Keeping students safe is of primary importance. How to do this effectively and still provide opportunities and experiences that will enrich, motivate and instruct is a challenge that requires planning, development of content and activities and vigilant supervision. It is easiest to simply block anything that may possibly have some content that is not appropriate, with a firewall. This protects all students from anything potentially harmful and of course also protects a school system from potential legal action. The downside to this type of blocking is that A) sites may be erroneously judged B) blocking for an elementary school child is not necessarily the same as blocking for a high school child and C) we are not helping students to discern between useful and appropriate and not useful and inappropriate.
The careful monitoring and releasing for access of websites or virtual worlds does require time, work, and judgment. Much of this falls on IT staff and not instructional staff. IT staff members are typically given parameters for blocking and they apply the firewall to adhere to these parameters. Instructors and other personnel may request for “unblocking” of specific sites and provide justification. Ultimately, that decision is made by someone other than the classroom teacher. For the most part this practice protects the student, the teacher and the school system.
I cannot help but wonder about the learning that could take place, the guidance that could be provided as technology becomes more ubiquitous in our daily lives. Should we be using social networking and virtual worlds in our instruction? Do the benefits outweigh the risks? Can teachers supervise effectively enough to ensure the appropriate use of these technologies? Should our instruction include what is available in the world beyond the classroom walls? Can the technology provide access to some areas for some children? Are teachers prepared to discern between what is appropriate and what is not? Can the issue be reviewed holistically? Certainly everything carries risk – getting on the highway is one of the riskiest activities we have yet we put children in school buses and send them on their way, without seat-belts. Perhaps we need to develop “seat-belts” for the ride on the Internet rather than blocking all the ramps. Ultimately we need to prepare our children for a future we do not know, that future includes access to the Internet and the ability to determine value of what is found there.
as a parent of school-aged children who love the internet, i find that i have to set the parameters for their surfing. i have set the boundaries and constant monitoring assures them that i’m watching (i get to play big brother!) and assures me that they are surfing safely. they know what inappropriate content and websites are and they know not to go there. and if they happen upon it, they are instantly shocked and redirect themselves to more appropriate material. i like to call that “self-monitoring”. :o)
“The technology that has so dramatically changed the world outside our schools is now changing the learning and teaching environment within them.” – National Education Technology Plan for the U.S. Department of Education
Organizations such as NetSmartz have wonderful Internet safety presentations free of charge for parents and schools. There is much advice out there. However, using social networking and virtual worlds to teach is another ball of wax. I believe that it is the responsibility of those educators on the cutting edge of this type of learning to blaze the safety trails so others may follow. The work will be difficult, as my friend Grid Jumper has pointed out, but so very beneficial to the students. Is it the responsibility of every educator using social networking as their own learning tool, to contribute his/her knowledge to others who are not as innovative?