I am an advocate of using technologies in the classroom. Recently in a discussion about the classroom use of Web2.0 technologies and social media, someone said to me “but what happens if a student does the wrong thing and goes to an inappropriate (porn) site? How can you justify these technologies when this might happen?” My answer was that students can and do make mistakes. In fact we all do! I do not see this as a reason for banning, blocking or heavily filtering digital media or in fact trying to build a barrier between the classroom and the rest of the world!
Most of the teachers I know explain the rights and responsibilities the everyone has in their classroom. These were/are called class rules. I have always worked in secondary schools and most of my students knew very well what was right and/or acceptable behaviour and what was not. This, however, did not always stop them from occasionally testing the boundaries. When this occurred there were appropriate consequences that the student had to face. I first began teaching in classrooms that did not have a lot of technology available so we were talking mostly about off-line classroom behaviours but the basics are similar today when it comes to making choices and taking responsibility for mistakes in the on-line world.
I work in a school where everystudent has a notebook/laptop computer. Each student has their own ID and password when it comes to using the school’s network. Much of the student work is prepared by teachers and put onto the network and the student work is also uploaded to the network and assessed by the teachers from there. Everything they do in that environment leaves a trace.
If a student finds an inappropriate site, there can be different responses/choices. As we know there are times when, inadvertently, something unexpected turns up and it is what happens after this: is it bookmarked, emailed around or quickly clicked off and/or reported to a staff member? Each of these decisions has consequences, some good and for the less appropriate responses they should face appropriate discipline.Students, in my experience, understand and expect that there will be consequences and they accept them, when the consequences are applied across the board, without fear or favour.
All behaviour, be it on-line or off-line, has consequences. Teachers, administrators and parents must also have a clear understanding of what this means as well. The problems do not inherently lie with any particular technology or tool, be it the internet, email system, etc. It is the student that makes the wrong choice who is responsible and should wear the consequences. If a student gets into a fight on the football field, or hits someone with a cricket bat, we do not put blanket bans on the sports, so that no-one can take part in that sport or that equipment. It is no different to using other tools within the school.
Students should be responsible for what they do with some equipment/tool. They should not get away with an answer such as “the internet was at fault” or “the email system made it too easy for me to send that email out”. If our young people can’t learn about responsibilities and consequences whilst they are at school then when will they learn about this important aspect of life?
There are things that teachers and school administrators must take responsibility for as well. Teachers cannot simply sit up at the front of a classroom and let the kids “get on with it.” Computers in schools are not tools to keep our students quiet, teachers need to be able to see the screen and many schools provide monitoring software for teachers to check what a student is doing if they suspect inappropriate behaviours.
If a teacher monitors the students and deals with any issues appropriately and immediately, then responsibility and accountability will be modelled and learnt. Students will make mistakes and wrong decisions. They can learn from from these mistakes and poor choices if each is followed up with appropriate consequences.
Where should students learn that there are consequences? Should it be when the consequences mean that they lose a job after they post some images that offend religious or cultural beliefs? Should it be when they face jail time after a car accident when they were over the alcohol limit? Or should it be at school, where someone cares enough to explain about responsibilities and carry out consequences in a timely manner?
The world has changed from when I started teaching (never mind about when I was a student). There is now a strong global society and who is going to help our young people become good digital citizens, who are discerning and civil members of this society. Technology, digital media including the social media are part of the world today. Shouldn’t we be teaching, modelling, leading in our schools, not blocking, filtering and putting up barriers to the rest of the world? How can we learn about the technology, the global society unless we are able to use it, be part of it. And why is it absolutely so important to never make a mistake? Hopefully the walls will not be there forever!
My weekend rant!