Tuesday, 1 March 2016

To block or not to block - that is the question.

All educators and parents are concerned about the safety of their children.  There are policies and processes in place at most schools to try and minimize the risks for children working online at schools.
In some schools, there are so many blocks that it just creates barriers for learning.  Sites are blocked that can be so useful.  Youtube is one of the most commonly blocked for students.  Another is facebook.  Many teachers and parents believe that these sites are "too distracting" for the learners.  In these cases, teachers should be focused on the outcomes of the lessons - what knowledge or product is the child expected to create as a result of their internet work?  And how is that learning made visible.  If this happened more often then the students would have less time to be distracted as there would be consequences for not producing the work or showing the evidence of the learning.

A term came up at a recent conference as Lorna Earl from Ontario warned my colleagues and fellow educators to beware of "activity traps".  She said we do a lot that does not make a difference.  She is a co-author of "Building and Connecting - Learning Communities" by Katz, Earl and Jaafar.  I believe that there are many "activity traps" in a day at school.  Get the students focusing on achieving learning goals instead.
But getting back to my main point - to block or not to block.
It is important to remember that school is often the safest place in students' lives.  So when students go home at night, they are more than likely to be working with devices which have no controls or restrictions on them in many cases.  For this reason, I believe it is more important to teach learners that there are unsuitable sites and people out there in internet land, and teach them  why they are unsuitable and how to manage them when they come across them, instead of blocking access to each and every site which may hold dangers.

In addition, parents should closely supervise and be involved in their children's use of digital technologies, just as they are when they are on the beach or at the playground.  This includes occasionally checking up on the history of the sites they have visited and also when a child quickly closes a webpage, bring that webpage back up again to see what was visited.  You can do this on Google Chrome browser by pressing "control + shift + T" all at once.  Keep pressing it to bring up the latest history.
Just as you teach the learners about family and school values, teach about the contexts in which they will use these values - not only in every day life but also online.  And use the huge range of educational resources available online as much as you possible can.