August 23, 2007

Misplaced Wisdom: Keeping Students Digitally Locked Out

(Skip to the end if you want the shorter story on how I spoke out on what I believe. As short as I can be, anyway.)

Some of the bloggers on my blog roll are what I consider to be serious edubloggers who blog about their exciting adventures in Web2.0 and beyond. I am interested in what's going in that aspect of education, but at times I've found it difficult to join in.

One of the primary reasons I was interested in blogging was so I could get my students involved, too. I didn't blog about the walls I hit until a year later when I found myself planning work for my summer. Some were my walls of inexperience, but others were the walls of a highly locked down district Internet. During that summer, I taught myself as much as I could about some of the interesting tools I could use in my classroom, but when I returned to school, not one was available for me to use. All blocked.

In this past year as I beefed up instruction on how to use the web as a research tool, I had students researching about The Deletion of Online Predators Act. (Here are some sources we used.) I know it didn't pass, but effects and hysteria are long-lasting. Hey, kids! Do want to know why you can't access MySpace at school and why your teachers is bummed that she can't teach you some really cool web applications? Read all about it. Yea, I know. My lame jab and The Man, or something.

I did find a education blog host in the spring (for free--I need the free), which I tried out on my publications students. I don't think I blogged about it. We didn't have much time to work with it, and it was not easy to work with anyway. Utterly disappointing. It was just so wonderful that I've forgotten the name, too.

My greatest joy this summer was finding that wikispaces and were no longer blocked. Hey, I know this stuff is old hat for some, but for me, these are the steps I've been looking forward to. I set up a wiki for my team to use, although some could care less about collaboration. I am confident, however, that I will be able to implement the use of wikis with my students this year.

--->(Here is the shorter version without background.)<---

Along this whole journey, I have bought into the idea that blocking students from social networking sites is not helping them learn about the real world. It is very likely that their "real worlds" may include the ability to communicate intelligently using social networking tools. Students should be taught how to use these tools correctly--and wisely. Those stories about college grads whose employers Googled them and found inappropriate material is not a joke. It's reality. And you know how people conduct entire conferences online now? It's amazing to me, but I figure it's going to be quite commonplace very soon. The powerful online future will be a great place for my students to thrive, but we're building it right now.

I think students should learn intellectual ways to use social tools while protecting/establishing online personas. Are we handicapping them by not doing so? Probably. And for crying out loud, yes it might be wise to block students from inappropriate websites that are sexually perverse and/or violent. (Hey kids! If you're going to look at that kind of stuff--don't do it at school. Duh.) Is it really necessary to block students from social networking sites because they might use them inappropriately? Why not teach some web responsibility? Some professional integrity? Some freakin' common sense?

So, yesterday in a meeting when everyone started chiming in on websites that should be blocked for all the wrong reasons--like Wikipedia because some kids looked up some graphic material with pictures included--I just couldn't hold back. Wikipedia is a sore spot with me because the students use it, and it's not their best, most valid source of information, but in the real world, it's not going away. Sure, students, use Wikipedia, but don't you dare count it as a source. Double check your information. And, by the way, Big Brother is watching, so if you look up inappropriate material, you've lost your computer privileges at our campus--and your mother will know you're a pervert.

(Actually, no matter where you go, there will always be a Big Brother watching. Get used to it.)

In the end, I probably looked like a crazy lady with my impassioned speech--nice that I'm already on my way to becoming the eccentric old English teacher on staff. I know I also stepped on some toes of people I hold in high regard. Ugh. In the end, the powers-to-be in the room agreed with teaching responsibility and intelligent uses, but thought it would be best to block potentially dangerous sites like Wikipedia.

That's just the way it is.

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