Al Upton had a day he'd rather not repeat yesterday. Without rehashing all of the details (I wouldn't want to get any of them wrong) it culminated with a request to close down his widely renown and globally acknowledged class blog, the miniLegends. If you go to his blog now, you will be confronted by the following:
Order for Closure
This blog has been disabled in compliance with DECS wishes (Department of Education and Children Services - South Australia) It seems that this blog in particular is being investigated regarding risk and management issues. What procedures should be taken for the use/non-use of blogs to enhance student learning will be considered.
From the close of school Friday, Al's distress tweets could be read from twitter and the story for his perspective started to emerge. Al's classroom is less than fifteen minutes from where I teach and the immediate potential consequences for my own fledgling classroom blogging program started buzzing through my head. We work for the same system, belong to the same professional association and we even applied for the same position once (which he currently holds as an eTeacher). I arranged a Skype call with him later in the evening to
find out what was going down. This was a start of a marathon Skype meetup that garnered partipation and support in equal measures from progressive educators all over Australia. (I bowed out at around 10.30 pm local time but Sue Waters tweeted that the conversation continued for a few more hours afterwards.)
Al mentioned that he wasn't interested in blame but wanted to turn this around into a discussion point that help inform and lay out a way forward that isn't based on fear and paranoia. The fact that well over 30 educators from all over the world and all education sectors had left comments of support within 12 hours of the breaking news at the Closure page of Al's blog shows he is not alone in this desire.
Sean FitzGerald's comment seemed to sum my point of view:
Very disappointing. I’ll just add one point, which I haven’t seen made yet, which is this… what is this modelling? You make a mistake in good faith and you get slammed? Why couldn’t this situation have been used to clarify safety guidelines and make whatever changes to the way you were working in line with those? Why shut down your whole operation completely? It seems more like punishing and making an example of than correcting behaviour. Oh wait… this is school.
Al is a digital pioneer, someone who I've modelled many of my ideas on. He is 100% focussed on benefitting his students and has fittingly been named CEGSA Educator Of The Year in 2006 in recognition for his efforts. He hasn't just started this student blogging thing yesterday. He is open, been more than willing to share his ideas with me, been willing to compliment me on my blogging as tool for teachers' professional learning focus and amazingly is talking this whole thing up as an opportunity to shine some light on online literacies, safety and ethics as practiced (or not) in this state.
I hope that this turns out to be the proverbial "storm in a teacup" and the miniLegends are back to normal as soon as possible. Meanwhile, to prevent the embers of paranoia from heading my way, I think I will be asking my Blogging Coaches to just wait for a while until this issue resolves itself and I myself am clear about what our department is prepared to support in terms of students' learning using the Read/Write web.
Meanwhile, I'll just end this post with a quote from Dianne McCordell's post that summarises a lot of the reaction I've seem from edubloggers as they become informed of what has occurred in this quiet part of the world.
Many school-aged children spend unsupervised time on home computers. Conscientious parents are alarmed by stories of online predators and cyber bullying but don't have the skills or knowledge to instruct their children in digital safety. The classroom is the logical place for students to receive safety instruction and participate in guided practice.
Our children and teen-agers must have fluency in communication and collaboration to be successful in the world they inhabit. Rather than encase them in armor, we should arm them with knowledge.
Reacting with fear and shutting down opportunities does not seem to be the best response.