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Home >> News >> Safe social networking for primaries - by Merlin John

Safe social networking for primaries - by Merlin John

Safe social networking for primaries - by Merlin John

Merlin John - 7th March 2007

Top educational journalist Merlin John looks at edujams role in creative, responsible, online communities. Look out for reviews of edujams Roving Reporter and Director kits on in the future.

"Jam today" used to be a political slogan, but two UK primary schools are already getting their jam today by pioneering a new UK online service that turns their pupils' curriculum work into creative "jam sessions". Once marked and released by their teachers they are then published on an online "stage" where they can be shared with friends and family in school or at home.

The government's focus on learning platforms has snapped many schools' attention to the list of "approved" products tested by its technology agency, Becta. but already new services are emerging to supply creative and engaging online places where children's school work can be shared for peer review within school at the very least. Edujam, which had its first outing at the BETT educational technology show in January, is one of them.

The creators of edujam, husband and wife team Andy Preston and Rachel Lawrence, have attempted to take the essences of creativity and pleasure offered by social networking sites like Bebo and MySpace and make them available in a lively and colourful service tailored for primary schools, but with the safeguards teachers and parents would expect already built in. For example, within the school pupils can use their own names and pictures on the service - but when they access it from home with their parents or friends, the service only presents their nicknames and a cartoon (or other) image picked by the pupils.

Edujam, as its title suggests, is based on an on-screen analogy of a jam session. Individually or collectively, pupils can create their own jam session using whatever media suits them. This could be a written poem accompanied by a sound file of the poem being read. They can also post pictures and video with ease.

The object is to create a jam in a relevant “art form” and post it to the “stage” where it can be seen by everyone in the community and commented on. A range of "art forms" are available in the Edutheatre: Eduscribe for writing; Edugallery for paintings, photos or anything visual; Edusounds for sounds, interviews, musical performances etc. A simple set of traffic lights controls progress. As soon as the teacher (or “creative friend”) is happy, the green light is shown and the work can be published. (Depending on school policy, the creative friend could also be an expert, or expert parent, brought in to run a curriculum project for example.)

There are other nice touches, including an online helper called Pebble to provide basic handholding. An appealing optional extra is the special Roving Reporter Kit (prices start at £142), an attractive and robust hemp “briefcase” containing a range of appropriate creative tools including mini digital audio recorder (with professional quality microphone for special recordings), headphones and digital video/stills camera. The bag , £37 standalone, comes with useful belts and pouches to support pupils in the field (see below, review expected soon).

Roving Reporter Kit

Edujam's first customer is The Straits Primary School in Dudley where it was first introduced to Year 5 pupils and created immediate enthusiasm and response. "The kids love putting jams on and reading the reviews," says teacher Leanne Fecenec.

"I think the critical distinction at the heart of edujam's design is to put children at the centre of their own creative stage," says Rachel Lawrence. "Quite simply this results in ownership, motivation and creative energy. We believe edujam offers a powerful catalyst to creativity in the classroom which will be effective because the children will drive it. i.e. it is not just another tool for teachers to shoehorn into an already packed curriculum." The evidence provided by a behind-the-scenes-tour of the website certainly corroborates her views.

Jam Studio

The Straits pupils posted their reviews of each other's jams with complete freedom, and it took five days before the inevitable happened and some inappropriate comments started to appear, like "I really like your work but you still smell of pizza." Funny on one level, they nevertheless indicate the dangers of online bullying and the school was quick to step in with simple controls and advice to nip it in the bud.

'You give children responsibility for them to act responsibly'

Andy Preston underlined the need for a good steer with children. "It is vital that they are given positive examples of how to interact in these online social situations. Just because these methods of communication haven't sat comfortably at school, it doesn't mean that schools should ignore them, over-regulate them or even ban them. If schools embrace this opportunity as a valid and valuable form of communication and teach children the etiquette that goes along with it then we will minimise the current 'elephant in the room' that is cyber bullying.

'What edujam offers alongside each Jam is peer review, a taste of online citizenship at a very early age in a totally secure environment for children to learn how to cope with this new phenomenon in a responsible manner. They learn how to operate, how to respond to each other in a socially responsible way and also how powerful and motivating the exposure to an audience can be and how to deal with that. It's a great tool for formative assessment as well.

"You need to give children responsibility in order for them to act responsibly. A carrot-and-stick approach whereby teachers have total control over who they give review capability to within edujam is working well at Straits. We now advise teachers to cover peer review and online citizenship as part of their introduction; it offers a real-life opportunity to develop good online citizenship in their safety of their own classroom."

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