Last week the Minister for Education in Wales, Leighton Andrews, announced that local authorities in Wales should unblock access to social media in schools in order to help teach pupils safe Internet usage. He said “Social networking sites have become integral to the day to day use of the Internet. Our young people know all about them and more importantly they want to use them. Rather than them doing this in secret or in an unsupervised environment I’d prefer we teach them about how to stay safe online and how to make the most of the web in school.”
Subsequent news articles referred to a pilot teaching programme, and what they will learn, such as advice on avoiding posting compromising or embarrassing photos on sites such as Facebook or Twitter. The lessons will also discuss protecting personal information and staying safe online. The scheme is being run by the Office of the Information Commissioner in Wales.
This announcement is about good information literacy skills, or digital literacy, and there are probably many librarians who already do, or want to contribute to, these sorts of lessons for pupils. Librarians believe that it’s important to teach children (and adults) how to use the Internet safely, rather than blanket bans. With most teenagers using mobile devices to access the Internet, it’s better it’s taught well in schools/libraries, than banning school/library access and children accessing the websites anyway, but without the skills and know-how.
The announcement featured on the BBC’s Sunday Politics Wales programme, as mentioned in this BBC news item with video clip. However, a piece in the TES asked “Is Wales mad to welcome Facebook and Twitter to the classroom?” (scroll down the news items).
If you’re interested in this topic of digital literacy you may also want to look at a recent report from the Prince’s Trust which says that lack of computer skills is damaging young people’s job chances. And also look at the JISC digital literacies programme which has a huge range of resources and case studies on this topic, including some from Wales (PADDLE). And read Helen Blanchett’s informative blog post summarising recent discussions on digital literacies where she outlines some emerging themes. And/or use the hashtag #Jiscdiglit on Twitter to follow discussions.
I’m sure librarians will hope that any relaxing of social media bans in schools will also mean reducing the bans in some (many?) public libraries. I don’t have the most up to date figures at the moment, but I estimate about half or more of the public library authorities in Wales are still unable to either create social media profiles for their library services, and/or, have to have restrictions in place in the libraries which prevent the public from accessing social media in the library.
And quite by chance (serendipity), I read a blog post on the same day as the Wales social media announcement on computer acceptable use policies (AUPs), which outlined why they should be called UNacceptable use policies, and questioned their continued existence. I recommend the thought provoking post.