Monday, October 22, 2007

Twisting in the Internet Swings


I am sorry to have to do it but this post is not a informative, instructional post. It is a rant. If you are here to learn how to use the internet and technology, good. But ignore this post. If you are interested in reading the opinion of somebody who is completely and utterly right then read on.

Let me start with an analogy. I have a small child at home (11 months old tomorrow). Since he is crawling and almost walking he tends to move around a lot and get into EVERYTHING. He is also a very active boy. I have two options with him. I can either tether him to a chain in the center of the living room or I can let him move around and get into things. So my wife and I give him freedom. Yes he falls. Yes he bumps his head. Yes he gets scrapes and bruises. Yes he gets underfoot. Yes there are tears. And yes he sometimes gets into dangerous things he shouldn't. But we are right there with him. Every time he either gets hurt or gets a stern NO from us he learns about his limits. He finds out what is safe and what is not. This knowlege will be useful when he is older.

If we raise him in the padded room (and in a straight jacket like the cartoon) he will never get hurt. In that room. The minute he hits 8 years old and we finally let him out of his safe bubble he is going to go and get himself seriously hurt on the playground. He won't have learned that maybe jumping 2 meters to the ground is going to hurt. He has been so tightly protected and babied that he has no clue what his limits are! He will fail Darwin's natural selection because when it comes to real life common sense, my son would be STUPID! He would never have been given a chance to test his limits, to see what he can and can't do. And whose fault would it be? Mine.

We are doing exactly that with our internet content filtering. Ok so our students should never be allowed to view pornography at school. Fair. My son doesn't get to play in the knife drawer either. But we do let him play in many of the kitchen cupboards. We are not letting our students learn internet resposibility in a supervised environment. My school has almost everything blocked (including this blog) but they have none of these restrictions at home. We need to teach them how to identify and avoid risks, but we have to do that by exposing them to risk along the way. And we need to be there right beside them.

We are an older generation. We don't know, understand, and use the internet at anywhere near the same level as some of our students. Many of us are functionally illiterate on the web. That scares us. We may not even realize it, but we are. We are scared. So we try and shut down and block out what scares us. We even lie to ourselves that we are doing it for someone else's own good.

A collegue and I were talking about it (so I need to give him credit for this part). What are we trying to hide with our network security? Are we a bank with sensitive banking information? Are we some sort of national security agency with international secrets? All of our marks are stored at SaskLearning so getting into our local system won't really hurt that. Most teachers use paper and pencil books for marks anyways. Besides 15 to 20 minutes of searching on Google will often let you know how to crack many systems anyways.

So what do we do? Do we actually teach them be responsible (and let them practice and show proficiency at it) or do we force them to remain ignorant because they are overprotected. A tough decision but I think I know where I am leaning.


Gary Ball said...

This rant has been edited for content. Before posting this rant I had to sleep on it. Actually several times. I hope that I did not need to sleep longer.

Tammy said...

I agree that we need to be teaching our students how to use the Internet in a safe manner. I have two teenage daughters, who use the net for everything, and there are times that they run into disturbing sites or engage in inappropriate postings (now girls can tell each other off using text speak on sites like Bebo) but because I’m involved and aware of their Internet usage, we learn together from these experiences; the girls are better able to identify dangerous situations and I'm learning more each day about what they can do on the net. So again, I agree that we need to provide our students with an opportunity to learn to navigate the net while providing a safe and monitored environment; which can be accomplished by having teachers who are technological literate and supervise student computer usage effectively.

DesRoches Family News said...


I agree with many of our comments and believe that it is vital that we educate our students to ensure that they are able to critically and wisely use the internet in all its capacity.

One of your comments resonates with me particularly and that is that you make it clear that as your son explores his environment you are with him every step of the way.

As we open this new web environment to students within the school setting are teachers willing to monitor students' use of the internet? I often see students using the internet without adult or teacher supervision in many schools.

What should the expectations be for teachers with regards to student internet use?

Mark Kowalski said...

I think this an issue that we need to explore further. There is always a balance to strike between off and on. Currently, it seems schools are at either end.