There was a recent e-mail discussion with my counterparts from around the state about managing student blogs. One mentioned that she just didn’t want to open that can of worms. I can see her point, to some extent. We’ve pretty much done the same thing. I don’t know of any website on our system that has a method for feedback for students. The fear is that if we provide them a space for writing, such as a guestbook or other form, then we have provided them a "limited public forum," and all the First Amendment rights that might go along with it. The same argument has been used to limit or restrict student use of e-mail.
My experience has been that our discussions and efforts are usually woefully outdated and ineffectual. Students will find a way around, using technologies that best fit their lifestyles. We restrict access to e-mail. So what? Most kids think e-mail is slow and old-fashioned anyway, and would prefer text messaging on their own cell phones. We want to restrict access to blogs. Many of them already have MySpace sites, and have been using them actively for a number of months.
This is one reason why the Deleting Online Predators Act (DOPA) is doomed to failure. If passed, this law would require schools to block all discussion forums, chat rooms, and "Commercial Social Networking Websites" such as MySpace (and probably even Flickr) if they wish to continue receiving E-Rate funds. In its current overly broad form, it would wipe out access to most Web 2.0 activities at school.
The legistators just don’t get it. Blocking doesn’t work. Even monitoring Internet use with consequences for inappropriate use has limited effect. Unfortunately, kids are still going to be able to get to porn sites, so how in the world can they be kept away from something that’s not as overtly dangerous? NPR recently did an excellent series on Young People in the Media. Even for someone with as much experience in this field as I have, it was an eye-opener as to the attitudes and access students have toward inappropriate material.
If blocking doesn’t work, then what does? Educating students about potential dangers and channeling their energies into creative endeavors seems to be the best method. However, in a classroom this can never be forced. Trying to force new technologies into old paradigms is one sure way to kill a promising technology. Sometimes there’s a place for paper and pencil as the most appropriate tool. What we need to start doing is allowing our kids to use the technologies with which they are comfortable to solve problems within parameters and guidance that we provide.
One final incident really drove home how little control our schools have over this situation We are about to upgrade our Internet bandwidth to 10 MBit for our district. That’s 10 MBit for eleven sites, about 6700 students, and about 900 adults. There was an ad on TV last night for Charter Communications, where they were touting their new 10 MBit circuits for home. I think kids in those types of homes will always be a step ahead of us.
[tags]DOPA, media, web 2.0, blogs[/tags]