What’s the best way to introduce students to using a VLE? Students may be digital natives but my experience is that they don’t automatically know how to use digital tools effectively. They also don’t always know how to use digital tools sensibly. Children learn from an early age how to behave in a classroom and learn that different behaviours are acceptable in a classroom than are acceptable at home or in the playground with friends. In online spaces fewer students see these boundaries. For many students the internet is their playground and social space where they can say what they want to their friends using their own language and without having to worry about interference from parents and teachers. This in fact is one of the many reasons we are trying to combine the internet and teaching, many VLEs promise to make education available at home to students to use in their own time. I have seen many examples of students exhibiting what I would deem unnacceptable behaviour using VLEs and online tools. Examples are bad language, silly comments, use of offensive images, unconstructive criticisms of fellow students and just general sillyness. The vast majority of this is not done with malice but with good intentions or just for fun. When students use, for example, an online forum or chat, they are used to posting fun jokey messages to friends. Most wouldn’t dare do the same thing in an execise book, they would use formal language and no silly comments, the jokey messages to friends would probably be passed around bits of paper or in their personal planners.
So what is the answer? I believe students need good training as to how to use online tools sensibly so they can learn a difference between the classroom space and the playground space. If this is started young it should become second nature as students progress through school. A clear set of rules and consequences are also needed. These needn’t be overbearing or restricting. I asked some of my 6th formers to help come up with some simple rules for use of our VLE – this is what we’ve got to so far…
1. No swearing
2. No innapropriate images/video
3. No offensive behaviour
4. Don’t say anything that you wouldn’t say to anyone’s face
5. All images/videos posted must have permission from people involved
6. If any of the above rules are broken the user may be blocked or face further punishment.
Certainly not perfect but simple. We’ll see how they go.
There is a worry that by separating the classroom online space from the playgroung online space and by training pupils in a more formal style of communication we will put them off using online tools for learning. But looking at it from another angle if we train pupils to use online tools sensibly and effectively it may change the way they use them socially for the better.