I have been blessed to work with such an open IT department within our school division for the last six years. When many complain about lack of access to things such as YouTube and Twitter, we can access them and we have filters that block out sites that are inappropriate (pornography and gambling obviously). I think there is a line between keeping our students safe (which we always focus on) and sheltered.
Yet often the idea of blocking sites is said to be a proactive measure to protect our kids. Now I would never question the intent of someone when doing this, but I would ask the question, “what are we being proactive of”? If a kid is blocked from Facebook and YouTube all day, and no one ever has a conversation with them at school, and then they go home, go on to Facebook and YouTube, and watch inappropriate videos, bully others, what did blocking the site help? This seems to really only be proactive for saving ourselves, not necessarily our kids. As we know, education helps to solve problems, hence the reason programs such as D.A.R.E. exist which talk openly about some of the dangers of drugs and alcohol.
We have to think clearly about our purpose with students. I want our kids to be able to use technology to not only learn, but to also give themselves opportunities that I did not have when I was a kid. I also want them to have balance in their lives which means they have to learn to have the conversation about when and how they are using social networks (which they probably are or will be using sooner or later, whether we educate them or not), while also learning to understand the benefits of having face-to-face conversations and relationships.
It is important that as we continue on this path, and we look at what we are doing with our students, we don’t create policies for the “minority”. Yes, when things are open there can be problems, but when things are closed, there can be problems as well. As a technology teacher years ago, I had a student go around every filtered site (in a heavily blocked environment) that he could find to post nude pictures into a PowerPoint. As I think back on this years later, I know that the student knew he had done something wrong, yet I also believe that we failed him. Because the Internet was so blocked, we never worried about this type of thing happening. It may have happened at home, but as long as it didn’t happen in school, why talk to him? We thought we were safe from liability but somehow shirked responsibility. That is not the “proactive” I can be comfortable with anymore.
As we look at “policies” we have to continue to create environments where are working with our kids to be safe now (in school and at home), and learn to be safe in the future. We also have to give the opportunity for our students and educators to be innovative in their work. Two options that we seem to have are either living in a culture of a fear or a culture of trust. As leaders, IT departments, schools, etc., look at how things are “run”, I think they should all look at this Derek Sivers video about some of the policies that we create when “someone” makes a mistake. Often though, we have made policies before anyone has made the mistake. Punishing all because of our own fear, uncertainty, and doubt (FUD), is not a way to push greatness in our schools. It is a way to promote average.
Innovation and transformation are key words that we continue to say in education and should be used. We need to take the shackles off of our educators (that have been hired and are obviously trusted) and help them make this change we are clamouring to see. As Derek Sivers says, “don’t punish everyone for one person’s mistake”, yet we have to create an environment that actually allows us to have the opportunity to take (calculated) risks in the first place.
The Derek Sivers video below is definitely well worth the 2:25 to watch it.