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.