Thursday, June 2, 2011

Just ban it!

The internet is a reflection of our society and reflects the whole spectrum of human activity from inspiring ideas and research to the worst depravity imaginable. The media tend to give publicity to the worst aspects of the net and as a result many people see it as a frightening arena; a place where identities are stolen, crimes committed and it is all too easy to lose control. It's not the sort of place you want your children to roam freely in. As a result many schools have strict firewalls that block social media services like Facebook and YouTube and ban the use of mobiles.

All the things not to do... by RipperDoc, on Flickr
There certainly is a lot to be wary of and children (and adults) need to be careful and know how to avoid the threats that do exist. The trouble is that even if you ban, say, YouTube in school the kids can access whatever they want the minute they leave the building. Instead of taking the easy way out and just banning everything, why not help pupils to use the net responsibly, search more critically, find ways of filtering information and taking responsibility for their online presence in, say, Facebook?

That's the subject of a good post by Tom Barrett called Blocked for me, open for you. Schools in the UK (and no doubt most other countries) ban different websites and there's no consistency in this. One school can have a highly open and permissive attitude and a school just along the road may ban just about everything. Barrett has set up a site to highlight these inconsistencies by getting people to tick off which tools and sites are banned in every local authority in the country. That way you can wonder why YouTube is banned in one town and not in another.

Schools' attitudes to technology vary alarmingly from region to region and even neighboring schools can have completely different approaches. One school offers all pupils laptops, wifi, e-books and online course administration whereas another school is stil run as it was 20 years ago. This threatens to further accentuate the digital divide. After so many years of trying to create a school system where everyone has equal opportunities and equal access to knowledge we seem to be busy reversing the process.

As more and more teachers use social media as an integral part of their teaching and are trying out new ways to extend the pupils learning beyond the limits of the classroom, it's time to really discuss how open school should be. By creating a web survey highlighting the inconsistencies and arbitrary decisions made about social media Barrett hopes to stimulate a more mature discussion. Too often decisions about banning services are made over the teachers' heads and sometimes due to misconceptions about the supposed "dangers".

Photo: Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-Share Alike 2.0 Generic License  by  RipperDoc 

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