The internet and education – a double edged sword…

In case you haven’t read any of my earlier posts, I’m a big First Amendment kind of guy. BIG. That being said, I struggle on where I stand concerning filters and how they’re used in education today (and I can really only speak for how things are done in my district – so feel free to chime in with whether or not this is abnormal or ridiculous, or right on…)

My latest run in, if you will, concerning our filter is the fact that students are not able to access Google Docs at school. We have many students in our district who aren’t able to afford word processing software (yes, I know, they could use Notebook or something of the like) or who simply choose to use an alternative, free version such as those offered by Google Docs. But they are blocked from using it and I find this to be, well, dumbfounding.

I was provided the reasoning – that Google owns YouTube and that unlocking Google Docs would enable students to essentially “backdoor” their way into YouTube if Google Docs were unlocked. Of course, I mentioned this to some students today and they laughed because there are so many other ways that they are able to back door their way into YouTube. (Notice I haven’t even addressed the fact that YouTube is also being blocked, which is an issue in itself). Bottom line is that this  means that our students don’t have access to a valuable tool because of our paranoia over what they could be doing on YouTube.

Before this gets taken as a total rant on my school district, it must be understood that I don’t totally blame them. I get the need to filter – even the First Amendment guy in me gets it – we don’t want our students abusing the internet during class time. We don’t want them accessing truly objectionable sites – I get that – but I feel that if we take the concept of Digital Literacy seriously, then we need to demonstrate how to use the internet responsibly rather than simply locking it down like Fort Knox. Keep in mind as well that there are many, many people who vote who don’t want students playing around on “that there internet thing” (redneck quotes entered for entertainment value, not to indicate accuracy in the statement, although I’m pretty darn sure that those words have come out of the mouths of some local voters).

So let’s get back to what we should be doing. We should be promoting the use of tools like Google Docs – in fact, I’m trying to figure out exactly how much money our District could save in site licenses alone if we made a global switch. In this day and age in which we are cutting, cutting and cutting some more, this is a place where we can save. We should be modeling how to properly search for information when we’re researching and we should model digital literacy – true digital literacy. We teach responsibility in other subjects, why not in this?

We also need to get real. Our students are light years ahead of us 30, 40 and 50 somethings who are driving the decision making process. In many cases, the filters are nothing more than a temporary inconvenience. But I don’t want my students relying on their ability to “cheat the system,” however. And the last time I checked, we should be making decisions based upon what’s best for our students. I completely understand that there will be those who would abuse a filter free internet while at school. It will happen – and we should hold these students accountable when it does happen. As it is now, though, we are essentially punishing the vast majority of students who could use this tremendous resource in an appropriate manner.

If we’re going to filter, then we need to have input into what is filtered. I can’t even begin to explain to you how many times I’ve seen a student trying to perform legitimate resource only to be frustrated by valuable sites being blocked – and this is in an English classroom. I can’t even imagine how crippling this would be when teaching Health. We filter blogs, we filter music, we filter comics (which makes the editorial unit in my Mass Media class an adventure) and we filter other things that really don’t need to be because we take the safe route. Admittedly, with the exception of Google Docs, every time I’ve “appealed” a blocked site, it’s been unblocked. But try planning out a lesson, coming into school and then finding out mid-activity that a site you need your students to be able to use is blocked.

Again, the last thing I want this to sound like is a total rant on the schools. I really do understand how their hands are tied at times. I just think there comes a time when we need to come together and figure out a way to come to a consensus on how to fix a problem.

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One thought on “The internet and education – a double edged sword…

  1. This is really interesting. Our school operates almost entirely using GoogleDocs. We use the Moodle system too, but a lot of our “sharing” of information is done through GoogleDocs. In fact, last year (or the year before…) we switched our email program to GMail. So even though you’re emailing @scasd.org, it’s a GMail platform. Maybe Google has us wrapped around their little finger, but I think it’s great.

    So needless to say our kids use GoogleDocs for almost every project. It’s a great way to share and collaborate. (I’ll spare you the sales pitch; I’m sure you get it!) Even when teachers don’t require them to use GoogleDocs, 90% of the time they do. (I know this because anytime my kids are working on anything for my class, they “share” it with me, whether I tell them to or not.) In fact, when I want them to use Word (for in class essays), it’s like pulling teeth. (I like Word better than GoogleDocs because of formatting issues… I’m a bit OCD like that.)

    Our district (or maybe just the high school?) “unblocked” Youtube as of this school year. I think our administrators really saw the value in Youtube. Sure, it has a bunch of crap on it, but as you said, they know how to backdoor into these sites anyway. Might as well let them access it legitimately so that they can get a hold of the good stuff.

    I think what prompted the unblocking of Youtube was that kids were creating multimedia projects, and wanting to embed video content in their projects, and there was no way to do that. I think it being unblocked will be an overall benefit to our students.

    We are an extremely technology rich district, in that it’s pushed on the faculty and on the students. There are advantages and disadvantages to technology in education, of course, but that’s another post. I think our district realizes that if it’s going to push technology, it also has to provide those technology rich resources (like GoogleDocs and Youtube, among others) to the students.

    I couldn’t imagine how my classroom would function without GoogleDocs.

    I couldn’t imagine how our school would function without GoogleDocs.

    P.S. – And you point out a valid concern about socio-economic implications that I didn’t even get into. But there’s that too!

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