Using online networking to your advantage

Brett Laniosh

Brett Laniosh is a West Midlands based education practitioner with over 30 years experience working in both the local authority and private sector. His company, Catshill Learning Partnerships,has won awards and offers a wide range of school based solutions to establishments seeking to maximise the creative use of ICT and promote online safety. He offers independent advice and training on a wide range of ICT themes. Brett founded the Business in Education (BiE) www.busined.com network which comprises over fifty businesses that offer and supply quality goods and services to schools. BiE came about because Brett believes that good local businesses can work together to provide better services for schools.

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Your average schoolchild is likely to be extremely tech-savvy, but how should their access to online socialisation be handled? Brett Laniosh, an education guru with over 25 years of experience, discusses how chat rooms and forums can enhance a student’s education.

Mention Facebook to most school leaders and you will probably get an “Oh no!” type of reaction. The reality for many schools is that Facebook is nothing but trouble. From bullying to intimidation and concerns about privacy, the problems can be significant. And those issues can affect pupils, school staff and parents. Schools of course have a duty of care to ensure that pupils are aware of the potential problems when using social media. We tell children that they need to be at least 13 to have a profile on Facebook and they shouldn’t post photos online that they wouldn’t want their mom to see. As a school consultant, I am called upon to give advice around this potential minefield. This can include running online safety sessions for parents, pupils and teachers; I urge everyone to take a look at the brilliant materials CEOP have placed on www.thinkyouknow.co.uk.

I do feel sorry for parents and teachers, though. You need to be 13 to register for a Facebook account but some six year olds are pressuring their parents to set up an account for them. Is this the digital equivalent of a supermarket putting sweets at child level?

Delivering online or e-safety messages to pupils’ parents gives me the opportunity to hear a number of stories about the dangers of the online world. One of the areas we cover at these presentations is the use of social media such as Facebook. When I ask parents if their children are chatting online, the response tends to be either yes or definitely not. It is this second response that interests me. So how do you know your children aren’t talking to their friends or even strangers? Do they have their own laptop or mobile phone? Do they have an Xbox connected to the internet?

Evidence concludes that parents need to have an open and honest dialogue with their children because the reality is that most children do have an online profile and are chatting to others. As a teacher I know that education is the key to staying safe online. To paraphrase Professor Stephen Heppell, we don’t throw our children off the pier when they are 16 and expect them to be able to swim, so why don’t we teach young people to use social media before they run the risk of coming into danger? Actually a lot of schools do just this. Safe chat rooms restricted to a particular class and monitored by the teacher are something that I promote in schools and I would encourage other educators to do the same.

I set up the chat rooms using the school learning platform. Most have a facility to have a discussion area and it is simply a matter of calling this a “Chat room” and setting permissions appropriately. The key here is to ensure that pupils can post and reply and not just read them! Prior to this and to whet the appetite of the pupils, I create a ‘teacher’s questions’ board so that pupils get familiar with the concept of framing open-ended questions and posting replies. Children always ask if they can ask questions and that is where we move to the next level. The answer I give is, “It depends…”. A meaningful dialogue ensues about appropriate posting and respecting others. From this the children draw up their own set of rules, which are typically:

  • Do not post closed questions
  • Do not post replies that may upset others
  • Behave sensibly when posting
  • If you spot something wrong, tell a teacher
  • Think before posting
  • Do not forget to stick to the usual rules of grammar, spelling and punctuation
  • Do not use capital letters all the time as IT LOOKS LIKE YOU’RE SHOUTING
  • Do not spoil your post by making text too large or adding extra characters like !!!!
  • Keep the chat room tidy by deleting questions after a couple of weeks

The chat room is very popular with children, and is the ideal vehicle for promoting online safety and promoting anti-bullying messages. I have set up and successfully used chat rooms with year 2 pupils and above.

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