Digital Literacy

Computer Science is not Digital Literacy

I'm a huge fan of the current wave of enthusiasm and political will to transform the way that ICT is delivered in schools. This morning at BETT, the UK's Education Secretary Micheal Gove will outline the Government's endorsement of the development of Computer Science and hopefully, a more interesting, relevant and creative computing curriculum.

I'm a big supporter of brilliant initiatives like Code Academy, who are making getting started with coding easier and more accessible than ever before, and the fantastic work going on to get children and young people not just consuming tech but creating it, such as Coding for Kids (check out the #codingforkids hash tag on Twitter for related links, discussion and resources).

I've also done a huge amount of work over the years promoting, supporting and contributing to the idea of digital literacy. I currently work for Leicester City Council, and this year will see the role out of a city-wide digital literacy programme which aims to support every teacher across the city's 25 Secondary schools in developing digital literacy, both as individuals and as whole school communities, positively impacting on education, providing opportunities for, and engaging every young person in the city. The City Council is working in partnership with the schools, both of Leicester's Universities, and with local community initiatives and entrepreneurs, as well as with national and international partners, to make sure our ambitions for the city are realised.

In a recent article, 'Digital literacy can boost employability and improve student experience' Sarah Knight argues that digital literacy – which she defines as "those capabilities that equip an individual for living, learning and working in a digital society" are important for the post-compulsory education sector to address. The recognition of how important digital literacy is to the post-compulsory sector throws the importance of ensuring children and young people are not disadvantaged by an education system that fails to equip them for real life into sharp relief.

While it was still around, Becta defined digital literacy as 

“…the skills, knowledge and understanding learners need to participate fully and safely in our increasingly digital world. 

It is a combination of:

functional technology skills

critical thinking

collaboration skills and

social awareness” (2010)

The definition I most use is similar to this, but I replace the passive connotations of social awareness with social engagement – active participation – as a better description of what digital literacy should look like.

For me, the main characteristics of the many of the available definitions of digital literacy are that:

  • it supports and helps develop traditional literacies – it isn’t about the use of technology for it’s own sake or ICT as an isolated practice
  • it's a life long practice – developing and continuing to maintain skills in the context of continual development of technologies and practices
  • it's about skills and competencies, and critical reflection on how these skills and competencies are applied
  • it's about social engagement – collaboration, communication, and creation within social contexts

It's dismaying then, to see in a week where we are seeing a huge move forward in the promotion of technology and a fresh look at how ICT as a subject area is designed and implemented in schools, to see digital literacy being used as an interchangeable term for computer science skills. 

Not being able to code doesn't make you digitally illiterate. Not being able to participate in  social, economic, cultural and political life because you lack the confidence, skills and opportunity to do so is what makes you digitally illiterate.

It should not be acceptable that after 11 years of compulsory education any young person should lack the skills and confidence to access information, or to be able to critically use and consume products and services. It should not be acceptable that we are neglecting to support children and young people in realising their rights to participation – as active, engaged community members and citizens. Digital literacy means the the skills and confidence to take an active role in engaging in networks, and in shaping and creating opportunities – social, political, cultural, civic, and economic, and we shouldn't be collapsing these broader rights into the relatively narrow concerns of computing science as a curriculum area. We need to be supporting and developing the work that schools, teachers and educators are doing across all curriculum areas, for formal education and extra-curricula and community based activities.

In Leicester, I am developing, designing and implementing a digital literacy programme in partnership that encompasses a wide range of areas – including basic skills, online identity management, digital research and learning skills, e-safety and cyberbullying, collaborative learning, and online citizenship. We will be supporting and celebrating computer science, coding, and ways in which young people can become active in creating and critically engaging with technology. But our ambition for our young people, education provision and communities, and the ways in which we can see these being transformed by digital literacy, certainly exceed the boundaries of computer science skills.


TeachMeet SEN 2012


Tickets here!

I'm very excited to be organising TeachMeet SEN 2012 – or TMSEN12, a meetup talking place later this month on Saturday 28th of January, in Leicester's lovely Phoenix Square.

What's a TeachMeet?

A TeachMeet is an informal meet up of people working in and passionate about education – they support grassroots professional development. Events are framed by short talks and demos from people working within education – sharing practice that works. You can check out the Wikipedia definition here.

Practitioner talk and demo slots at TMEN12 are typical of TeachMeet talk lengths – 7 minute micro presentations or 2 minute mini presentations. These are short to encourage a wide range and diversity of contribution, to make sure as many people attending as possible get the opportunity to share, and to make joining in more accessible and less scary for people who have never spoken at an event before.

What's different about TMSEN12?

1. This is a Special Education Needs (SEN) focused TeachMeet. Learners with SEN are a significant and diverse group, and we expect the first SEN focused TeachMeet to be an exciting one – reflecting the creativity, enthusiasm and the wide range of knowledge and approaches of practitioners.

2. This is the first face-to-face SEN focused TeachMeet. There was an online TeachMeet for Additional Support Needs/Special Education Needs back in April 2009. We are very proud to be continuing the tradition.

3. We recognise that parents and carers play an important role in supporting children and young peoples education, and that while parent and carer partnership with schools are always important, parents and carers sometimes play a particularly critical role in supporting learners with SEN. We also recognise that parents and carers of learners with SEN may home school. Because of this, we are also inviting parents and carers who would like to share effective practice to come along.

Is TMSEN12 just for SENCos and people who work at SEN Schools?

No! Every school supports learners with SEN.

What kind of thing do people talk about/demo at TeachMeet?

All sorts of things! You might speak about a really useful app, web tool or site; a technique that supports listening or speaking; an interesting and successful project; how you capture or share achievement; a simple, little change that has made all the difference to your learners; something you've created or a resource someone else has shared.

I think TeachMeet SEN is a great idea! How can I support it?

Excellent! Here are 7 ways you can help us:

1. Sign up to present your ingenious and effective practice. Come along and share.

Get your free ticket here, and then head over to the wiki to tell us what you will be presenting on.

2. Sign up to encourage and support. Get your free ticket here.

3. Tell people and organisation who need to know about TMEN12 – send them a link, encourage them to sign up to speak. We really appreciate it!

4. Tag your favorite blog posts, resources and ideas: Use #TMSEN12 on Twitter, TMSEN12 on Delicious. Let us know what and where else you tag resources. We will curate and share!

5. Watch the live stream and join in the debate on Twitter. The link will magically appear here and across the web nearer the time.

6. Sponsor TMSEN12! Help towards the event costs/resource for sponsor credit. Get in touch to find out more.

7. Suggest other ways you/people can support and celebrate TMEN12. Share your ideas!


e-Safety: The Critical Agenda

I'm delighted to be curating the Digital Safety strand at Learning Without Frontiers, an international festival of learning and technology, taking place in London January 9th-11th. I very much hope to see some of you there, but if you can make it in person or not I hope you'll join in the discussions.

The first session, running from 9.45am – 10.45am on the 11th, is titled e-Safety: The Critical Agenda. The session gives some of the UK's foremost practitioners in the field of e-Safety an opportunity to propose and defend what they think are the most important issues facing e-safety research, policy and practice today.

Chaired by David White (senior manager, TALL, University of Oxford), the panel includes Will Gardner (CEO Childnet International), Sonia Livingstone (Head, Department of Media and Communications LSE) Annika Small, Director Nominet Trust. Each speaker will propose the two issues or topic areas they believe to be amongst the most important current e-safety concerns and defend their priorities. 

Everyone is welcome to join in and contribute to the debate. We'll be taking questions and discussion from 10.15, with comments and questions welcome via Twitter – the conference tag is #lwf11.

We'd also like you to vote! Please let us know what your top three e-safety priorities are – you can also submit your own e-safety priority area.

Voting will close at 11am on the 11th of January so that the results can be announced/posted at the start of the second session.

Here are the panels selections. You can vote from this post under the descriptions, or open the vote selections in a new window by clicking here.

Josie Fraser:

  • Address geolocation services

Geolocation services offer many interesting opportunities for learning and interacting.  However, they also raise some serious issues – about personal safety, about privacy, and about just how well we understand and manage service settings. Geolocation services can currently be considered emblematic of the lag between new and emerging technological practices and tools and public and educational policy and practice. Because of the seriousness of their potential misuse, we must prioritise ensuring both independent and service provider information about effectively managing risks is available to children, young people, parents and educators.

  • Network responsibility not just personal responsibility

e-Safety is often regarded as an issue of personal responsibility. However, unlike other safety issues, many areas of digital safety and cyberbullying characteristically take place within networks. We should focus on supporting the skills to operate successfully within networks – including taking responsibility for looking out for all members within those networks. This approach requires reviewing how we respect others digital identities and privacy, and how we negotiate issues of consent.

Will Gardner:

  • Parents and carers remain a priority 

There has been a lot of work aimed at parents particularly in the UK, including with the UK Council's Zip it, Block it, Flag it campaign, Childnet’s Know IT All for Parents, as well as a range of other initiatives and information, including from service providers. Yet this need is a continual one as parents and carers continue to have a key role.

  • Increase the trust and transparency in reporting to service providers.

Research shows that reporting to service providers by young people is currently not high. In the social networking world, where moderation provided by service providers is limited and a reliance is put on the user community to self-moderate, it is vital that the reporting process becomes as transparent as possible.

Sonia Livingstone

  • Reaching younger children

The age at which children first go online, and use social media sites and services, is decreasing. This raises new challengers for educators and parents to find appropriate ways to discuss issues such as sexuality, pornography, violence and drugs that, previously we’ve hoped to leave until post-primary school. My research suggests that, although few young children encounter online risks, when they do it is particularly upsetting for them. Additionally, parents and carers will not necessarily be aware when children have encountered upsetting material.  Addressing safety advice to young children therefore raises new and pressing challenges.

  • Engaging with already vulnerable children and young people

Research shows that children and young people who are vulnerable or at risk offline are also likely to be more at risk online. While many children will encounter something online that bothers or upsets them, most are reasonably well able to deal with it. However, those who are vulnerable, lacking in social support or facing other difficulties may lack resilience, or even seek to engage in high risk activities.  Already vulnerable children and young people may well be particularly in need of safety advice to address online risks, and may also be one of the hardest to engage groups.

Anikka Small:

  • Integrating e-Safety into Digital Literacy

Nationally, we need a greater emphasis on digital literacy and e-safety should be a key part of this – and not considered as a stand alone issue. The digital landscape is changing all the time and young people need to be equipped to cope with – and contribute to – this dynamic environment.

  • Engaging young people in e-safety discussions

In order for e-Safety advice to be relevant and remain up-to-date, it is  critical that we ensure young people are involved in the identification, co-design and sharing of digital safety resources and practices.

Many thanks to everyone who took the time to vote and to come along to the session! The vote results are below:
eSafety the critical agenda - vote results

Online Educa Berlin 2010 Keynote: Building Networked Learning Environments

I was delighted to be invited to keynote at Online Educa Berlin 2010 – one of the world’s foremost e-learning events, which this year attracted well over 2000 learning and training professionals from over 100 countries. I was also happy to get to share a platform with the fabulous Larry Johnson, New Media Consortium’s inspirational Chief Executive Officer. Many thanks everyone who came along and to all the people who came and talked to me or got in touch after my slot – I was really pleased that my topic struck a chord with so many and connected with work going on across the globe.

Talking about networked learning made me reflect on how much my own practice and thinking benefits from the networks and communities I am part of, and the excellent friendships that have come about as a consequence over the years. I wanted to model the benefits of networked learning and use the platform I was given to share ideas, resources and research. One way of doing that was to add to the #oeb10 conversation by posting my key sources to Twitter. A lot of people requested off-Twitter information so I’m following up by posting thoughts and references here.

Digital Literacy and Learning Communities: Supporting 21st Century Learners

Leicester is a large and thriving city, located in the English East Midlands. It’s one of the UKs most ethnically diverse regions, and takes understandable pride in celebrating cultural diversity – regarding it as a strength and a defining characteristic. Leicester is home to a large Asian community, from East Africa, Gujarat, Punjab, Pakistan and Bangladesh, an African-Caribbean community, as well as residents from Eastern Europe, including Poland and Ukraine, and more recently has seen migration from Turkey and from Somalia, Sierra Leone and Cameroon.

I currently live in Leicester and work as ICT Strategy Lead, within Transforming the Learning Environment (TLE). TLE is the Local Authority’s integrated approach to education for 0 to 19 year olds. Our focus is to ensure the City’s current school building programmes delivers flexible, inclusive learning spaces that support the transformation of education – raising standards, and improving the life chances and wellbeing of all our learners. Critically, we view the physical build programme as a bridge to transformation rather than as an end in itself.

Making change happen

My role is to ensure the investment made in ICT is deployed to support our aspirations for learning, learners and learning communities. My priorities are broad – I’m looking at infrastructure and connectivity, Green ICT, as well as ICT to support teaching and learning, the running of the schools, and to facilitate engagement with communities – immediate communities which include students, staff members, parents, governors and local residents, and wider community networks across the city, country and internationally.

If you take a walk through Leicester centre you won’t get the feeling that it is anything but an aspirational, busy and creative city. But many of the city’s children and young people live in comparative poverty. I spend a lot of time looking at connectivity and infrastructure these days, and the ways in which young people can access and gain the skills and confidence they need to fully engage in and shape their world. A significant minority of these children and young people don’t have the advantages of easy access, or of relatives or carers who are themselves confident and critical users of technology. It’s in this context – although there are many other drivers and benefits – that schools have a powerful and essential role to play in supporting and modelling the use of technology. Ensuring the infrastructure is in place is critical – but just making sure connectivity and tools are available doesn’t transform education.

One of the first things I think it’s key to acknowledge when we’re talking about learning landscapes is the reality of the majority of the UK’s engagement with technology as a current and everyday practice. Of course, this is true for many other countries as well, but I’m focusing here on what the research indicates is likely to be the daily experience of many people in my city. We need to shift our perspective from one that looks forward to a future where most people are connected via the internet, mobile and gaming to one that recognises that we are there already – and has already begun to reconfigure our social, cultural, political and economic landscape. Many people will be thinking that I’m stating the obvious here but for a lot of people getting to grips with what the reality of this is – how connectivity impacts on people’s lives in immediate and very personal ways – still seems to be a deferrable abstract concept. It isn’t. We create digital identities online for our children, often before they are born; we meet our temporary and longer term romantic partners, and break up with our existing partners; we create digital memorials to the dead and try and work out what to do with their online identities and assets once they have gone. Digital spaces are social, economic, political and cultural spaces. They are every day spaces, spaces where people live out the dramas and the minutia of their lives.

For me, the three most significant features of the current social landscape within post-industrial countries is the increase in connectivity, the mainstreaming of collaborative online practices and the rise of real time and location based activity. And these are not just significant within a techno-social landscape, but to our understanding of mainstream culture.

For a lot of people, devices are affordable. While we have cheap or free network access in the UK through local libraries, UK online Centres, schools, public wifi provision and internet cafes, personal device ownership and any time access are still salient points. Access shapes how we think about technology, how we use it, and some of the ways in which we are able to relate to other people. It’s easy to compare this to how we’ve used technology historically to augment and develop our relationships – the letter, the telegram, the telephone. However, the internet is characteristically different from these previous technologies. Danah Boyd very usefully defines some of these impacts.

Having a device and a connection to hand supports intimacy within networks, and the ability to take ownership of networks – providing greater opportunity to create one’s own networks, for continuity and development. We need to be mindful that a great deal of current research highlights correlations between socio economic status and access. This isn’t the only barrier to access but it’s a critical and significant one. We need to be aware that as social and economic activity increasingly takes place within networked environments, a significant minority of those who aren’t accessing these environments, or not accessing them with the same level of confidence or able to develop and maintain skills and competencies through frequent access, are potentially being further disadvantaged. This is one of the key reasons why our schools have a critical role to play in not just providing access but in modelling the use of technology which supports the development of digital literacy. Just getting people online doesn’t magically solve socio-economic disadvantage. But supporting all of our children and young people’s ability to have meaningful, useful and safe online interactions means that we don’t further disadvantage some of our most vulnerable populations.

The rise and rise of social networking and media services means that what the majority of people do in their daily lives has changed. They are frequently and routinely checking in and communicating with each other. It isn’t strange for people to check in to their social networks before getting out of bed in the morning, and to continue to do so throughout the day. That’s what a lot of those people who are walking around looking at their phones rather than the traffic are doing. Updating their status, replying to their messages, answering emails, tending to their virtual sheep on Farmville. The always connected aren’t in a majority- we don’t have usb head ports yet. But within post-industrial societies the persistently connected are mainstream.

The prevalence of the status update and the concurrent development of geolocation services and practices stand out to me as important and defining chacteristics of our persistently connected culture.

Microblogging’s huge contribution to mainstream culture might be in its recognition that the laborious assembly of digital artefacts to represent ourselves – the elaborate construction of our digital identity which until recently enabled us to identify a whole genre of social networking services as ‘profile based’, was always going to be of most interest to the person creating the profile. Outside of stalkers, lovers and detectives, most people don’t engage with each other primarily via profile construction. It turns out what people most want to know about their friends isn’t how they imagine themselves to be, but what it is they are actually getting up to and thinking about. They want to have conversations. And conversations feed conversations.

The prevalence of geolocation raises a lot of questions around privacy and safety and the developing relationship of the digital to the physical. I’m personally very excited about the potential of geolocation for education and the kinds of practice crossing the streams engenders. I’m also wary that these kinds of services – especially when linked to real time updates across media – call for an articulate understanding of and response to the e-safety and identity management issues they raise – and without digital literacy on the national agenda we may miss opportunities and mismanaging risks.

Digital Literacies

Investing the younger generation with mythical powers – the skills, competences and confidences that we recognise need ongoing support, maintenance and development in adults, does none of us any favours. I’ve commented many times on how assumptions about Digital Natives are unhelpful. Blanket assumptions about young people’s ability to understand technology by osmosis, and the blunt use of the Digital Native metaphor runs the risk of isolating and further disadvantaging already vulnerable young people.

Recent research has clearly underlined the need to address children’s and young people’s use of the internet, mobile and games technologies in the context of digital literacy.

The EU kids online initial findings, reported in October 2010, highlights issues around the increasingly young age that children go on line, and the range of contacts and relationships young people engage in. It’s well worth a read. It’s interesting to see the role digital space plays in a significant percentage of positive identity development and self expression – 50% of the young people surveyed reported ‘feeling more like themselves online’.

Becta’s research report on Web 2.0 Technologies for KS3 and KS4, published in July 2008 is also well worth downloading before the site is taken down on January 31st.  The report points up young people’s largely pedestrian use of technology, and highlights the role that educators could and should be playing in supporting young peoples engagement as producers, creators, curators rather than primarily as consumers: “Many learners lack technical skills, and lack an awareness of the range of technologies and of when and how they could be used, as well as the digital literacy and critical skills to navigate this space. Teachers should be careful not to overestimate learners’ familiarity and skills in this area. There is a clear role for teachers in developing such skills.”

Digital Literacy is now understood as an essential skill for 21st century citizens, as the effective use of technology is increasingly critical from social, economic, cultural and political perspectives. This is true in terms of the opportunities digital literacy affords individuals, as well as for cities and larger regions.

There are many definitions of digital literacy. In one of the earliest (2006), Allan Martin defined Digital Literacy as

“…the awareness, attitude and ability of individuals to appropriately use digital tools and facilities to identify, access, manage, integrate, evaluate, analyse and synthesise digital resources, construct new knowledge, create media expressions, and communicate with others in the context of specific life situations, in order to enable constructive social action; and to reflect upon this process.”

More recently Becta have defined Digital Literacy as

“…the skills, knowledge and understanding learners need to participate fully and safely in our increasingly digital world.

It is a combination of:

functional technology skills

critical thinking

collaboration skills and

social awareness” (2010)

The characteristics across many of the available definitions are that digital literacy are that:

  • it supports and helps develop traditional literacies – it isn’t about the use of technology for it’s own sake or ICT as an isolated practice
  • it’s a life long practice – developing and continuing to maintain skills in the context of continual development of technologies and practices
  • it’s about skills and competencies, and critical reflection on how these skills and competencies are applied
  • it’s about social engagement – collaboration, communication, and creation within social contexts

I particularly like Bélisle’s identification of three models of Literacy in this context (Bélisle, C. (2006) “Literacy and the Digital Knowledge Revolution” in Martin & Madigan, 2006: 51-67). He defines these as Functional – the functional and practical skills required to function within a community; Socio-cultural – as literacy being meaningful only within a social context, and facilitating access to cultural, economic and political structures; and Transformational – that new ways of seeing and thinking about the world become possible as new cognitive and processing tools come into play. You can find a discussion and application of Bélisle’s models in Martin & Grudziecki, DigEuLit: Concepts and Tools for Digital Literacy Development (PDF)

In terms of Digital Literacy, I’ve come to three main conclusions. Firstly, it is of critical importance not to reduce our perception of and aspirations for digital literacy to skills alone. While skills are important, reducing our aims just to types of skills risks boring everyone to death with short lived, tool specific training which doesn’t address the social and political context of people’s lives or their reasons for engaging with technology.

Secondly, the discussion about what constitutes digital literacy or digital literacies, should, in symmetry with the subject itself, not be perceived as a problem we aim to solve, or a thing we aim to determine once and for all. I’ve had many interesting discussions about the definition and I still think that the fact people want to talk about it, and that there is currency and recognition internationally in the term, is the really important thing.

Thirdly, just talking about the desirability of a local, national or international digital literacy agenda doesn’t necessarily get things done. At some point, we need to agree actions.

Networked learning environments

Supporting critical and confident engagement with technological environments and tools – prioratising the role of networked learning environments –  is a practical way that we can recognise and meet the challenges of our changed social landscape, attend to the issues around inequality and e-safety, and take advantage of the many opportunities for more effective and engaging learning experiences.

One of my current priorities is to support school communities to participate within, develop, create and manage web and mobile-based communities of practice, or Personal Learning Environments. Again – while I’m recognising the theoretical and practical landscapes we are working in I don’t want to get bogged down within this post with definitions. What I’m interested in is supporting the skills and critical thinking about educational engagement in networked environments, and particularly in how educators and learners can use these to support and transfigure existing practice.

Promoting engagement in networked learning practices both supports the development of digital literacy, and ensures that people can create and engage in networks that are specific to their personal needs. It also ensures that resource is spent most effectively – equipping people and communities with the practical and critical skills to determine their own developmental networks. Engaging in practice which supports and helps build capacity into organisations is a good thing at the best of times; during times of economic uncertainty it becomes a critical stratergy. Online communities can be long running, internationally based, and well established; they can also be lightweight, temporary and small scale. Networks can be flexible and distributed, working across a wide variety of platforms, connected through RSS aggregation or curated as necessary. This approach could include a classroom level community – a student wiki focusing on a specific class or project, for example, as well as a city subject hub blog, or an international network of practitioners focusing on a particular curriculum area or educational issue, using a variety of institution and cloud based platforms.

Some schools, school leaders and educators are doing amazing things. It’s my role to support and promote the great work that’s already going on, and to help equip educators and learners with the tools and practices and confidence that will support them in doing even better. Using online collaborative tool and environments is now a widespread, mainstream personal activity. Supporting or learners and staff to use collaborative digital environments and tools in safe, critical and innovative ways should be on the top of all our digital literacy wish lists and informing local and national policy and practice.

Steve Wheeler wrote a post commenting on both my and Larry’s keynotes, in which he finished by noting my persistent optimism. If I am hopeful about the complex challenges we face as educational technologists, it isn’t because of Larry, or me, or any of the people who get to headline conferences and give talks. Amazing as many of them are, it’s because difficult problems will be solved, if they can be solved, by the communities that face them. The best job that I can do at this point is to try and ensure that all of the members of all our complex and many communities and networks get the opportunity to contribute to the process.

Bonus links:

Becoming a Networked Learner, Scott Leslie April 2010

George Seimens asks “What skills/attributes do learners need in order to learn effectively with networked technologies?” October 2009

BBC News A million UK children ‘lack access to computers’ December 2010


Should you friend your students? The short answer is no

Earlier this year I delivered a further cyberbullying guidance document on behalf of Childnet International for the UK Government's Department for Children, Schools and Families. The Guidance follows up (and designed to compliment) cyberbullying guidance, a comprehensive document  that formed part of the Safe To Learn: Embedding anti-bullying work in schools suite of advice. While the initial document was really well received both within the UK & internationally, teachers unions and associations were increasingly being asked to deal with school employee cyberbullying cases – in which the staff member was the person being victimised. I welcomed the opportunity to produce further guidance which would both support employees in term of basic digital literacy information and encourage employers to meet their statutory obligations. The document set out, ambitiously, to encourage policy and procedure be put in place for preventing and dealing with cyberbullying as a whole school community issue – which includes meeting and recognising the specific needs, rights and responsibilities of employees. In no other area of harassment would it be acceptable for an employee to be expected to deal with cases that rose within the work place on their own – yet the reports from school staff included cases where cyberbullying was not taken seriously or understood, and where they had been expected to sort out situations for themselves.

Cyberbullying: Supporting School Staff (PDF) was released in April this year (Google doc version here).  I've been talking about the document a lot recently, and I want to just explore in a little more detail the thinking behind the advice given to school employees regarding friending students in social networking services. The actual text is (with my emphasis):

‘Friending’ refers to the act of giving contacts permission to view information or contact you within web-based services. The terminology will vary from service to service – ‘Friends’ may be called contacts or connections, for example. Most social sites enable you to give different levels of access and set privacy levels on your own content and activity. These functions will vary from service to service but typically include:
•     Information that is only available to the account holder
•     Information that is accessible by contacts on the account
holder’s approved list, and
•     Information that is made publicly available, either within
the service or across the whole of the internet.

‘Friends’ does not necessarily refer in this case to people who are your actual friends, although you may choose to restrict your connections to that. ’Friends’ in this context may also be work colleagues, family members, and people that you have met online.

If you have a social networking account, do not friend pupils or add them to your contact lists. You may be giving them access to personal information and allowing them to contact you inappropriately. They may also be giving you access to their personal information and activities

So the text above outlines three basic levels of permissions granularity that can be found on most sites, gives a definition of friending, and very explicitly says don't friend pupils. This is explicitly prescriptive advice, based on the case studies reviewed during the document negotiations, and an implicit understanding that the school staff accounts referred to are either personal, or contain elements of personal activity (I previously posted on a definition of three basic online identities, characterised as personal, professional, and organisational).

The approach taken then – don't friend pupils – reflects the kind of boundaries between staff and learners that we'd expect to see in offline behavior. You wouldn't expect a teacher to give a school aged pupil their home phone number, show them pictures of their friends or regale them with the weekends social exploits. Obviously friending isn't the only issue here – managing publicly available information so that you are comfortable with what co-workers, learners and employers can access about you is also addressed in the document. The research and anecdotal evidence indicates that we operate within social network services as if we were in a closed, private world. This isn't naive – I think it's a necessary fiction which makes social networking services human spaces. The do not friend advice is there to reinforce the message that private online is typically back of a post-card private, especially if we are within environments where we're not entirely sure who has permission to see what (*cough*Facebook*cough). It also reflects the leakiness of our online identities, the way in which the personal is often hand in hand with the professional.

What the advice isn't trying to do is to put anyone off evaluating social networking services to see if they could support learning & teaching effectively. The advice goes on to state:

If you want to use web-based social networking sites for a class or for the whole school, use a service that doesn’t give contacts access to personal information and updates, or allows collaboration without requiring permissions.

Alternatively ask pupils to create new, work-focused accounts for themselves, and run them as they would an online portfolio or CV.

You can find more information and advice about Social Network Services at