Despite my belief in learning as potentially self organising, I am regularly amazed at how children in my class take technological tools and make them their own. I have previously seen children innovating in their use of online tools, but today I became aware of something that astounded me in terms of self organised use of social media.
This afternoon I introduced edmodo to my class, framed by a discussion of the safe use of social networking prompted by their home use of online games. I have been aware for some time that children have been using google docs to create shared spaces for communication. This began with groups logging in to documents created as part of their school work, and then using the chat feature to discuss what they were doing; with one group three producing an 18 page play script in a single evening.
I noticed this evolving when a document was shared with me on a Saturday afternoon titled ‘Everyone come on at 5 please’. This document had been created by a girl at home, and shared with the entire class in the hope they would see it and log on at the same time to allow some real-time communication. This has continued to spread through the class, but in a rather haphazard way, as many do not check their email and their participation was down to checking their docs account at the right time by chance.
This use of collaborative documents to create shared spaces for interaction seems very innovative to me. The children have a desire to create shared spaces for communicating outside of school, and have used the tools at their disposal to do so despite the fact they are not really designed for this purpose. However, I did have some concerns about it. Firstly, the fact that they were obviously finding it challenging to actually recruit people at the right time, as children were not being notified of the existence of a space, and were only finding it by chance. A second concern was the fact that when these documents were not shared with me it was not straightforward, although by no means impossible, for me to moderate what was going on. Now I do not believe that I should be watching their every move, but this is a very new thing for them and I do feel the need to be able to keep a handle on things in case there are difficulties.
Introducing edmodo seemed like the next step as, despite their innovative use of google docs, it is a tool designed for the purpose they have in mind. Edmodo basically acts as a ‘walled garden’ version of twitter, where pupils can send short messages and links to each other in a space that is private only to our class. I can moderate the messages if needs be, and keep an eye on how they are using it.
I introduced it this afternoon, and the class had a fun session messaging each other. I then used it’s ‘assignments’ feature to send them details of the work for the afternoon, and they continued to use it to communicate whilst collaborating on some google docs presentations. They seemed really excited by the potential of this tool, and I stayed logged in as they went home, eager to see what would happen.
As expected a number of girls logged on as soon as they got home and started chatting, but quickly decided to move this chat to a shared google doc called ‘Chat for girls only’, distributed the link to this and then disappeared. I was slightly concerned at this attempt to go ‘off the record’, and felt I should explore this so logged in to the document they were on. What I found was a narrative that really suprised me…
A girl had obviously created a space ‘for girls only’, and had started the document by explaining that no boys were to be invited and the reasons for this. This had then turned into a debate about the fairness of this policy, which was followed up by one girl creating a rival space called ‘Chat for Boys and Girls’. The ‘no boys’ rule having set a precedent, this girl started by explaining that this was a fair space in which anyone could participate. Below this was what appeared be a crowd sourced set of community guidelines for how the members wanted people to behave in this space, going well beyond the original purpose it was created for.
At this point I started to feel like something of an intruder here, as I had stepped uninvited into a self organised online space created for children with shared values of gender equality! Obviously this use of social media is something I need to keep tabs on, to make sure that I can be available to the children as they explore their use of it. What is clear to me, though, is that all I need to do is give them access to the tools and then be there to support if needed; they are quite capable of defining their communities and even moderating the participation in them on their own.
Given the resources and permission to self organise their experiences, children are capable of doing so competently on their own. This experience showed me that perhaps as teachers we should trust children to self organise more, and be there for advice when problems arise, rather than telling them how things ‘should be done’.