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Archive for the ‘Standard 3: Utilization’ Category

Prompt:
Many learning institutions block access to social media and social networking within their settings. Provide a rationale for opening up the walled gardens or, if you agree with the importance of learning institutions maintaining a walled garden, then you can take that stance in your Blog entry.
__________

The February, 2010 Pew Report, Social Media and Young Adults, indicates that 73% of online teens use social networking sites and that Facebook is their tool of choice. Further, persons in all demographics are more frequently using mobile devices for non-voice tasks, like Internet access (Smith). Social media is woven into everyday life but determining the positive role it can play in our schools is impacted by concerns for online safety, the perceived educational appropriateness of media use, and the ramifications of filtering practices.

Webopedia defines a walled garden as “a browsing environment that controls the information and Web sites the user is able to access” and goes on to say that “schools are increasingly using the walled garden approach in creating browsing environments in their networks.” Those in education will likely know the walled garden by its other name – filtering. Though the Children’s Internet Protection Act of 2000 requires schools receiving E-rate funding to filter material that is harmful to minors, administrators, teachers, parents, students, and school technology leaders all have their own perspective on that filtering. Administrators look at garden walls with an awareness of students’ educational needs, federally mandated Internet Safety education requirements (Broadband Data Improvement Act), National Education Technology Standards and the myriad ramifications of policy decisions. Teachers look at garden walls with an awareness of what is, and is not, possible for classroom instruction. Parents look at garden walls with an awareness of hopes and dreams for their child’s education and safety. Students look at garden walls with varying degrees of awareness and interest, depending on age and experience. To cap it off, school technology leaders are placed in the unenviable position of balancing the wants and needs of all parties with practical aspects of recommending and implementing policies within the ever-changing landscape of the Internet.

Federal mandates will keep garden walls in place, but questions remain. How high should the walls be and at what point is it appropriate to chip away at them? When we talk of Internet safety and filtering in general, it is unlikely that you will find anyone who would argue against the filtering of blatantly inappropriate content, but the tighter the filtering of disagreeable content, the greater the likelihood that some of the “good stuff” won’t get through. An analogy that is frequently used compares learning to swim with online safety. You can’t learn to swim if you don’t go into the pool, and you can’t learn to be safe online if you don’t have access to online content. A more “locked-down” approach keeps students safer at school, but is less effective in teaching students how to use technologies safely (OSTWG, p. 23). In their Report to Congress just last month, one of the Online Safety and Technology Working Group (OSTWG) recommendations was full use of “social media – in the form of wikis, video, podcasts, interactive word processing, online discussion, etc. – to teach regular subjects already taught in pre-K-12 classrooms” (p. 33).

So, are these two ideas – filtering and social media – in conflict? I say, not necessarily. Garden walls are a “given” in schools but Web 2.0 technologies, like those recommended in the OSTWG report and this week’s class readings, can thrive within them. Students can learn to develop and use social networks on Togetherville, specifically designed for children ages 6-10, before moving on to Facebook. Students can use NetTrekker (paid subscription service) to browse pre-screened Web sites for research, before moving on to Google. In fact, social media themselves, through their Terms of Use and site design, are building their own garden walls. Sites like Flickr place age restrictions on users and sites like Edmodo and Voicethread require teachers to be administrators and users to be approved. Blogs and wikis are supervised and content can be approved, edited, or deleted. This combination of federally mandated walls, walls erected by social media applications, and the availability of age-appropriate alternatives to “adult” media, means that Walled Gardens have the potential to accommodate student communication, collaboration, and the learning of social and behavioral norms.

Difficulties arise, however, when garden walls impede learning. Even when school districts have different filters in place for adults and students, content that directly supports the curriculum may not be accessible. So what do you do? You can avoid the wall, negotiate with the wall, or circumvent the wall. If a site is blocked, find another – it may be as good, or better, than your initial choice. Barring the discovery of alternate resources, requests can be made to unblock individual URLs. For sites that remain blocked, teachers can choose not to use that information, or they use a tool like Zotero. With Zotero, teachers can bookmark pages at home then access the page snapshot during instruction. The key here is that the teacher is actively monitoring content for educational significance and appropriateness. If page content is interactive and something in the URL won’t make it past the filter, the final option is to find a way to circumvent the filter. While this is almost always a “bad” thing, there can be exceptions. For example, SafeShareTV generates a new URL for YouTube videos and masks all content except the video itself, allowing you to get the all the “good” and none of the “bad.” The reality of filtering, however, is that people find ways to get out of the garden all the time. Do you want to update your status but Facebook is blocked? Forget trying to get around that wall, just get out your cell phone!

So, is the garden wall a good thing or a bad thing? Do we knock it down, build it up, or simply resign ourselves to the inevitability of its existence? I say we start by taking better advantage of the educational opportunities available within the garden. Engage students in global communication using sheltered forums like ePals and iEarn. Allow students to collaborate within the safety of teacher-created blogs and wikis. Guide student research and the evaluation of information that is found. We can teach students how to maintain privacy and safeguard their online reputation while they investigate all the nooks and crannies of the garden. Further, when we find social media outside the walls that will provide valuable educational opportunities not otherwise possible/feasible, thoughtful consideration must be given to allowing student access. Of the six emerging technologies presented in the 2010 Horizon Report, the two on the “near-term horizon” (within the next 12 months) are cloud computing and collaborative environments. Garden walls need to be flexible enough to allow students to take advantage of rich educational opportunities such as these.

Adjusting the height of garden walls is an ongoing campaign and teachers are at the front lines. Any teacher who has previewed online content has raised the wall. Any teacher who has done a WebQuest, instead of turning students loose to research, has raised the wall. Any teacher who has pressed “freeze” on the LCD projector remote, before showing something to the class, has raised the wall. For all our protection of student vulnerabilities within the school environment, however, garden walls are limited or non-existent outside of school. Scaffolding development of 21st century skills within garden, is the best way we can prepare students to navigate the open spaces of the Internet outside the garden because “the best ‘filter’ is not the one that runs on a device but the “software” that runs in our heads” (OSTWG, p. 32).

References:



Broadband Data Improvement Act, Title II: S.1965 – Protecting Children in the 21st Century Act. Retrieved from: http://www.opencongress.org/bill/110-s1965/show

Johnson, L., Smith, R., Levine, A., & Haywood, K. (2010). 2010 Horizon report: K-12 edition. Austin, TX: The New Media Consortium. Retrieved from: http://www.nmc.org/pdf/2010-Horizon-Report-K12.pdf

Lenhart, A., Purcell, K., Smith, A., & Zickuhr, (February, 2010). Social media and young adults. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from: http://www.pewinternet.org/Reports/2010/Social-Media-and-Young-Adults.aspx

Smith, A. (July, 2010). Mobile access 2010. Washington, DC: Pew Internet & American Life Project. Retrieved from: http://www.pewinternet.org/~/media//Files/Reports/2010/PIP_Mobile_Access_2010.pdf

Youth safety on a living Internet: Report of the online safety and technology working group. Retrieved from: http://www.ntia.doc.gov/reports/2010/OSTWG_Final_Report_060410.pdf

Related Reading:
Willard, N. (2010). Cyber secure schools in a Web 2.0 world. Downloaded from: http://csriu.cerizmo.com/items/6623-cyber-secure-schools-in-a-web-2-0-world-individual-faculty ($14).

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