Thursday, October 09, 2008

Educating them to be safe is better than blocking .

As I work on our new project , Digiteen- exploring what it means to be a digital citizen, I am more and more mindful of the responsibility we have as educators to ensure that our students are empowered to manage the web in a safe and smart way. I find that my daily conversations with students are changing as I watch the sites they visit, the amount of illegal (but innocent) downloading that they do, the way they happily play online for way too much time, the ineffective searching that they do, the 'friends' that they pick up online etc etc. I am also constantly reminded that blocking all but the most offensive and dangerous sites is all but useless . Our kids are too clever for that and their personal and online networks are too strong. Block one site and they will find the next one.
No, I am convinced that it is education that they need. Actually it's what we all need. It's not only kids that do this, I see teachers on a daily basis breaching copyright, overlooking Google searches that are a complete waste of time, looking past clear 'cut and paste' articles presented as a student's own work and telling students to go research a topic with no guidelines or strategy for doing so. And basically having little idea (or is it turning a blind eye?) of safe and secure ways to use the internet.
So it is with some gratification that Julie Lindsay passed on some news that she came across I by US congress where they have passed an update to the Children's Internet Protection Act requiring schools participating in the E-Rate program to educate students regarding appropriate behavior on social networking and chat room sites and about cyberbullying.
Of course we here in Australia are not sitting on our laurels and I'm happy to say that the Victorian DEECD offers some guidelines for schools when working online with students, teachers and parents. The solution I am convinced is in education. But we have a long way to go in ensuring that our teachers, our students and our whole school community are savvy in determining how to be an effective, safe, clever and smart digital citizen.