Tuesday, June 3, 2008

You Take the Good, You Take the Bad and There You Have the Facts of Life...

Nancy Willard, the director for the Center for Safe and Responsible Use of the Internet wrote an article discussing the various aspects of internet safety. It is articles like this that worry me. Almost like a wolf in sheep's clothing.

Student use of Web 2.0 technologies is expanding, along with incredible opportunities for interactive educational activities -- and a host of risk and management concerns. Even the most die-hard techies now recognize that filtering systems are not the solution they were promised to be. In many schools, students regularly bypass the filter -- not to get to porn sites, but to access their favorite social networking sites.

This statement gives me hope. It is a recognition of two key facts of student internet use.

Fact 1: Filters are useless! In fact blocking social networking sites only creates a sense of taboo and heightens the natural and healthy rebellion nature of adolescent users. Many of my students see the filters as a challenge. I have, in the past, played right into this natural tendency and challenged my students to find me a YouTube clip that pertains to the area of curriculum that we are studying. Both the students and I knew full well that YouTube clips would be blocked and yet the students found a way around the filter using a proxy server. The interesting angle to this story is that the students that I was working with were in grade four. One of the students' brother had shown him how to use a proxy server. All he did was google "proxy server" and "YouTube" and in about 3 minutes we were watching a YouTube clip of an old Tom and Jerry cartoon. We were discussing the violence seen in cartoons.

Fact 2: Students (especially elementary students) do not seek the negative aspects of the net. We start with the premise that the vast majority of children wish to do good things and be good people. In fact, whenever I have experienced a "mistaken" destination that involved porn or the like, the students have always either pressed back and quickly told me about it or turned the monitor off and told me about it. They are more embarrassed than anything. We have alerted the rest of the students to the "mistake", added it to our learning experience and have moved on without making a big deal about it.

That was the good from the article (the sheep), now for the bad (here comes the big bad wolf).

Willard goes on to talk about providing 5 key and comprehensive strategies to keeping students safe. The first component is the one that bothers me the most;

Educational Use
Schools must ensure that when students use the Internet, their activities have an educational purpose -- class assignments, extra credit work, and perhaps some high quality enrichment activities as a reward. The more well-prepared teachers are to lead students in high quality exciting Internet-based learning activities, the more likely students will be on-task. And when students are “on-task,” problems dissipate.

My issue here is that by defining appropriate use of the internet as needing to be for educational purposes only, you geekify the integration of technology. Conversely, if we find ways to use the aspects of the internet that students gravitate to to teach the concepts from our curriculums, then we are more likely to increase the engagement level in our lessons. The statement that we should use quality enrichment activities as a reward really bothers me on a number of levels. First of all, being rewarded with high quality implies that those who are not being rewarded are not getting high quality. As a principal, I'd want to investigate this concept. Secondly, too often technology is seen as an add on, when you finish your real work, then you can use a computer for extra credit work. Again, those who subscribe to this paradigm are missing the boat. We need to be working hard to ensure that technology is being seamlessly integrated into the daily lives of learning.

In addition, I hated it when my teacher would put a whole bunch of notes on the overhead and then proceed to read them to me. I could read! Let me explore the topic on my own and create my own questions. Be there to guide my thinking. Don't be the sage on the stage, be my guide on the side. Scaffold my ideas and push me to expand my thinking. Don't lead me to the answers, teach me to ask the questions. Well-prepared teachers who lead will never be more engaging than teachers who facilitate student directed learning experiences. If I am directing my learning, then I am obviously engaged and have no reason to cause problems.

Willard's other strategies revolve around close supervision, monitoring, consequences, investigating accidental access to porn. To be frank, I see this as fear mongering. Strategies like these feed the beast that is justification for the filtering and blocking that Willard indicated was inappropriate.

What we need to do is take a hard look at why students behave. If we want them to truly be responsible and respectful digital students it has to come from within. In Diane Gossen's book "It's all about We" she quotes James Wilson as indicating that people behave for three reasons:

1. To avoid pain - What will happen to me?

2. For respect or reward from others - What will I get?

3. For respect for self - Who will I be?

The goal is to help students to ask and be able to answer question #3. Because ultimately, there is no punishment great enough to stop someone who does not care and there is no reward great enough for someone who does not care. The first two questions are agents of coercion. Coercion leaves negative legacies including guilt, resentment and conformity (among others) in its wake. Where as question number three empowers students to draw upon and evaluate their values and beliefs. In order for this to work however, we need to explicitly teach students to understand what they belief in and what they value. Not an easy task.

image from PhotoshopTalent.com


SCMorgan said...

Thanks for this interesting post, Dave. We are continuing to discuss what appropriate use means in our own 1:1 program. Your facts are right on, and I love the 3 points made in "It's All About We." We do need to teach that understanding--and that's what it's all about. I'm looking forward to going back to some of your previous posts.

Josie Fraser said...

Great post. Perhaps you will find Young People & Social Networking the paper I recently finished for Childnet interesting? It's online and available to download in a bunch of formats: