The Epistle of Q — Chapter 105 (e)

AME (cont’d)

As I mentioned earlier, Friday was a fairly full & lengthy day. The second Keynote Lecture led off the afternoon sederent. Dipayan Ghosh from the John F. Kennedy School of Government (Harvard) gave the address: Digital Deceit & the Moral Mayhem: Effects of Technology, Precision Propaganda & the Internet. He began by showing a series of interesting slides from Facebook where he worked for a while. He discussed data collection to the end of behavioural profiling and pointed out that the reach is universal as the system is always looking for inferences about each of us. He explained the two-sided platforms that utilize access to user hits and then developing ad or target campaigns. There were many stories he was able to tell and he did it in a most engaging way. Basically it was a great speech – and he only occasionally looked at his notes – would love to be in one of his classes (and he isn’t that old!!).

He talked about the problem of who is paying for political ads and even though there is the Honest Ads Act, the problems in the U.S.A. seem much more serious than we have so far in Canada. He then raised the problem of censorship where Google has just completed a $38 billion deal with China but it includes giving China the right to censorship. Google’s excuse? Apple had already done the same thing. Without a doubt, China can spy on anyone communicating in/to the country on either platform. He also explained that corporate profit in the internet world is overpowering the privacy of the individual – just in the case of political ads there needs to be more transparency through a regime that clearly states who is behind the message and where the message can be verified. By the time he finished all his examples one could only sit and reflect on the fact that it’s all pretty scary: somehow, some way it is essential that governments protect the digital rights for the individual through a Consumer Bill of Rights.

Later that afternoon, Sam Gomberg (a  teacher from California still carrying on the tradition of the Just Community in high schools) invited us to sit in on rarely seen videotaped interviews and speeches (of Lawrence Kohlberg). During his doctoral studies Sam had connected with Edwin (Ted) Fenton (who’s work I had studied in Grad School) and Sam’s dissertation was on how to lead a dilemma discussion. He ended up creating ninety-nine different dilemmas – most of them interactive. He then started showing us the videotape which turned out to be a relatively long speech that Lawrence had given to some group of Jewish educators. It wasn’t very long into this that I was quickly reminded that I always found Kohlberg easier to read than listen to. Before I left I did gain one kernel of wisdom from Lawrence: No use for rules for which I had no say (in their creation). Reminded me of a time in high school when I challenged the Principal on a dumb rule he had and was promptly expelled!! In any case, the film was quite garbled and a glass of scotch at the hotel seemed so much more compelling.

The final Keynote Lecture was Saturday morning and again it was delivered by a professor from UBC – Jennifer (Jenna) Shapka spoke on Cyberbullying as a Global Concern: Perspectives from a Canadian and Tanzanian Context. She too was a good speaker and while she had visual aids they were generally very clear and uncluttered. She also only referred to notes periodically. She announced that as teens are the biggest users of the internet and it is also their prime connection with their peers there is a significant tendency to be rather aggressive towards the others in a negative fashion. This has serious impacts on the mental wellness issues such as depression, anxiety, etc. In turn there are negative consequences ranging from aloneness to suicide as the impact is greater than in-person communication; furthermore it is more constant and oft-times longer lasting too!! In terms of cyberbullying 40%-60% have experienced it and 30%-50% have done it. The rise in usage is from the age of nine to thirteen and then the patterns tend to stabilize. There is not much gender difference and it is mostly done by friends and peers.

The first study that she conducted didn’t actually use cybervictimization or cyberbullying as terms. Nevertheless there were significant similarities between the two countries giving evidence of the global nature of it all. In the second study more attention was paid to predictors and outcomes of cyber-aggression. Bear in mind that in Tanzania schools are a privilege not a right; there is significant school connectedness as it is seen as being an important aspect of the family’s hopes for their children. Yet in both situations there was considerable socializing vs playing games and issues of depression arising out of cyberbullying.

So she makes the case for parents to move past the fear of technology. For teens it’s a normal experience so parents need to model healthy and socially responsible relationships themselves on the internet. Moreover they need to be curious about their children’s activities, but in a positive fashion: what’s cool? What’s happening? What learnings are occurring? There also needs to be a negotiation of boundaries that is age appropriate (she gave a resource: There should be some basic house rules: not at the table, all turned off at a certain time, none to bed (there are alternatives for wake-up buzzers – they are called alarm clocks!!). Simultaneously there needs to be solid policies in place within the education system. The internet and phones are part of the socialization processes at school so cyberbullying needs to be part of the curriculum at all levels and the focus ought to be about getting along with people. The system needs to do more professional development of teachers themselves so they are able to help reinforce the idea that the internet should only be a friendly space. One way to do all this is build programs from the ground up and let there be youth & peer leadership. Moreover ensure that cross-cultural research is utilized so that universals and distinctiveness are well-ingrained in any efforts be they curriculum-based or pedagogically-oriented. It was a useful presentation and handy that it was on Saturday when more local educators were in attendance.

When this lecture was over, and the skies were disgorging liquid gifts, it seemed like a good time to start reflecting on it all. And the best way to do that? Get on the road and head through some new country on the way back to the Okanagan… it had been a most worthwhile AME… might even go again next year…