On Fridays I like to pull an interesting topic from the forum here on the site and share it with the community. Unfortunately, there’s not much new at the moment (although I’ll get to your post soon enough Andy). So while I was reading through some blog posts today I found an interesting comment by David Warlick. Mr. Warlick was commenting on a presentation at a conference about the habit that American schools have of severely restricting access to websites, programs, and other technological tools.
…the United States runs what is probably the most repressive education system on the planet, especially when compared with the access to information that learners have outside the classroom. “Students in China have e-mail,” he said. “Do your students?”
Now the last time that I wrote about censorship of websites at my school I was jokingly accused of biting the hand that feeds me by my school’s tech director. While I agree with my tech director that authority should be respected, and the decisions that those in leadership roles make are an honest attempt to protect our students, Mr. Warlick’s comments got me thinking. Is it in our student’s best interests’ to rethink the traditional top-down model of filtering and censorship when it comes to using the Internet and communication tools in school? If students in China and elsewhere have easier access (which is distinctly different than more access) to the tools they need for learning, might a better system for determining access on our computers be developed?
Certainly, establishing a committee that would be responsible for determining district-wide access would take a great deal of time, and probably be very slow to react. However, going with a completely technical solution like a filtering service, without the aide of human tinkering would restrict far more than is necessary. Currently, we have both a human and technological solution in our district, and for the most part it works very well. However, the system we have in place (and here’s where I bite that hand) creates hurdles for teachers that want to use technological tools as easily as they would a textbook or other resource. Granted, we have means of negotiating those hurdles, but for the less than tech-savvy teachers that don’t have much free time during the day to work their way through or around those hurdles, they will simply avoid using those tools altogether. Even I am guilty of limiting my exploration and experimentation because I know I don’t always have the time or the energy to put into providing compelling reasons to have certain resources unblocked.
And yet, in one school district a couple of hours away from us, I recently learned that all teachers in the district have the ability to temporarily unblock a resource to determine if it’s safe or viable for instruction. Intriguing, and something that I would love to pursue further to see if such a system could work for our school, as it would eliminate some hurdles. However, there must also remain a balance, as many teachers may feel overwhelmed with such a responsibility, and so I am at an impasse. I have never worked with any human or technological system of filtering that I feel fits everyone’s needs all the time. To paraphrase Abraham Lincoln, you can please all the users some of the time, and some of the users all of the time, but you can’t please all of the users all of the time. In other words, by blocking too much, you negatively affect teachers’ willingness to use technology. By blocking too little, you run the risk of seriously jeopardizing certain standards of safety (according to the national government & many parents). Where is the happy medium then?
I’m a bit worn after this week to answer the question fully, but I can’t wait to have a serious discussion about this with members of my district technology group soon. They are people that I all respect (my technology director included), and admire for their ability to rationally debate the merits of adjusting the way we filter in our schools. Who would you put in charge of filtering in your schools?
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