Before school officials prohibit teachers and students from accessing certain web sites, they should think about the positive impact those sites might have on education: That was the message of “Think Before You Ban: How Classrooms Become Communities with Web 2.0 Technology,” a recent webcast sponsored by the Consortium for School Networking (CoSN).
The Jan. 16 program, moderated by ed-tech consultant Karen Greenwood Henke, focused on how schools can use Web 2.0 tools to foster collaboration and innovation in classrooms.
“We cannot ignore this phenomenon,” said Susan Brooks-Young, a Web 2.0 consultant who works with schools on technology programs and integration. Educators should “look at the instructionally sound ways to bring [Web 2.0 tools] in, and help both teachers and kids make the best use of this technology.”
Web 2.0 technologies “lend themselves very well to teaching 21st-century learning skills, and our job is to prepare kids for the workforce they’ll be facing when they leave school,” Brooks-Young added.
The use of Web 2.0 technologies is all about information, she said. These online communication tools extend learning beyond the regular school day and let users share ideas for group projects and other tasks; for example, students and teachers can have anytime, anywhere access to projects or assignments with Google’s free Documents tool.
Obviously schools need to be responsible for blocking inappropriate content, but there are two things schools need to have in place for filtering to work. First, schools should establish a process for a balanced examination of the educational value of content with the potential risk of inappropriate exposure. The task of determining education value vs. risk of content should not be left to IT staff–it needs to be handled by both educators and IT staff. That dialog does not happen naturally: waiting for teachers to “complain” about a site not being available does not really work, nor does the process of educators submitting web filtering URL forms. The discussion needs to be more broad than individual sites–rather, questions like “What types of Web 2.0 sites do we want students from our school to access?” need to be addressed by both IT staff and educators in an ongoing dialog.
Because of the constant dynamic change of internet services and content, schools should provide a different level of access for educators to “try out” new sites as they become aware of them. It is difficult to evaluate educational value when the default mode is to have everything blocked. Schools need to find a way to allow educators some “R&D;” access with the internet beyond the scope of what students have access.
Frustration can grow if these two processes are not in place. It is well worth the time to have an ongoing dialog about filtering–otherwise IT takes on more of a bunker mentality with educators, dodging their “lobs” of frustration. Worse yet, educators begin to view IT as a roadblock rather than an enabler. They begin to question whether IT staff’s value to their educational world is worth it. No one really wins in this setting.
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