Once again we had a very interesting ECI 831 class last night on the topic of understanding media literacy. I was a bit late getting back from teacher convention in Regina, but when I came in the topic of discussion was filtering or blocking websites at school. This caught my attention immediately, because it was part of the discussion of my post last week… I have some very strong opinions on this topic. My strong opinions seem to be based on my own frustrations of trying to offer 21st century learning and encourage other teachers to do the same, when there are often many road blocks that stand in the way.
My school division runs a blocking program that blocks social networking sites, among other things, but at the same time we can ask for sites to be unblocked if we want to use them. Sometimes when I am operating within my own little and sometimes frustrating, world, I think that sites are blocked only out of fear and misunderstanding, but of course that it not true. When I was at teacher’s convention I had the opportunity to ask one of our tech consultants about our web filtering process. He was able to open my eyes a little more as to what actually happens at the division office level. He said that for every site 6 teachers may ask to be unblocked, there are 6 other teachers that may put in a request to have the site blocked. I don’t mean to sound as if I exist only in my own little world here, but I had never even considered the idea that teachers would actually be asking for sites to be blocked, and I’m not kidding! Perhaps my frustrations should not be vented at the division office tech department? Maybe I need to put my energies elsewhere… and into some more positive places
This week Alec gave us a link to the blog site “Bud the Teacher” and his post entitled, “Would you please block?” The post describes a situation where the school district attempted to open up more of the internet and the idea was not well received by many teachers. It was met by many requests to have sites blocked again. When I was reading through the comments I noticed that one came from Dean Shareski, who is a tech guy in the Prairie South School Division. I attended a conference session given by Dean not long ago and have been attracted to his blog site ever since. He is a lot like Alec and is all about keeping things open. I think Prairie South has a much more liberal policy on web filtering. In one of his blog posts Dean presented information gathered when he interviewed some of his teachers about their opinions on web filtering. He also included a podcast where he interviewed Patricia Yeske, a high school teacher involved in a laptop project at Riverview Highschool in Moose Jaw, which I tried to include, but did not have any luck.
This made me think about some interesting questions:
- Do we let our fears hold us back and expect that filtering blocks will make our job easier?
- Are teachers up for the task of educating our students to do their own filtering service and do we trust them to do so?
- Are teacher prepared to justify to parents, etc. why we do not block certain sites such as Face Book?
Although Patricia was initially negative about her students having lap tops all of the time and how she would deal with this, she came up with some easy solutions to help her and her students out.
1. Seizing every possible teaching moment. I use this strategy with parenting and have been having discussions with all three of my children about drugs, alcohol and other issue from the time they were very small. When I would hear about a certain situation that helped me illustrate the dangers I would use it as a teachable moment and we would talk about it.
2. Setting strong expectations from the beginning. She made it clear to her students of what was expected as far as on-task behavior and internet safety. This is something that we try and do with our students all of the time, so I am not sure what makes this situation so different?
3. Walking about. She felt strongly that she needed to be all around the room. She needed to check and see what students were doing and she could not do that from her desk. This is the same strategy that administrators use to lower anxiety by teachers in classrooms. The more visible you are the the less likely it is that students will not be doing what they are supposed to be doing.
4. Watching facial expressions. Teachers are masters at knowing when students are up to something they are not supposed to be. Depending on the project, it should be easy to see if the facial expressions match the activity.
These suggestions are not earth shattering by any means. I guess the question really is, do we want to spend most of our energy policing children and promoting fear or do we want to spend our energy educating students on proper use of digital media? I was shocked at the number of videos available on youtube, made by students, for the purpose of showing other students, how to get around school division filtering programs. Our students will use digital media no matter how many filtering programs we install, perhaps we need to model and monitor instead of waiting for school division offices to do it for us. Catch you on the back channel.