Thursday, October 16, 2008

When Your Hands Are Tied...

Image: 'Gassa d'amante' -

Wouldn't the world be a much easier place to live if you always had the power and ability to control situations that are sometimes beyond your control?

For example, filtering web content.

Divisional web filtering solutions can sometimes pose such barriers to us as educators. While I fully appreciate the need to limit the access students have to some of the virtual trash that the Internet houses, I think we're shooting ourselves in the foot by blocking everything that may pose a risk to our students.

We strive to teach our students all about the ethical and responsible use of technology. In doing so, we discuss some of the dangers associated with sharing private information. We work with our students to help them understand that their online actions leave a permanent mark. We encourage our students to show the same level of respect for their online acquaintances as they would with their off-line peers.

When it comes to accessing online content, we tend to tighten the leash on our students and deny them access to some valuable resources. Many divisions block YouTube content. Twitter use isn't allowed by a number of the divisions in my province. In fact, in many divisions, access to a number of the free and useful online tools that pop up each day will be blocked by the time these tools become mainstream.

Why do divisions/districts feel such a strong need to restrict access to this content? Is it for the sake of the students or are we filtering this content from the teachers? If it's because we don't want our students to stumble upon content that may not be appropriate for them, we're really wasting our time. In most developed and developing regions, students have more access to technology at home than they do at school. And too many parents don't pay close enough attention to how their children use technology at home. If a student wants to access inappropriate material online they will, whether they do it at school or at home.

If we had open access to the good and the bad in all of our schools, I think it would empower teachers to engage their students in more discussions about the ethical and responsible use of technology. Sure, allowing our students to visit YouTube may result in a few minutes of wasted time, but it could also generate some great discussions, motivate reluctant learners, and encourage a great deal of collaboration. I get jealous when I read Clarence's posts about his students uploading videos to YouTube, because I know that many of the teachers in my division would love to do this with their students, but their hands are tied :-(

Although it's frustrating when our hands are tied, bringing more people into the fray may help to loosen the knots.

Here's hoping...

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