Lock Students Out of Applications, Teach Them to Make Responsible Choices, or Both

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Introducing Guest Blogger, Laurie Walsh: There was a recent discussion on the state list serve for technology-using educators about how to respond when students use technology inappropriately. Do you block it for the offenders? Do you blog it for everyone? Can you really even block it? Do you teach digital citizenship and model appropriate use? I was especially impressed with Laurie Walsh's response and thought others might like to read her views, too. So I asked her to write a guest post for Bright Futures. She is the Tech Integrator for RSU 13, which serves Rockland, Thomaston, Cushing, South Thomaston, Owlshead, and St. George. Mike

 

As educators we often get bogged down dealing with kids using technology in inappropriate ways. Last night's Facebook drama spills over into our classrooms. Skype is used to share too much and someone is humiliated. It is frustrating because instead of focusing on all the innovative work we are doing in our classrooms every day, administrators or parents complain about how this video chat program or that social media site is creating problems at school or at home. They just want it to stop, so they demand we block the website or remove the tool from the laptops.

At the same time, the NETS digital citizenship standard requires that kids “advocate and practice safe, legal, and responsible use of information and technology” and “demonstrate personal responsibility for life long learning” and “exhibit leadership for digital citizenship.” How can we expect kids to develop this kind of responsibility if they have no chance to use the tools? How do we help kids grow into these responsible digital citizens and yet keep them safe at the same time?

With skills like research and Internet use, we create a progressively more open environment as kids move through our schools. Little kids need to be kept safe until they have enough experience to make good choices, so kindergarteners may not have access to a browser on the devices they use. As they get older, we introduce kid-safe search engines, MARVEL, and Portaportals or teacher created webpages to keep them safe and on task. In late elementary school we teach students search methods explicitly and walk them through finding and evaluating resources online while we closely supervise their work. Finally, we have to let them prove that they know what to do by allowing them to work on the Web without as much direct instruction or close supervision. Hopefully they've learned enough to stay safe and work productively. If they haven't, we corral the ones who need more instruction and reteach, then try again. And again. And again. Most students seem to achieve responsible independent use at some point.

Shouldn't we take the same approach with our communications applications like Skype, Google Hangouts, chat, and messaging? We could model their use with the little kids by contacting other classrooms and experts through the teacher machines and projectors. We could supervise small groups of older elementary students as they do the same thing but in a more self-directed manner, identifying their own experts, making contact and arranging appointments, and conducting the interviews. Eventually we could allow regular use of these tools by individuals or groups of students as a way to do school work. Through an incremental process they could learn how to use them responsibly.

Maybe under-use of these tools in school is actually the cause of some of our problems. We avoid these tools because they can lead to trouble or because we are uncomfortable with them ourselves. If kids were encouraged and supported as they learned to use them in school on a regular basis, would they be more likely to use them responsibly when they are unsupervised? I think need embrace these tools and make them a regular part of our practice if we want to see or students develop into responsible digital citizens. More practice is the key, not less access.

Laurie Walsh

 

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