Saturday, April 18, 2009

Protecting our kids online.

With the emergence of Web 2.0 we are being encouraged to be creators like never before. Every day, so many great tools are developed that it's hard to keep up! This is not a bad thing. A lot of these tools are fantastic for engaging kids (and teachers) in learning. Just this year I have discovered blogging (using iWeb and Blogger), BubbleshareNingBubbl.usflickrTwitter,TeachertubeSlideshareToonDooGoogle docs,  and LOTS of other great tools that I can see great educational value in for the classroom. The frustrating part comes when I try to put these tools into use in my classroom. 

Most of the sites and tools that I mentioned above are blocked by our Education Department's website filtering program (BESS). Bess (the internet retriever) is designed to filter sites to protect our students from inappropriate content. I get the theory... we don't want our kids exposed to bad stuff. We know there are some pretty dodgy things on the internet and the kids need to be protected. But is the OVER blocking of sites the best way to protect our kids?

My big problem with Bess is that she doesn't follow the kids home. On home computers our students WILL come across inappropriate internet content at some stage. They need to know what to do when this happens. Blocking PORNOGRAPHY at school is common sense, blockingGOOGLE DOCS makes no sense at all. Teaching kids how to close a screen and get an adult is a far better method of protection. Teaching responsible internet use along with adult supervision has to be a better option than blocking anything and everything 'just in case'. This method means that we can be VERY limited in what we do. 

There are some great texts and interactive programs that are available for us to use with our students AND parents to show them how they can protect THEMSELVES. Cyberquoll is one of these programs that have been developed for Australian schools. It recommends 'sensible' self protection measures. Using first names only, no personal information, thinking about the photos you upload and the importance of not meeting people you only know from online are some of the topics that are covered. The series is made up of six 10 minute videos that are very child friendly. 

If we over block sites at school we have no way to teach kids to protect themselves. As well as this, we spend a ridiculous amount of time requesting sites to be unblocked and then waiting for these requests to be processed. Quite often we then find the same sites re-blocked the next month. This overprotection is at the expense of some valuable learning and access to up to date learning tools. 

Considering that it unlikely that Bess will be put to sleep (remember she is not an actual dog!), what can we do to make this manageable? What's the situation worldwide? How can we teach our kids these important skills?

Jarrod Lamshed


Wm Chamberlain said...

Good post. I would compare this to the overprotective parents that send their inexperienced kids to college and are shocked to discover their kids can't deal with the realities they face.

This isn't about promoting inappropriate web sites, it is about educating students how to react when they come into contact with them. It is also about how the students' products are negatively effected by limiting their use of the best tools.

Michael/@teachernz said...

Our school has a filter that blocks just about everything web 2.0. Blogs, wiki and other tools are not available for the majority of the school.

As luck would have it I am able to change permissions and allow access, so I've opened up things as the need has arisen, but only for myself, my class and a couple of other teachers. This isn't official policy, but some of the management team know that I've done it. I keep forgetting that the Principal doesn't have the same access to sites as my class. I'll offer to show him something we've been doing, or share a kids writing with him and that's when I remember that they're blocked for him.

Our class has covered internet safety. They know about using first names only, they know to minimize the page and tell me if they come across something "wrong" or something that makes them uncomfortable and I trust them to do so.

My concerns are the same as yours, blocking sites and creating a false environment does nothing to foster the skills and responsibility they need when accessing the Internet out of school and at home. We don't teach kids to cycle and then restrict them to their back yard. We we teach them road safety rules and show them how cycle safely on the road. That's what we should be doing - showing them how to safely navigate their online journey.

Louisa Guest said...

Now that I can (Jarrod knows my previous frustrations) I give all teachers that want it an override password so they can unblock whenever they need to for themselves or kids. I get an email whenever they access the override so it has checks and balances in case a student gets hold of a teacher's password and DOES go to inapp. sites. Any school in SA can allow this. It works great for us. Totally agree with u JL that how are we supposed to teach them how to use the net safely if the whole thing is one big safety net anyway. You dont teach a kid road safety by only playing in the back garden!

Net alert, the federal government, provides an educator to come to schools and do presentations for students, staff and parents - all free!!! (amazing I know) based on the cyberquoll and cybernetrix concepts. I have the contact details if any Aussies want them.

NZWaikato said...

Jarrod correct me if I'm wrong but wasn't Youtube blocked as a general thing by the Education department? Saddest thing I ever saw was a blog where the students faces had to be pixilated to stop them from being identified and this was in general photo's!

Jarrod Lamshed said...


Yes... youtube is blocked in our schools by the education department. This a prime example of what I was talking about in my post. I understand that there is some content on Youtube that may be inappropriate for kids to be viewing, but I think the positives for using this site far outweigh the negatives! We need to teach the kids how to protect themselves on sites like these. Teaching them these skills along with good supervision has to better than blocking everything out fear of complaints.