Monday, July 6, 2009

Why do we block Web 2.0 tools in school?

I was looking over a colleague's poll he posted on Twitter yesterday and it reminded me of an annoying philosophy that many schools have today. The poll was in regards to blocking users within the district from accessing certain sites, when those sites have very positive and obvious educational value. Sites such as Google Docs, Diigo, YouTube, Skype, Twitter....and the list could go on...are blocked in some schools. The rationale depends on who you talk to. I've heard "the filter blocks it and we aren't going to change the filter's settings", "we're too worried about a lawsuit", and "there just isn't a need to access those sites in school".

I can't stress enough that I think these kinds of statements are wrong!!

I thought we had policies in place for a reason? I was under the impression that we protected schools by creating policies. So why block the sites, if we have policies in place to deal with users accessing materials they shouldn't be? They have to abide by districts' AUP, just like every other user. I don't believe that we prevent 99% of our users from accessing tools that will add value to their education just because of the 1% who will use them inappropriately. We have those policies in place for this exact reason, don't we?

What's that? Some of these sites might be dangerous? Nonsense. You know that pencil or pen laying beside you right now? That can be dangerous, too, if it isn't used in the manner it was meant to be used, right? And we don't block students from using them because they are essential to instruction. In the same way, I would also suggest to you that these sites which are blocked can also be essential to instruction. It all goes back to education. We need to educate our users on the appropriate way to use the tools. That's all these sites are--tools. They are technology tools that enhance our instructional practices and in some cases, make learning more relevant and efficient in our classrooms.

So let's stop being controlling and start educating. We should be focusing our efforts on teaching students how to use these sites. We aren't doing them any favors by blocking them. What are we teaching them by doing that? Ignore it--it'll go away and everything will be alright. Except that it won't. Once they walk out our doors, all bets are off. Shouldn't we at least make an attempt to educate them on the wonders AND dangers of these sites while we have them in the safe confines of our schools?