Duty of Care In An Environment Of Innovation

My theme for my ten minute audio at last Friday's Learning In The 21st Century roundtable discussion was about protecting teacher innovation and how student learning can extend beyond the classroom. I managed to get myself to educationau headquarters on Fullarton Road shortly after 2 pm and got to be involved in the last two hours of discussion which was centered around the development of a starting framework of what Teaching And Learning Online means in an Australian context. I tried to catch up and plug in on what had transpired in the previous five hours while the other participants were tiring after an intense day. My impressions of our facilitator Joan Russell, an eminent South Australian in the field of Science, were first rate. She set the tone for working through the issues in a timely and open manner keeping all participants on track whilst respecting their various points of view. I wish that I could have been there for the whole day but Mike Seyfang recorded all of the relevant presentations and conversations in due course I will be able to listen to all of the audio and be well briefed.

It is great to see that Al Upton has restarted blogging with his class under a framework of guidelines developed in consultation with his principal. If you visit his blog, you will notice that the Notice For Closure page has been archived under a tab and you will know be able to re-directed to his new miniLegends blog. Al has kickstarted so much of this conversation that we had to have here in Australia and it is only through boundary pushing innovators like him can we discover what is truly best for those learners under our care.

That's why innovation is something precious to be guarded within our schools. Without the innovative educators, we would be always camped at the safe no-risk end of learning - innovators are the ones who open up new possibilities and create new entry points for others to follow through. But the concept of "duty of care" is a real one that K-12 educators must deal with. Whenever you invite someone to interact with your learners the potential and expected benefits must carefully weighed against the potential risks. While a lot of American research is cited that dispels a lot of the myths surrounding use of the internet, there is precious little that carries similar weight in an Australian context. So do Aussie educators assume that the North American findings are directly transferable or do we proceed with caution and push for more research to be carried out with our own population?

"Duty of care" assumes that the students under my care will be cared for and not exposed to any risks that a parent or caregiver would consider unreasonable. In the case of using the web, that parental point of view could swing from parents who use heavy filtering, perhaps have deliberately chosen to not to get web access at home to the parents for whom the web is a big mystery and they don't give much thought to where in cyberspace their children might be because their awareness levels are just so far behind.They just don't know.

Peter Simmonds, our DECS Learning Technologies Projects manager was an all day attendee on that Friday and he used the Outdoor Education analogy to good effect. To paraphrase his words, outdoor education could potentially be a very risky undertaking (think rock climbing and kayaking as two examples) but the educators involved have developed such well developed protocols and guidelines that the risks have been diminished to their very slightest and are now considered to be safe activities for students to be involved in. Teaching and learning online activities also would benefit from the development of protocols and guidelines that would turn the use of blogs and other online tools into a safe, highly valuable and essential learning practice. Doing so without this happening is like trusting your ropes will hold you down the rockface because of your experience rather than taking the time to check and ensure that the activity will not end in disaster due to human oversight or negligence.

The framework under development and started on May 2 by the gathered group of volunteers is a positive step in the right direction for Australian education.

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