Networked Schools 3: Permission Structures

One of the biggest challenges to developing students’ PLNs (I hate that term, mostly because I hate acronyms and abbreviations–a peccadillo–but also because it’s ill-defined: just about anything can be part of a PLN; but it’s convenient here and you get the idea) is in fairly and prudently governing access to web resources. Part of the solution is in developing simple, sensible and secure permissions structures for working online–the sort Flickr co-founder, Caterina Fake, talks about here. I especially want to know how these might map onto a school structure. It would be interesting, for example, to see if a school itself (or every individual?) could develop an online presence like Flickr’s or Vimeo’s with a similar permission structures that let students and teachers easily control access, manage connections and information. Maybe this is what a blog is for? Some of Rice University professor Richard Baraniuk’s ideas for developing a peer-review process for his amazing open source learning project, Connexions, may also work here, too.

But I see two prior conditions for successful development of PLNs:

  1. The PLN must be wide open. If it’s not, it’s not socially networked and the PLN will fail to develop in any substantial way. For this reason, I reject building private networks such as the kind Edmodo lets teachers create. Yet, most schools I know severly restrict blogging, Facebook-ing, Twittering and even emailing. They typically say these are distractions, which not incidentally would suggest these schools don’t really know how to use these tools, much less manage their students’ behaviour; but I think their real worry is about liability should any of the students in their care become victims on online predation. That may be a real concern, though I suspect it’s an inflated one, but the stock response of restricting what students can do online is misguided, however well-intentioned. Any risk to students comes not from being on the open web, but from being on the open web unattended or unequipped. Just as adults supervise, guide and coach kids as they learn to walk to school, so adults need to supervise, guide and coach kids as they learn to walk the web, so to speak. So, I think that part of any school’s plan to develop Learning 2.0 must include a significant parent education program:
  2. Families must be more involved in developing the students’–their children’s–PLNs. One only has to look at the morning drop-off ritual to see an underlying social structure of brick-and-mortar schools: car pulls up, kids jump out, car drives off. Either parents don’t want to go in or they are unwelcome. All adults have a responsibility to teach children: parents need to be more directly involved in schooling and schools need to be more welcoming of parental involvement. (Added Jan 3 ’09: Penny Lindballe has a neat blog, Web 2.0 for Parents, where she is doing some good work at bridging the divide.)

I think the exact shape of the permission structures and the nature of the parent-school relationship will–or should–grow organically. Plenty of research from the National Middle School Association says that the best middle schools are the one that reflect the interests and needs of the communities they serve.

My question: What are your communities interests and needs and how would these be reflected in permission structures you’d build for your school? Work from sociologist such as Sam Ladner may be useful here. Please comment.

Again, I made this diagram in Webspiration. If you’d like to revise the diagram, send me an email at SITS and I’ll add you to the list of editors.


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    Humpty Dumpty School - A Stick in the Sand January 4, 2009

    […] for the moment the good idea that schools ought to be more open to parents (see my post on network permission structures). I’d think twice about sending my kids to a school that makes such a hash of language. Go […]

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    Penny January 8, 2009

    Brad,I think that you hit the mark when you said “part of any school’s plan to develop Learning 2.0 must include a significant parent education program:”I would suggest that the approach to this education needs to be changed. So often this “parent education” takes one of two approaches.1. Internet Safety (Scary) evening where parents are lectured about all the bad things that can happen on the internet and what they have to do to “protect” the students.2. A session completely focused on what the students are doing. How Web 2.0 will benefit their learning, what projects they are undertaking the whole dog and pony show.While there is still utility in these sessions I think it’s time for a different approach. For as much as we all love our children, I think everyone needs to remember that we do have a life beyond them. How wonderful would it be to have an event that is “all about us” for a change?My belief is that parents, like teachers, are more likely to see the utility in these tools (for students) if they understand/use them in the context of their own lives first. How many parents rejected Facebook as folly until they tried it and connected with old friends and family?Matt Montagne hosted a session like this almost a year ago and I think it was a brilliant idea ( )So maybe the next Parent Education Session should be titled “Facebook: How to keep your embarassing old Yearbook photos at least partly hidden.” or “Facebook: Even though you don’t join the party does it mean you are not there?” A parent who knows how to manage their own online identity is vastly better equipped to help their child than one who sat through the “The internet is a scary bad place lecture”.Same principle can be applied to wiki’s, podcasts, voicethreads, Blogs or any other tool schools may want to use with the students. If you show us how these tools can address issues we face — the leap to seeing the utility for the students isn’t quite as far.

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