If you are reading this, you are probably already aware of and excited by the possibilities of Web 2.0 in education. You are probably already sold. But what about the people in our K-12 community: other teachers, administrators, parents, tech committees, and school boards? Mention social networking on the Internet, and they think of is the latest scandalous material that any one of out local teens has posted on MySpace. Blogs are places where people post outrageous materials followed by flame wars in the comments.
Web 2.0 enthusiasts in K-12 settings are often faced with a tough sell. Community members are rightfully concerned about safety and security. Like it or not, we must address these fears and understand that what we do must be in accordance to what is acceptable in the community–like it or not.
First, we need to let them know why this important and valuable. Whether they like it or not, Web 2.0 will be, if it isn’t already part of the children’s lives. My fifth grade student told me that her older sister set up a MySpace page for her. I know her sister, and I’ve heard about her antics on MySpace: very inappropriate, if not dangerous materials and cyberbullying. I guarantee that my fifth grader was not told about safety, privacy, and what is appropriate to post online.
That’s our job. When I was in school, we actually had lessons on safety and etiquette on the telephone. We talk about fire and bicycle safety as a matter of state mandate. It is more dangerous to ignore and avoid Web 2.0 than it is to teach about it and apply it in a safe educational manner.
Furthermore, higher education and many employers expect a certain level of expertise among our students. A few months ago, a recent graduate told me her professor told them to make a webpage as part of the course. When the students protested that they didn’t know how, he told them to find out. More courses are on-line or have on-line components. Students need to know how to blog, collaborate on a wiki, and participate on a discussion forum. It goes without saying that any technological knowledge opens doors to employment opportunities.
One approach I have used to help reassure stakeholders regarding student safety is the use of moderation. In our school website and student blogs, nothing appears on the wide open Internet until it is approved and published by a responsible adult. The litmus test for any web application used to publish to the Internet at large is that it must have a moderation mechanism allowing somebody to act as a gatekeeper. What is allowed to be published must meet the standards of the school community. I’ll talk about that more in a future blog post.
Another approach is a “walled garden” in which access to any materials is password protected. Students may publish freely within this closed community, but are held to account by adults overseeing the site. Students must know the rules and expectations. Adults need to be vigilant, intervene, and remediate when something unacceptable is posted. Students might do something wrong, but education and discussion will minimize such occurrences. One advantage to using a web application for this is that there is greater accountability. You can tell who posted what and when, rather than a “he said, she said” scenario common to physical schools.
For greatest safety, one can combine the moderation with a walled community. Nothing is posted without approval, and that which is posted is has an audience limited to the class or some other appropriate limited audience.
These measures often require you to host and configure software in your own district. Odds are you will not find free hosted solutions that meet these requirements (not to mention the privacy concerns of handing student information off to third parties).
These restrictions may fly in the face of the wide open nature of new Internet, but compromise is sometimes necessary if it is going to play in your school community.