2 min read

On being OK with reading the comments

Received this email today:

Just looking at the wiki page and spotted a comment underneath one of the subject discussions…calling others a dick. Not the worst comment to make in the world I know but I’d hate the wiki to turn into some kind of facebook page where the kids can start insulting each other.

Within our school, syndicates use wikis that are a mixture of public and private, with all students having a login that they manage and are expected to be responsible for. The aim with our shared wikispaces, is that they are online places where students can login, create content, share with others and comment on each others work.

One of the key aims of having individual logins, is that students see themselves as unique, but also identifiable. The focus is on a balance between a right to use an online space, with a responsibility to use it well.

I think it's important for us to remember that the reality of life is that 'kids have been insulting each other' since ages ago.

In classrooms, in play grounds, on the way to school and on the sports field. This life plays out every day.

To be clear, that doesn't mean that we just shrug our shoulders and accept it  - merely that it exists.

In the offline world, and the online world.

To me, we shouldn't treat the online any different in terms of acceptable or what's not acceptable. As soon as we treat the context as different, we treat the actions and the consequences differently.

"I'd hate the wiki to turn into some kind of facebook page"

is code for

"all the bad things happen on the internet, so let's be extra-careful otherwise, we'll need to stop children using the internet".

This reality, this "You're a dick" comment is digital citizenship playing out in real life.

Students need to find their way in this space, in ways that allow them to understand that words, just like deeds, have weight.

That words and by extension, they themselves, can and do have an impact on others.

The great disconnect from empathy that the Internet allows for, has to be counteracted by us - by the ones with empathy. The adults who model empathy and care for them and each other on a daily basis.

To foster empathy, we don't stop them feeling or experiencing.

We let them connect.
We let them see the person who's posted "You're a dick", as a person, not just a comment.
We let them talk to that person.
We let them see that person react, and feel what it means to be the one at the end of humiliation, in small yet discernible ways.
We let them praise and celebrate each other.

We let them own their own words.
We let them be OK with being held responsible for their words.

We need to model the same, with them and with our peers. 
We need to do this constantly and judiciously.
Just as we do in the offline, physical world.

It'd be too easy to shut this online place down in a school environment because it's "some kind of facebook page". But the truth is our role is to prepare them, in some small measure for whatever version of that "facebook page" reality - because they will be there.

Living there. Experiencing there. Contributing there.

It's a fine balance, but in an environment where digital and online will be an inseparable and vital part of their reality, our duty of care is to help them be ready to be there.

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Continue by Tim Kong is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.