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Social networks and primary school students

by Stavroula Sokoli
22 March, 2015

Hi all,
The question of how to deal with under-13 users in Make World is an issue that preoccupies us quite a lot. I’ll start with some thoughts and will do my best to organize them. At this point there does not seem to be a perfect solution and we have to look at what is a priority for the project.
Two assumptions first:
MW mission: ideally MW would be an open platform for anybody to register, no conventional classes or groups, no teacher-student relationships. The social relationships are based on following and mentoring. This has many pedagogical advantages (not to be expanded on here).

Legal issues: The following approach does not consider formally expressed legislation (hopefully we will soon have this analysis by POLLUB). It includes safety considerations discussed by stakeholders (even though I may be missing some).

Now, let’s consider two possible kinds of worlds where children may move.
A. Open world scenario: Parents would not let the child alone in a social network in the same way they would not leave her in a room full of strangers or out in the street unaccompanied. Behaving in social environments and recognizing dangers is a learning process whether the environment is virtual or real-life. In an open MW, where anybody can register and comment on anybody’s worlds, a malicious intruder may engage in some kind of interaction with a child through the comments (e.g. ask for personal details, give a phone number and manage to contact the child outside MW). In this sensitive age, the child may or may not recognize this danger, that’s why she should be accompanied/monitored by an adult.
B. Closed world scenario: On the other hand, a parent is ready to leave the child in a place full of children and some certified adults (e.g. teachers). In a closed world, unwanted behavior (e.g. bullying, real or virtual) is monitored and prevented by teachers and/or more experienced peers.
To sum up, children are (and should be) allowed to move in two kinds of worlds. Accompanied in the open world, unaccompanied in closed worlds.

Let’s assume that MW opts for A, the open world scenario. This would have numerous advantages, mainly accomplishing the MW mission expressed above. However, according to the previous considerations children should not be left unmonitored in this open world. There are various ways to tackle that:

1. Disabling comments. Sounds rather extreme, but enabling only badges and likes could be a bullet-proof solution. Cons? Many, mainly pedagogical. For one thing, the MW proposal includes learning social skills.

2. An adult monitoring the child’s activity stream and be responsible for anything suspicious. Practically this could be done with a daily/weekly digest email notification (“check out X’s weekly activity in MW”). The adult/tutor would of course use her email to register the child in MW. Cons? They’re important so let’s list them:
a. Not all legal tutors/parents use emails. And not all will be interested in MW. This would reduce potential users significantly. MW teachers will have the extra burden of getting 240 students onboard. (80 x 3 schools, according to proposal).
b. MW piloting cannot be done within class. If not all children are involved, the platform can only be used outside the classroom.
c. The parent/legal tutor may find it difficult to include the monitoring “job” in his activities. He may consider it a burden, spam etc.

3. A multiple monitoring system where every comment has to be approved before made available. Cons? Maybe complicated to design – and implement.
4. A teacher creating her students’ accounts and monitoring not only their progress through the dashboard but also comments. This would help address all the above challenges. Cons? Not sure, (Pablo pls help).

I haven’t discussed the closed world scenario, but we may find it useful. The Greek School Network, for example, is a closed network and school administrators are the ones who register students. I plan a meeting with the CTI team who runs the GSN to find out more.

That’s all from me for now, let’s keep discussing and try to complete the list with more options and considerations.

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