Teaching pupils how to use social networking sites appropriately can present a challenge, especially for primary schools when the new Computing curriculum states that at Key Stage 1 Pupils should be taught to: communicate safely and respectfully online, keeping personal information private. This is compounded by the fact that the minimum age for popular sites is usually 13. This is where your virtual learning environment can help. Moodle offers schools a safe alternative for introducing the concepts of social networking, modeling best practice and setting up teaching scenarios within a closed environment that provides a full log of everything that the pupil say and do.
As a starting point, you can allow the use of forums within classes that will let pupils comment on the topic. Usually pupil classes do not allow guest access and this can be used to introduce the concept of open and closed discussions. This also allows for a discussion of appropriate language and structure – is it appropriate to use ‘text speak’ in this online class or should they be using a formal structure? When would it be appropriate to use ‘text speak’? You can also use this as an opportunity to discuss passwords again. If someone was to guess your password then they would be able to log in and pretend to be you in the forum – what could happen then? Where else do you use passwords where this could this be a problem?
Moving on you could enable chat modules on the classes to allow for real time discussion rather than the asynchronous model of the forums. This could be group based or open to the whole class. At this point it is worth demonstrating the saved log records for the chat sessions to highlight that everything is recorded and can be recalled. You can relate this to other social networks where the users can save a copy of the chat or even take a screenshot to keep a record so it serves as a reminder that what they are typing can be recalled and passed on.
The use of the wiki module allows you to model the creation of group or individual profile pages. Pupils can choose what information to share, pictures to upload and links to add giving an opportunity to discuss what would be appropriate in this context. What could happen if one of your friends copies the information on your profile and send it on to their friends? Is it really private, even though you need to log in to see it?
Within Moodle there is also a messaging system that allows the pupils to message each other or the teachers – this may or may not be turned on for your setting so you would need to check before using it. Again this system is logged and any messages sent can be traced back to the individual so it provides another layer of communication within the school environment.
For each of these modules there are opportunities to provide examples of (age appropriate) inappropriate use that can be used to highlight the issues and provide strategies for dealing with them if they happen. With younger pupils, you may include a fictional character or school mascot as a class user and they could model the wrong behaviour, for example posting silly comments or putting too much personal information in their profile.
As with anything new, you should consider how you will introduce this within your school. You also need strategies in place for dealing with inappropriate behaviour that occurs from the pupils – there is bound to be someone who will post inappropriate comments – but this should not be a barrier to making the most of what is on offer. It is worth remembering that if they are not already using social media and other forms of communication, it is something they will begin to use soon. It is much easier to deal with incidents that occur within your VLE than those that happen on Facebook or other external sites.