Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Teachable Moment: Being Inappropriate on Collaborative Documents

This blog entry was inspired by a class I run in which I recently introduced using a collaborative Google Doc. While the intention and ultimate success of the document has met my expectations, the trip could have easily gone down a different path. The views expressed in this blog are completely my own. I respect and appreciate those with similar views or different views who are able to express them in a respectful manner. 

Having students working online, I am constantly confronted by teachable moments. I feel it is my job to teach within the moment, instead of snapping to conclusions and handing out punishments for momentary lapses in judgement on the part of my students. Facing this choice recently, I was reminded of the importance of my job. While my students are of the cyber-generation, they do not yet have the years of experience that we, as teachers, have.

It all happened in an instant. One moment I was demonstrating to the students how we would be utilizing a shared Google Document for our classroom bibliography on the current project. The next moment I was restricting student access, shaking my head, and reassessing what we would be doing next. It was in my reassessment that I was able to see the teachable moment.

Just after I had introduced the Google Doc, three students decided to use the document inappropriately. Beside the names of their classmates, they were adding descriptors that were offensive and completely inappropriate for the classroom setting. They had a good laugh and quickly erased their transgressions. Almost immediately, I restricted their access and told them to knock it off. Had I left it at that, there would have been no teaching. Had I chosen to punish them by giving a detention or by sending them to the office, I would have missed the moment. Here is what I did.

After gathering my thoughts for a couple of minutes and sitting at my desk contemplating my next move, I chose what I felt was the only course of action that would really have an impact on student behavior. I shared with the class how the Internet works. "Everything you ever do online is recorded on multiple computers instantly. Facebook, email, Edmodo, Twitter, etc." I said. "When you decide to be silly or stupid or offensive and put something online that you may later regret, you have lost the opportunity to change your mind. It already exists, permanently." In their minds they were feeling skeptical about what I was saying, so I showed them the proof.

I asked all of the students to open our shared Google Document. I returned the user status to 'can edit' for my offenders. Then I had all students go to File > Revision History. They instantly got it. Even before finding their offensive edits that they thought had been erased, they knew I was telling the truth. It was in that moment that the teachable moment was captured, utilized and had its impact.

I concluded by telling the students "What Google has done here with your Google Document, every website is doing on the Internet whether you want it to or not. Your words, your postings, your actions are being recorded. What will you choose to do next time?"

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