worthy of exploration. As internet use and reading are closely related, literacy is a key skill for internet use and also a key way of improving and practicing that skill. The motivational level for activities such as these is high, as children enjoy the levels of engagement that are afforded by use of the internet.

 

There appears to be a mixed set of rules for home usage, and education of parents is important, especially if their skills and understandings of children’s social practices on the internet are low. Because of children’s high levels of confidence with the internet (66% think they are good users), rules for both school and home usage should perhaps be constantly reviewed.

 

There is a bigger gap between those with access and those without access for boys and girls, and this inequity of access should be explored further. Certainly, the research shows that more emphasis is needed on reading for boys. Girls’ interest in social networking applications also demands a curriculum that teaches responsible use. My research shows that social networking owners are more independent, less likely to look at recommended websites and although children are quite aware of safety issues and can recognize dangers, we must continue to equip them with the necessary skills. The use of resources from Childnet International and the Child Exploitation and Online Protection Centre is to be encouraged.  Resources outlined by the Cyberspace Research Unit’s 2004 report (O’Connell, Price and Barrow, 2004) into emerging trends amongst primary school children’s use of the internet has been taken up by many schools and local authorities. This trend is also to be encouraged and cascaded into the family homes of children. As noted previously, boys tend to use the internet more for chatrooms, games and music, possibly partially because they have less strict rules at home than girls but possibly just because this is what boys enjoy doing anyway. A curriculum response that teaches responsible use is also required here.

 

The role of the internet in schools certainly needs constant examination. Students generally don’t see its usage at school as being as relevant as might be hoped. Indeed, Lankshear and Knobel describe how “…much classroom appropriation of new technologies is ineffective, wasteful, and wrongheaded. For a start, they [educators] are likely to see that effective use of the internet calls for sustained continuous periods online with minimal constraints” (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006b, p. 258).

 

A response is required to address this relevance, possibly through further research into teachers’ perceptions and usage, and there is arguably a need to revisit professional development models for the use of internet applications in the classroom for learning and teaching. Much of what the young people appear to do on the internet is play, not just with respect to online games but playing with video, music and social networking. The institutional rationale for the expense of providing the internet in schools is primarily for the transmitting of information to learned. This is how the cost can be justified. The dichotomous nature of the internet for play/learning is managed by young people, although ‘play’ is still the key word. This is consistent with Sandvig’s view of the internet as a place for ritual and play as well as for information retrieval and work (Sandvig, 2006). Again, Lankshear and Knobel “…do not advocate turning schools into ‘playgrounds’ for new literacies at the level of popular cultural engagement, Educational practice is distinct from and different to popular culture. The day we give that distinction away is the day we give formal education away” (Lankshear and Knobel, 2006b, p. 259).

 

Some authors speak of the necessity of engaging children with the use of the internet (Pritchard and Cartwright, 2004). Most children who responded to my research were soundly engaged, with the engagement being a natural and embedded part of a child’s habitus. I believe that the issue here relates more to giving children the critical and ethical capabilities to use the internet more skilfully.

 

Lack of access to the internet at home by children can mean exclusion from a range of social, creative and constructivist skills. Children not using the internet for communicating with friends, music, games and homework are missing out on a great deal. Perhaps this is a future role of schools’ internet provision, not just as an enabler of access, but also a promoter of innovative practice. Teachers employing strategies such as personalised learning, formative assessment and other contemporary approaches to education may find in the usage of the internet mechanisms by which children can become more independent, directing their own curriculum and managing their assessment for learning. Internet tools such as learning platforms require teacher engagement at the same time as letting go of the locus of control. The negative side of increased online engagement is that excessively heavy use of the internet is often related to music downloading and chat room use and the dangers of internet addiction should be an area of future concern both for parents and schools. Children who use the internet for more than two hours per day could be prone to internet addiction, and excessive internet use should be monitored by parents and teachers, as has already been noted by researchers (Yoo et al, 2004). The issue of internet addiction is also explored by Cao and Su who found that, certainly in China, young people with internet addiction possess different, and often disturbing psychological features when compared with those who use the internet less frequently (Cao and Su, 2007). The reality at the time of writing of this paper (2006-2008) is that a significant proportion of children use the internet to watch videos and claim that they are more likely to use the internet than television to learn about things (Ofcom, 2007, pp 94-95). As they get older (and approach the age of my sample group) they are also more likely to use the internet to keep in touch with other people (Ofcom, 2007, p. 96).

 

Both parents and teachers need to listen to and observe children’s online behaviour whilst at the same time respecting their privacy. Byron talks of how “in terms of adult input with the young person and technology, this is a time to move towards collaborative management” (Byron, 2008, p. 38). Zembylas and Vrasidas discuss the principles of Levinas’ view on ethics and how they relate to internet use. Internet use has an ethical significance which all parties must discover on a journey together. The ethics will evolve through a sensitive and sympathetic partnership (Zembylas and Vrasidas, 2005). With respect to the education of both parents and students, parental and child use of the internet together as a shared experience could improve the effectiveness of parental monitoring. This is supported by the findings of Wang et al (Wang, Bianchi and Raley, 2005). This also is supported by other writers who stress the importance of understanding parents’ and children’s interaction with the internet at home (Valentine and Holloway, 2001).

 

Looking back on my own research process in examining these areas, I can see issues relating to the time sensitivity of the data. The internet has changed significantly during the time of writing of this paper (2011) and in a short period of time the internet will further mutate and children may become engaged in a range of online activities that are yet to be invented. Activities described in this paper may be discarded by children in favour of new technologies affording fresh opportunities for leisure, for learning, communicating and collaborating. In this sense, this paper is an artefact representing a snapshot of the state of children’s internet usage during 2011.  

 

Further work will certainly need to be undertaken to ensure that we are constantly revising our own practices as educators, parents, builders of schools and collaborators with children’s online and offline worlds. New theories will in time emerge to support these and we must constantly reflect not just upon what is happening, but on what new ideas could emerge from future research.

References

BUTLER, C. (2002) Postmodernism: a very short introduction. Oxford, Oxford University Press.

BYRON, T. (2008) Byron Review: Children and New Technology. London, DCSF.

CAO, F. and Su, L. (2007) ‘Internet addiction among Chinese adolescents: prevalence and psychological features.’ In Child: Care, Health and Development, 33 (3) pp. 125-132.

GAUNTLETT, D. and JACKSON, L. (2008) Virtual Worlds: users and producers (Case Study: Adventure Rock). London, Communications and Media Research Institute, University of Westminster.

GEE, J. (2004) Game-like learning: an example of situated learning and implications for opportunity to learn. Madison, University of Wisconsin.

GRANIC, I. and LAMEY, A. (2000) ‘The self-organization of the internet and changing modes of thought.’ In New Ideas in Psychology, 18 (1) pp.93-107.

GREEN, H. and HANNON, C. (2007) Their Space: Education for a digital generation. London, Demos.

HERNWELL, P. (2005) ‘Children and 21st century challenges.’ In Childhoods 2005 Children and youth in emerging and transforming societies. Oslo pp. 47-53.

LANKSHEAR, C. and KNOBEL, M. (2006b) New literacies, Buckingham, Open University Press.

NUNE, M. (1995) ‘Baudrillard in cyberspace: internet, virtuality, and postmodernity.’ In Style, 29 (22) pp. 314-327.

O’CONNELL, R., PRICE, J. and BARROW, C. (2004) Emerging trends amongst primary school children’s use of the internet. University of Central Lancashire, Cyberspace Research Unit.

OFCOM (2007) The communications market 2007. London, Ofcom.

PRITCHARD, A. and CARTWRIGHT, V. (2004) ‘Transforming what they read: helping eleven-year-olds engage with internet information.’ In Literacy, 38 (1) pp. 26-31

SANDVIG, C. (2006) ‘The internet at play: child uses of public internet connections.’ In Journal of Computer-Mediated Communications, 11 (4) pp. 932-956.

SEFTON-GREEN, J. (2004) Report 7: literature review in informal learning with technology outside school. Futurelab series. Bristol, Futurelab.

VALENTINE, G. and HOLLOWAY, S. (2001) ‘On-line dangers?: geographies of parents’ fears for children’s safety in cyberspace.’ In Professional Geographer, 53 (1), pp. 71-83.

YOO, J. Y., CHO, S. C., HA, J., YUNE, K. Y., KIM, S. J., HWANG, J., CHUNG, A., SUNG, Y. H. and LYOO, A. I. K. (2004) ‘Attention deficit hyperactivity symptoms and internet addiction.’ In Psychiatry and Clinical Neurosciences, 58 (5), pp. 487-494.

ZEMBYLAS, M. and VRASIDAS, C. (2004) ‘Emotion, reason, and information and communications technologies in education: some issues in a post-emotional society.’ In E-Learning, 1 (1) pp. 105-127.

 


Sexting, Griefing, Piracy, Privacy and Massively Multiplayer Thumbwrestling

October 31, 2011

Last week I was fortunate to be at the First International Symposium on Digital Ethics hosted by The Center for Digital Ethics and Policy at Loyola University, Chicago. The first keynote speaker, Jan McGonigal (author of “Reality is Broken”) had us playing Massively Multiplayer Thumbwrestling, a good way to boost oxytocin levels and a metaphor for online gaming. All the presentations were excellent indeed but for me there were several highlights: Jo-Ann Oravec talked about the ethics of sexting and
issues involving consent and the production of intimate content. Richard Wojak examined griefing through the virtual world and the moral status of griefing. Brian Carey took a controversial look at piracy and the times when it may be ethically permissible. Alex Gekker offered some fascinating insights into ‘Anonymous’ and the governmental oversight of the internet. A lunchtime treat
was Julian Dibbell reprising his seminal 1990s piece originally published in the Village Voice entitled “A Rape in Cyberspace“. Charles Ess provided an insightful view into privacy, the self and new media.

There is much to be learnt in this provocative and emergent area, and I look forward to hearing and sharing some further thoughts
on digital ethics.


Action research for teachers measuring the impact of ICT

May 5, 2011

This paper is based on the guidelines available from the Becta site (www.becta.org.uk). It provides an extremely useful tool for people about to undertake Action Research. The purpose of these guidelines is to provide a basic framework for reflection on classroom practice, most especially to enable study of the impact of ICT on teaching and learning. The guidelines are intended to support teachers at the planning stages of action research in the classroom. Using a structured format can enable research outcomes and findings to be shared, and can provide a research basis for subsequent planned change.

What do I need to consider to undertake action research?
Action research follows a cyclical process, and only the first cycle can be planned in advance. Thereafter, the next action research cycles depend on the evaluation phase at the end of previous cycles. Action research is often collaborative, involving planning with a colleague or colleagues. Action researchers may have a `critical friend’ or research facilitator working with them. Below is a suggested structure to help you plan and organise your research.
Keep a research journal
It is a good idea to keep a research journal, in which you can accumulate information about the progress of your work. Your journal should contain contextual information, field notes, ideas, dates, and any seemingly minor details which you feel are best recorded. They may well turn out to be important, and it is often hard to recall these things after time has elapsed.
Plan your research
Before you undertake your research, consider the following structure for planning the various stages of your research.
Title
Title of the research project.
Outline
Outline of the study in 100 words.
Timeline
Clarify the start and completion dates for the study and specify milestones in the research. Meeting times and dates can also be recorded. The timeline may well be altered as the research progresses, with the archived timelines acting as part
of your research journal data.
Contacts list
Ensure that contact details of everyone involved in the study are accessible to all. Each person on the contact list, including administrators, should have a paper copy of this document, and one person should have responsibility for updating it regularly. A `Who has Responsibility’ section can help to ensure that everyone is aware of their own role and those of other colleagues.

Research and learning
Specify how the research links into the curriculum and record some of the pre- conditions of the study. This stage of the planning records information about the `value added’ expected of the ICT employed in the research. Include a brief
description of the nature of the activity to be undertaken by teachers and learners, its intended outcomes and any anticipated difficulties.

Field notes record sheet
Standardise the recording of contextual events as the study progresses. Completed sheets can become part of the research journal and provide a basis for discussion at meetings.
Establish the purpose of the research
Key questions to ask are:
1. What is the principal aim of the research?
2. What do you envisage as the potential benefits of the research? – for teaching and learning, – for individual pupils, –
3. for your own professional development, – for the school?
4. How might the research contribute to our general understanding about the process of teaching and learning?
Formulate questions for your proposed research
It is a good idea to summarise your proposed research as a question or a short set of questions. Your research question or questions should be well focused, for example to reflect a particular issue which has arisen as part of teaching and
learning in your classroom. You might wish to research the effects of change using new hardware, software, or classroom management. Whatever the topic, formulate it as one or more questions requiring answers.
Specify the background to the project
Provide an understanding of the cultural context of the study school(s) and partner organisations. Include any conditions which you consider may affect the outcomes of change. Background information can cover:
1. the whole-school context – type of school – number of pupils on roll – number of staff – ICT provision – other relevant information.
2. the classroom context – physical characteristics of the classroom (including ICT provision) – class profile, including:
– age range – number – strengths – pupils on SEN register – other relevant information – classroom support.
3. the personal context – How did you become involved in the research project? – Why is this research important to you at this point in your career?
4. other factors.
Ethics
Have you obtained consent to undertake research? Record the response of your discussion of the research with the headteacher, senior management, governors, other colleagues and pupils.
Can you ensure that confidentiality is protected, if required? How?
Some ethical rules for school-based research:
1. Ensure that the research you propose is viable, that adequate research design has been established, and that appropriate data-collection techniques are chosen.
2. Explain as clearly as possible the aims, objectives, and methods of the research to everyone involved.
3. If using confidential documents, ensure that anonymity is maintained by eliminating any kind of material or information that could lead others to identify the subject or subjects. Pupils’ identities should not be revealed in web material published as a result of the research.
4. Ensure that you have permission from all involved before publication of any or part of the research.
5. You should be aware of the possible uses of the research findings.
6. Research should not ultimately disadvantage any group of pupils.
7. Data should be stored securely and destroyed within 18 months of the end of the study.
8. If there is joint or collaborative research, all researchers must adhere to the same set of ethical principles.
(Adapted from Hitchcock, G and Hughes, D 1989. Research and the Teacher . London: Routledge. p 201)

Setting up the research: some decisions
Before undertaking research, decide on the method of data collection, and why.
1. What data will you collect?
2. Who will you collect data from?
3. In what form will data be collected?
4. How will recording of data take place? Consider the suitability (or otherwise) of a range of research methods.
For example:
• qualitative data – case study – interview – questionnaire – documentary evidence – observation journal
• quantitative data – What will be measured? – How will data be collected? * analysis – How will data be analysed? –
At what points will analysis be undertaken?

Running the study
This checklist can help to ensure that the study is well organised before you pilot or run the research. Have you:
• obtained consent for the study?
• booked computers / ICT / computer suite?
• checked that electrical / ICT equipment is in working order?
• obtained supplies of consumables (for example, tapes)?
• checked that you are familiar with any software or hardware?
• checked that you can obtain technical support if necessary?
• produced and tested your data-collection instruments?
• kept a record of the contextual conditions existing before the study?
• checked that your study is integrated into the school’s planning?
• checked that your pupils understand your aims for the research?
• checked your own and your pupils’ aims for their learning?
• organised classroom support if necessary?
• checked that everyone involved has a timetable for the study?
• checked that everyone involved has contact details for one another?
• ensured that there is a clear storage and retrieval system for data collected?
• built time for analysis, reflection and discussion into the research timetable?
• organised a definite start and end point for data collection?
• decided who will write up the study?
• decided who will read and comment on drafts of findings?
• found a way to disseminate your findings?
• started a research journal which must be continually updated?
• set up a way to record questions which arise during the study?

Reporting your findings
The structure, content, word length and style of presentation of your findings will depend on your intended audience. For example, papers for journals or articles for magazines will be presented in a different format from book chapters or a research report. It is important to look carefully at existing publications of the kind you are trying to write, to gauge such features as the style, length, and format for your writing. The following structure outlines the presentation of a research study and its findings. The abstract may well be the last section to be written. Material for sections 2 to 6 and 10 to 12 can be collected throughout the study. For information on good practice in educational research writing see:
http://www.bera.ac.uk/writing.html

General

structure for a research report
1. Abstract
2. Background / introduction / context for the research
3. Review of relevant literature
4. Research methods
5. Findings
6. Analysis
7. Discussion
8. Conclusions
9. Summary and new directions
10. References
11. Glossary
12. Appendix

Finding the relevant literature
What existing work, including articles on research methods, relates to, or informs your study?
Compile an annotated biography of books, book chapters, articles and papers, with quotations, including page numbers.
Compile an annotated list of relevant web addresses with dates. Links provided here can help you to find relevant work:
• BUBL http://bubl.ac.uk/link/ contains a thorough list of links to journals and research for specific subjects.
• Educati on-line http://www.leeds.ac.uk/educol/ has a directory of papers and research.
• Educational Action Research http://www.triangle.co.uk/ a publication on action research.
• PINAKES http://www.hw.ac.uk/libWWW/irn/pinakes/pinakes.html a portal to subject-specific academic research directories.
• Social Sciences Information Gateway http://www.sosig.ac.uk/education/ .
• Teachernet http://www.teachernet.gov.uk – the Department for Education and Skills (DfES) portal for teacher information.
• T for T: Action Research by Teachers for Teachers http://194.83.41.143/TforT/ .
• TTA: Teacher Training Agency Research pages http://www.canteach.gov.uk/research/ .
• UK Higher Education & Research Libraries http://www.ex.ac.uk/library/uklibs.html .

Other sources of information
• Becta Becta Research Area http://www.becta.org.uk/research contains information on Becta’s research activities,
• Teacher Resource Exchange http://contribute.bit10.net/ teachers can submit their ideas for ICT use, and develop ideas to become full resources for use in classrooms.
• Teachers Online Project http://top.ngfl.gov.uk/ a discussion forum, where teachers can exchange views and join in collaborative projects. There is a monthly newsletter on ICT in education.
• Virtual Teacher Centre (VTC) http://vtc.ngfl.gov.uk/ links to ICT in practice across the curriculum, as well as news and updates for teachers.


Digital Indigestion

February 22, 2011

About 12 years ago, an event occurred in my personal life that changed everything dramatically. The details are not important but the net result was that I lost nearly all my stuff. Except for my clothes, some CDs, a lot of books and various bits of ephemera. The event was traumatic and changed my life considerably. On the bright side, it resulted in a new, streamlined me. A thinner, more economical, sleeker and low-maintenance version of myself that revelled in a new asceticism. Never, I swore would I accumulate stuff again. Unnecessary baggage.

Ha. Fat chance. 12 years on and I have more stuff than ever. Too much stuff. I put it down partially to my slightly obsessive personality. Music for example. My iPod, which started off with a modest collection of some 500 tunes now has over 20,000 pieces of music on it. I mean, what’s the point? I might as well listen to the radio as use the shuttle function. And when you get a collection that large it becomes impossible to choose. It’s like a wine list that’s too long. In the end, you throw your arms in the air, shut your eyes and point at random. My Kindle is the same. Swollen with hundreds of free ‘classics’. It has become increasingly hard to choose what to read. My television has over 1000 channels. I cannot choose what to watch. My listening, reading and watching habits have been sabotaged by too much choice which is really no choice at all. In desperation I turn to the Internet and type ‘cats’ into Google. I receive 100 million pages to choose from.

There is no alternative. I put the iPod on shuffle, read two pages from each of the squillion books on the Kindle, whilst simultaneously surfing the web, browsing the television and for good measure checking Facebook and Twitter. Oh, and a quick burst of COD. But something is missing. Oh, yes. I need to do my homework too. Just as well I can multitask. Or not.


YouTube and the Death of Nostalgia

February 10, 2011

Given my chrono/geodislocation I am particularly drawn to a time and geography that I am mythologising in the context of my current identity. Let me explain. I am an expatriate Australian who has lived in England for the past 11 years. I am also a child of the 1970s. As I reach the transient point of no-return I am drawn to the Kodachrome memory of Australia at that time with its colonial naivety and modernist sensibility embodied by the era of the triple-fronted-brick-veneer-nuclear-(free)-family.

I think with remembered adolescent affection about that Pre-Dismissal era of Nation Review, Gough Whitlam, Barry McKenzie, Auntie Jack, Pre-outed Patrick White, Moomba and the sample bags of the Royal (?) Melbourne Agricultural Show. How to revisit those times?

Ebay, YouTube, Flickr and Wikipedia let me revisit/reinvent these shabby romanticised times which of course is covered by the eternally ironic cloak of Edna Everage. I can even virtually and literally buy back the rusty toys of my childhood.
In the future, the past and present will be perpetually connected by the umbilical cord of social media, removing the spatial and temporal dislocation which nostalgia feeds on. Perhaps the only nostalgia we will have will be for nostalgia itself. Future generations may live as T.S. Eliot describes in Four Quartets.

“Time present and time past
Are both perhaps present in time future,
And time future contained in time past.”

Who would’ve thought that a modernist poet could be so postmodern. I relish the fact that social media happened during my middle age. I relish the gap between “What might have been and what has been”. It gives me a nice warm feeling. And listening to the theme song of ‘The Adventures of Barry McKenzie’ still makes the hair stand up on the back of my neck. I look fondly back to an imagined time of Carl Ditterich, Sunny Boys, Happy Hammond, Zoot and Polly Waffles. Australia grew up and I never even noticed. But I can relive my past through YouTube on an endless loop. Social media in an intravenous feed. A place where I am doomed and blessed to recapture the mythologized past. Future generations don’t know what they are missing. For them, nostalgia may already be dead.


Googling through the Research

January 23, 2011

I had the privilege for the past two days of running a seminar on educational research for our Master’s level teacher leader programme at Sheffield Hallam University. During the seminar we talked about the eclectic methodologies one can use when evaluating data. The discussion inevitably turned towards the tension that sometimes exists between qualitative and quantitative methodologies and the unhelpful binary that this sometimes creates. We also examined some of the free tools that are available to both the professional and the occasional researcher, and between us we uncovered a rich mine of easily accessible tools. Without meaning to sound like a Google zealot, the Google suite offers a range of helpful applications in this field. Google Scholar is a great alternative to the sometimes unwieldy online university library resources, offering access to many online journal articles. Narrow you search by include the metatag ‘pdf’ in the search criteria. Google Docs has a powerful spreadsheet that offers the facility to create simple aggregated statistics. For the analysis of qualitative data, free applications such as Weft QDA (Qualitative Data Analysis) can help with thematic analysis of text based data and the mighty and majestic Wordle.net creates word clouds based on text files that not only analyse but present data in an attractive and readable form. For online surveys and questionnaires, both zoomerang and survey monkey are good applications that allow data to be collected quickly and efficiently online. I wish I was doing my Master’s now. Back in 1984 I used a manual typewriter and spent an eye-watering amount of money on a scientific calculator that proved to be totally counter-intuitive and ill-suited to the purpose for which I bought it. The tools available now offer huge affordances to the teacher researcher. I can hardly wait to read the research reports from the people doing our teacher leader programme.


Badlapur and the Bombay Teen Challenge

January 13, 2011

Mr Devaraj is a man with a vision and a mission. Mumbai has a red light district that is like something from a horror movie. Except worse. Girls as young as 10 and 11 are kidnapped from villages in northern India or Nepal and brought to Mumbai as sex slaves. They are kept in cages for 3 years where they are systematically and repeatedly tortured and raped. At the end of this time they are conditioned into sex slavery and have nowhere else to go. Many of these girls have HIV/Aids and children of their own who often contract the disease from their mothers.The orphans at Badlapur

For many years Mr Devaraj has been rescuing children and women from their slavery and taken them to the communities that he has built in Badlapur where they are cared for, nursed back to health and educated and trained to live normal lives. Today, I had the privilege of visiting these communities.

Mr Devaraj graciously picked me up from hotel and we drove the 2 hours through the picturesque mountains to the east of Mumbai to the first of these communities. I was greeted with many smiles and hugs and presented with a bunch of flowers after which the children sang to me whilst I drank delicious Indian tea spiced with ginger. I spent several hours with the children answering questions, looking at their art work and talking with them. The light and the happiness in their eyes are extraordinary. Just being with them is inspirational. They like jokes, and we spent time telling each other riddles. Their houses are simple but beautiful communities, spotlessly clean and maintained by the children themselves. Children as young as 3 years of age have responsibility for helping with the cleaning, the cooking and looking after one another. The highlight of the children’s week is when they can go on the computer for one hour and the older girls maintain friendships through Facebook. Do you know what Indian and Facebook have in common? Along with China, they make up the three largest communities in the world. It really struck home how ubiquitous social networking is around the world. There is a great educational programme for the young people, with individualised instruction for each child which guarantees that each child will be at an age-appropriate educational level within a year. It is truly not just an educational triumph but a triumph of humanity.

I also visited the orphanages. Often, when a sex slave dies of HIV/Aids, her children are dumped on the street. Two such children were Rhaji and Shaneer. Shaneer was three years old when her mother died and she and her one year old brother were left in the gutter. Shaneer used to make up songs for Rhaji. “Little brother, don’t cry. I will beg for food for you and I will look after you that you grow up to be a strong man”. This is how Mr Devaraj found them on the streets. A dying one-year old child with his three- year old big sister looking after him. The photographs Mr Deveraj showed me pictured two children on the brink of death. That picture was taken nine years ago. Today I met them. Shaneer is a charming and graceful girl of 12 and Rhaji is an energetic young 10 year old. They are still inseparable and happy beyond belief. The joy and the energy of all the children in the orphanage is contagious and through a mist of tears I could not help smiling. Joy like that is very infectious. I have also never been hugged by so many children in my whole life.

After eating a delicious lunch with them (Indians really know about good food, even the little ones), I reluctantly left the orphanage. Our next stop was the community for the women themselves, those who had been rescued from sex slavery. Many had HIV/Aids and today was a sad day as after a long battle, Nimi succumbed to her illness and died peacefully of pneumonia, a common complication with HIV/Aids. Although I was an outsider I was not treated as such and shared in their grief as Mr.Devaraj told them the news. They sang prayers softly amidst the silent weeping and the harsh reality of the environment from which these women were rescued really came home in a forceful way. I also visited the vocational workshop where a top Mumbai fashion designer had left her prestigious job in the city and come to Badlapur to teach the women how to make beautiful clothes and jewellery. I was presented with lovely silk trousers, handbags and earrings for my wife.

Mr Devaraj also runs a community for men who are recovered drug addicts and the educational, health and social programme that is run out of this remote, rural town community would match any major city drug rehabilitation programme for excellence of outcomes. The programme has a 98% success rate and I spent time talking with Bhandri, himself a recovered drug addict who was brought into the community 16 years as a rescued child and now heads up the programme.

It is hard to do justice to the impact and importance of this wonderful and effective humanitarian project and I do not have the skill with words or pictures to do it justice. I urge anyone who is reading this to go to www.bombayteenchallenge.com to read the real story for yourself and please make a donation. This programme saves lives and is making a real difference to Mumbai sex slaves, their children and their orphans. I am pleased to wholeheartedly commend this project to everyone. Oh, and watch Slumdog Millionaire again. An insightful and beautiful film.


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