Sunday, July 23, 2006

Student fined for anonymous comment on his blog

On Saturday there was an article published in el Pais (in Spanish of course)about a student who has been find 400 Euros (200 acording to the electronic edition of the newspaper) because of a comment published on his blog.

Ivan Fresneda wrote about his college, saying that it was incoherent and absurd, complaining about the lack of newspapers in his school, and was extremely critical of the methodology of his Philosophy teacher.

Now Ivan has been taken to court and fined because of threats to the Philosophy teacher that were published in the comments section of this blog post. Although the comments were published anonymously, Ivan has been held responsible because it is his blog, and he should have let the comment be published.

Obviously, this has repercussions for bloggers everywhere, who could potentially be held responsible for comments published anonymously on their blogs, and is also related to the cyber-bullying incident I wrote about recently.

At the very least, we need to ensure that comments on student blogs are moderated before they are published, and now it's not just because of the threat of spam.

Tuesday, July 18, 2006

Blogs, kids, parents & teachers & cyber-bullying

According to a recent article on the BBC website, almost a third of kids in the UK now use blogs and social networking websites, "but two thirds of parents do not even know what they are".

We've all heard of the digital divide between technologically rich countries and technologically poor ones, but there are strong indications that there is another digital divide and it's generational. The article goes on to call this gap in technological knowledge between generations "alarming", and indeed it is.

Of course, this is "alarming" because unless adults have a clear picture of what the children are doing online, and take an interest, then they cannot guide them in matters of Internet safety, etc.

Here's anotgher quote from the article: "A tenth of the 11-year-olds who took part in the survey said their parents did not know about the people with whom they communicated online."

Why is this? Is it that they don't take an interest? Or aren't concerned about what their children are doing on the computer? Perhaps they just assume that the kids are "just playing a game", when so many more are turning to real communication (often combined with gaming). I remember hearing some great advice (on an Ed Tech Talk show I'm sure)about how to take an interest in what your children are doing online when they are at home, and to help ensure Internet safety : put the computer in a shared space, and not in the kids' bedroom. That way, you'll see what they are doing, and can also observe and take a greater interest in their online activities.

Of course, the situation isn't helped when the schools the kids go to simply ban these sites and don't offer any guidance either about safe and ethical Internet use when using these tools. I keep hearing stories about the insufficient attitude that most educational establishments have towards helping kids to use these new tools safely and effectively. And ethically too. It comes up frequently during conversations on Ed Tech Talk, and on edublogs, etc. Perhaps the people in charge think that these blogs, websites, and tools are just a passing phase and will shortly go away. When are they going to wake up?

By now, I'm sure that most educators (at least those with their ears open, and the ones who take time to talk to their students) have their own stories about kids and problems online. One of my students (studying English with me 2 x week at the academy) last year was involved in a cyber-bullying incident in her school. She, a fifteen year old found herself written about on a photo blog after falling out with two of her (ex)friends over a boy. Not only did they insult and write cruel comments about the student, but they published pictures of themselves with a knife and said that they should use the knives against her.

Obviously, these comments and blog posts made their way around the school because of the highly interconnectedness of the photo blogging software, and the girl became so seriously hurt by the exposure and pressure that she ended up skipping classes and, eventually, spending a week in hospital with depression. I got to know about this only after the whole incident had blown over, when she returned to my classes (she had been missing my classes too because of what was happening)and told all in one of the most highly absorbing and communicative classes of the whole year.

The most incredible aspect of the whole incident was the reaction of the school. It took a long time for the truth to come out. I think, if I remember rightly, that the girl only ended up telling her parents about what really had happened when she ended up in hospital. She had been acuteley embarrassed about the whole event, and had hoped it would blow over. Of course, the parents went to the school to complain about what the other students had done (with print-outs from the blogs). The school's reaction was to say that it had nothing to do with them; that this was something that was going on outside of school, and that they couldn't get involved, or punish the students who had posted the threats, etc. on their blogs The only thing they agreed to do was to ask the students to remove the offending posts.

As a result this cyber-bullied student was devastated, and feels betrayed and let down by adults and teachers in general, and by the school in particular. The parents decided the best would be for her to change to another school, and this is what has happened. But she feels bitter and has been deeply affected by the experience. I saw a dramatic change in her when she returned to class at the end of the year. Instead of the quite shy, happy, studious and friendly girl that had attended my classes at the beginning of the year, was an embittered, rebelious soul who wanted to end her education as soon as possible, and had lost faith and trust in the people she thought were previously there to keep her safe and to guide her. After hearing her story, I didn't blame her for feeling this way. I just felt sad that the education system had let her down, partly by trying to ignore the changing technological world that we live in, and by refusing to acknowledge a responsibility to help and to educate the young people of today to use this technology safely and wisely.

I just wonder how many more students are going to have to suffer as she did before schools recognise they have to do something other than ban sites such as Myspace. Let's hope for all our sakes it's not many.

Tuesday, July 11, 2006

Using recorded Skype conversations as assessment tools

I was asked today by Barbara Sawhill to briefly take part in a presentation she's giving with Barbara Ganley on 'Using Skype, Podcasting and Blogging in Foreign Language Teaching'

Sitting here waiting for their Skype call, I decided to prepare myself a little bit and refresh my memory about their work.

As soon as I start looking I'm struck by what I've been missing out on by not blogging much, or taking much notice of the 'edublogosphere' recently. I can't let this happen again, no matter how busy I get.

First, I found a description of the workshop they are giving today:

"Recently, new technologies have distinguished themselves as credible tools that increase students' production and competence in a target language. With this change, a new conversation has begun about the structure of a language class, thinking about moving from a traditional teacher-and-text-centered classroom to a student-centered and possibly even a totally un-centered, textbook-less learning environment. In this workshop, we will explore several new "disruptive technologies" -- blogs, wikis, podcasts, rss feeds and Skype ( and explore ways these tools can support the objectives of a language curriculum."

This year I've been witness to the efforts that Barbara Sawhill has been making with her Spanish students, as we've been involved in podcast exchanges. Tonight, following links, I've just come across one of the most interesting reflections I've ever seen about using recorded Skype conversations.

Barbara Sawhill talks here, on the Language Lab Unleashed blog, about using recorded Skype calls as assessment tools for language learning.

In particular, she reflects upon students conducting Skype interviews as part of their final projects, and mentions the great value of doing this when students really use these conversations as a form of self-evaluation. She found that many students approached the task trying to produce something they thought Barbara wanted, rather than really reflect upon the conversations they had had. When her students approached the task as more than "just a list of questions that need to be answered", however, as one of Barbara's students (Gigi) did, then something special took place. In the recording, Gig talks to Rita, an EFL teacher in Argentina. She reflects upon the conversation in her blog.

Barbara also mentions the idea of students using these conversations as "snapshots" of what they were able to do at a particular moment, and she hopes some of them at least will be able to listen again in the future, and to be able to assess their progress. This is surely an area that has great potential in language learning.

Sunday, July 09, 2006

Networking on the Net with Braz-Tesol

Bee has invited me and other webheads to participate in her presentation 'Networking on the Net', which she is giving at the Braz-Tesol 10th National Convention today,Sunday, July 9th 2006 From 13: 45 -15:15 GMT

She is using a wiki for the organisation of materials, guests, and online places, and people have been encouraged to join in the Skypecast, which is to be hosted and webcast by World Bridges via the Webheads in Action community site.

If this seems like a lot of URLs already, then you ain't seen nothing yet, as the plan is to take participants to Tapped In, Alado & Learning Times too, introducing some of the best tools around for online synchronous participation. It's ambitious, but will be a lot of fun, and a very interesting learning experience for anyone interested in the cutting edge of e-learning (if you pardon the cliche)

Feeling lost? You needn't be. Just start off at Bee's wiki and in the Skypecast and let Bee, the host, guide you.

Thursday, July 06, 2006

The Webcast Academy

I've not been blogging much lately as I've been too occupied with work and with EFL Bridges and the Webcast Academy that World Bridges have organised to help all of us learn how to use webcasting tools well enough to handle our own live streams, etc.

It's been a lot of fun, but I want to get back to blogging too as I miss it, and I now have more time on my hands.

If anyone is still out there reading this and would like to try their hand at webcasting, then now is your opportunity as the Webcast Academy is looking for its second intake of interns:

Here's what Jeff Lebow, our webcasting guru has to say about it:

We are now accepting applications for the 'Class of 1.2'.
Applicaitons are due by July 16 and the session will begin July 23.
More information is available at:

If you have any additional questions, please post them in The Academy Forums

Try it, it's a lot of fun