Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Should we filter and firewall in schools?

For teachers and students to make full use of social participatory web 2.0 technological resources and processes for 21st century learning and competencies, then they need unfiltered, unrestricted access to these online resources in the classroom. In some of my classroom-based research, I have heard from a majority of teachers who are extremely frustrated by the filtered / firewalled restrictions placed on the rich and plentiful resources available online. Who is restricting access to things like blogs, wikis, youtube, facebook, and many other online resources and processes that characterize the social web? Often, it is the school jurisdiction or school IT folks - people who do not have a BEd.

A plethora of resources, experts and processes are available online - in education, we need to seriously consider and debate WHY we would restrict teachers and students from access to this growing and expanding online knowledge base.

Issues to consider:
- Decisions about appropriate online content / resources / processes to be used in the classroom should be made by teachers. What are the Alberta Education, Alberta Teachers' Association, CASS, School Council Committee, etc., positions on this issue of professionalism and teacher selection of online content and technological resources?

- Often, at the district level, and even at the school level, technology personnel, who are not educated as teachers / school leaders, are making "appropriate use" and "censoring" decisions about online content / resources / processes that are available to / restricted from teachers and students in classrooms.  Who should decide what knowledge, perspectives and ideas are worthwhile, necessary and appropriate for Alberta teachers and students? Are we comfortable leaving these important decisions about "appropriate" and "valuable" and "dangerous" in the sole hands of technology staff? In the sole hands of administrators?

- POLICY regarding access to online content, technological processes and resources, should be created based on consultation among all relevant stakeholders - administrators, teachers, school jurisdictions, parents, technology personnel, AND STUDENTS.

- Every school jurisdiction, or even school, should be able to determine the policies that make sense WITHIN a greater provincial context and policy structure. Provincial policy and school jurisdiction policies on access to online content and technological resources should be reevaluated at the beginning of each school year to take into account changing students, changing technologies and changed thinking about teaching and learning.

I believe there is a role to be played by research:
- Which school jurisdictions have the most restrictive policies and why? How are these policies working? How do teachers, students and parents feel about these policies?
- Which schools or school jurisdictions have the least restrictive policies and why and how are these working?
- How do school jurisdictions and administrators justify the filtering / firewall policies that are in place? Are these policies defensible? Are these decisions supported by data from different stakeholders? Information from the research literature?
- What do parents say about access to online content and technological processes? How have we collected this data? Who have we asked? Whose opinions count?
- What is the real incidence of serious problems with unfiltered, unrestricted access, as opposed to ad hoc reporting or imagined problems or fear mongering?

Feel free to comment on my comments and ideas.


Hank said...

"What is the real incidence of serious problems ..." I think there is a good reason we don't and won't have an answer on this, which is that it is essentially zero.

There is also the ever popular "If only one incident occurs ...", which justifies unlimited expansion without needing data. Anyone and everyone can play.

Fortunately most children have computer access at home.

K.Becker said...

I.T. is the same almost everywhere, whether it be in schools, higher ed., or the corporate sector. Their primary motivation is to make their own lives easy so they will always argue for inflexible rules and restrictive policies, and they will make whatever excuses they need to in order to convince people to let them do things their way.

However, they are employed BY the school or school district and so answer TO them. As much as I hate to defend them, they are not to blame for the policies. Most I.T. policies end up being what they are because the decision makers simply let I.T. do whatever they want. It is like letting your 6 year old make the grocery shopping list and then blaming them for your poor diet.

It is easier to blame someone else - the teachers don't push for changes (a few try, some have given up trying, but most don't bother), most administrators are quite content to leave things the way they are (some LIKE the restrictions and many others like being able to say "It is out of my hands." when in fact it isn't).

Teachers (and administrators) are very busy people and many are quite happy to leave these important decisions in the hands of tech staff because it means *they* don't have to think about it.

The world is more complicated than it was 30 years ago and understanding tech is part of that.

As long as those with the Ed degrees are content to leave these decisions to people with an agenda that has nothing to do with education, tech in schools will remain a barrier to 21-st century learning.

D said...

Many schools already filter entire environments in which students find themselves: school yards are fenced in, visitors are required to sign in and out, strangers are prohibited from entering school grounds, hall monitors abound, backpacks and lockers are checked now and again, and parking lots are routinely scouted by school staff. In the eyes of administators, the restrictions of movement and association within the social sphere of web 2.0 may have more to do with traditional safety issues defined by "in loco parentis" than any consideration the influences web 2.0 tools may or may not have on the the learning of the 21st century student.

Mr. G said...

These kinds of decisions need to be made with consultation of all of the stakeholders. It seems that far too many decisions relating to technology are made by IT personnel who want things to be expedient, not educationally sound. I have yet to hear a defensible argument for these restrictive policies and have debated them with anyone who will listen,( and a few people who won't.) It is difficult to do leading edge stuff under such restrictions. I have found it easier to circumvent the server than try to convince our IT department of the merits of Facebook and similar sites.

Lisa Louise said...

I love your list of required research on the subject. It reminds me of a cousin of mine who couldn't believe I would let my children go to the park across the back alley (which I could see from the bedroom window)because they would get "snatched".

How often do we limit ourselves or make ourselves victims of things that haven't even happened to us?

Why not wait until we have good reason to limit the use of technology?

Why not teach our children how to make the right decisions about internet usage instead of keeping it from them?

When they get to post secondary you can't keep it from them anymore so why not teach them early how to be responsible contributors.