08 November 2009

Still More Commentary on "The Enemy Within"

Yes, I must jump into the fray as well. Yesterday, Twitter was all aflutter about a proposed session at the NYSCATE Conference. The Enemy Within: Stop Students from Bypassing your Filters will discuss the dangers of proxies in schools. The session page on the NYSCATE conference wiki is open for comments, and so far, educators are not hesitating to make their feelings known.

Wesley Fryer has an excellent post about the dangers of seeing our students as enemies. Sylvia Martinez also takes on the notion that we must protect ourselves and our networks from our students. Scott McLeod weighed in on his frustration with IT departments and many education professionals trying to block students rather than figure out WHY they are trying to get around filters.

Now, it's my turn. First, a bit of background. Early last spring we had an incident at our site in which the school website was "hacked" and some malicious software was later discovered on campus computers. The result was the loss of three weeks production for the newspaper staff and general problems with the network. When I took over the newspaper staff, I asked for Deep Freeze to be placed on the desktop computers as a means to protect the work that both yearbook and newspaper students do on a daily basis. I don't particularly like the idea of having this type of software on the computers and it IS a hassle to deal with, BUT since the lab is used for two geography classes and a revolving hoard of students looking for a place to finish their homework during lunch, we all feel a little more secure.

Furthermore, I generally prohibit the use of proxies in the lab since district filters find and block them all the time. I know the IT department has the ability to see where the use of proxies is coming from and I'd rather avoid their wrath at this time.

With that said, here's something that I've noticed. When students use proxies they are using them to facilitate communication. Generally, the most popular sites I have seen are Facebook, MySpace and other blogging sites that are blocked by the district. Next, I see video sites such as YouTube. I don't see much else and I've never seen a student go to one of those sites that will corrupt their fragile minds.

So it seems that IT Departments have a problem with students communicating with each other using modern technologies. Furthermore, they seem to take issue with students using video to learn. We all know (or should know) that there is fabulous work being done out there that includes questions posted on Facebook, activities discussed and analyzed in Ning and student learning shared on Glogster and YouTube. Why is it that so many educators can see the value of using Web 2.0 tools in the classroom, but so many IT Departments spend their time finding and blocking sites that, in their opinions, might corrupt our youth?

I agree with the bloggers above that we have to stop looking at student use of computers and Web 2.0 tools with fear. What would happen if we taught students (we don't in my district) appropriate online behavior, effective search techniques and responsible use of the tools available to them? What if we then helped our students (most students in my school and district do not have regular access to computers during the school day) use the best tools to help them critically analyze and present their learning to live and virtual classmates? It's time to drop the us vs. them mentality and come up with ways to both protect our students and facilitate learning using a variety of technology tools.