Thursday, 25 February 2010

Ethics and blocks

Been thinking about the tensions surrounding Web 2.0 technologies in schools. Had a staff meeting after school where we talked about safety in two contexts - of our ICT hardware, and of the students themselves.

Different LEAs have more or less restrictive policies of allowing access to social networking sites - ours is very conservative, blocking all blogs as a matter of course, as well as YouTube, facebook, bebo et al. Other authorities' policies have different levels of access for staff and students, which clearly broadens opportunities for teaching. Of course, students find proxy sites and get round blockers - which has the ironic result of teachers actually having less internet access than many of the children in their classroom...

One argument put forward about blocking 'user-defined content' is for the security of school networks - I'd be interested to see research on how unsafe (in terms of virus transmission and the like) sites like YouTube, facebook (and the rest) are. Are there cases of educational or business networks being harmed by access to social networking?

The other safety fear is for students - and clearly 'cyber-bullying' is a very real issue, as well as 'unsavoury characters'. I think my worry here is that if the educational establishment absents itself from sites like bebo, then we leave them as unsupervised spaces. Should we, as teachers, know more about these places and help to guide our youngsters through them?

And there are issues about ethics as well, in terms of teachers' contact with pupils in these areas. While I would not add a student as a facebook friend, I know I have twitter followers within the school, and run a ning with my creative writing group. What are the differences, and where do we draw lines?


Bryony B.T. said...

Interesting topics. Ones I feel I can actually say something about, being an ex-student. I remember the old blockers on the school net. I also remember that the blocks themselves actually became fun challenges and something to overcome in lessons. In which case, they ended up being more of a distraction than a safekeeper. Students aren't going to really realise why they're in place and unless there's rigorous overseeing, any computer centered lesson suddenly becomes a 'Slack Off' lesson. And that's a waste of time for everyone concerned.

I definitely believe that if teachers know more about the social networking sites and such that kids are into, then that's a huge hurdle overcome in terms of understanding the students. Perhaps more importantly getting them to understand where the teachers and rules are coming from. I'm not sure where it'd go from there, but it's a start, and a good one at that.

I spend a good (bad?) amount of time on the net, and haven't really met with bad things, people or bullying. If teachers are really worried about such things, then it's clearly pretty important to know more about *all* of it, like facebook, bebo etc, so that you can protect the students against it. Having blocks on the schools computers doesn't stop it happening at home, and who's going to protect or teach them proper internet safety there? There may be brief internet safety talks here and there, but looking at the papers shows that it obviously isn't enough.

You have to ask whether it's more important to protect the school from lawsuits or about the student. Hopefully in spending more time teaching the students instead of cutting them off, you can achieve both. I really can't emphasise enough how much of a difference it could make if teachers knew more about what was going on on the old world wide web.

I'd be pretty interested to see safety research on Youtube and Facebook as well. They may be huge public sites, but they're also pretty big companies that are diligent about making it safe to use. I've never worried about it before now. It's the small websites that I worry about. Like scorpion claws...the smaller they are, the worse the sting.

Lastly, it was a pretty new thing to have teachers try and reach out on the internet, through email mostly, while I was at school. It was cool, if a bit unnerving. But that's because it was like school seeping into home life and the computer. But then again, that's the way things are headed. Naturally, I think having a student seek you out on Facebook is odd, as at that age students are probably up to more mischief than anything else. And really, although it may be easier in some ways, we've survived how many years without student-teacher net connections? Seems more trouble than it's worth, to me.

In any case, that's my jar full of two cents.

G.R.Evans said...

Thanks Bryony - I seem to remember you were one of the few members of the Language group that looked at the original version of this blog! I also remember issues with blockers and proxy sites with one particular Language Investigation on bebo...

There doesn't seem to be the same sense of chasing and blocking proxies that there was a couple of years ago - it may just be the classes I have, but students don't seem to be trying to get round security as much. Still similar issues with blocking image libraries, though - I wouldn't mind it being easier to access film stills at work!

I do think we have a responsibility to familiarise ourselves with these online spaces - we're setting up a unit of work on it in Year 9 this year, and I'm just thinking about what we should actually be wanting the kids to learn. Is it just 'English' things like language and layout, or should we be teaching them about internet security and safety? Where in the curriculum should those things go? English lessons, or tutor periods?

I have a sense that folk who aren't active in places like facebook have something of a sense of fear about it all - moral panics, with headlines like 'facebook killer', don't help, either. It's not really a generational thing: my mum's on facebook and she has a wii! I guess it's like many things - you get along fine without it, so you don't see how it could be a positive part of your life.

I take your point about student-teacher internet connections: "school seeping into home life" is an issue for teachers as well as students. I don't mind being emailed in the evening by folk who are stuck on essays, but we have crossed a line. It's like vampires - invite them into your house once, and that's it. A solicitor friend of mine is refusing to be given a Blackberry by work. I can see why.