Over the past couple of months I’ve had the chance to speak to many different groups of trainers, teachers, and others about the read-write web – blogs, wikis, rss, social tagging and more. Almost everyone seems interested in these new tools, although most are uncertain about whether they might fit in the classroom.
But along with the confusion I also sense an undercurrent of fear from many. What happens if we try some of this and the kids write something bad on a public page? Or they stumble across a nasty picture? What if they find a way around the filters? How can we isolate the students from all the evil stuff on the web?
I try to follow such questions with an optimistic view that involves training teachers about how to manage use of the internet and create solid lessons incorporating the best that the web has to offer.
What I really want to say is “Get over it! The real world is leaking into your classrooms in ways it never has before and you can’t stop it.”
Go back to when I first started teaching – not that long ago. We did a pretty good job of sealing the classroom off from the outside world. If events of the day entered, it was in forms we could control: a limited number of newspapers or magazines, a relatively few television or radio stations.
Now in all of our schools we have hundreds of devices connected to very large pipes, delivering all kinds of media, good and bad. Many of our kids have similar pipes at home, along with a growing number of portable devices in their pockets with access to the same media.
Any hope of sheltering school from the real world is gone. Any hope of preventing students from making their own contribution to that world, again good or bad, is also slipping away.
Instead of fighting a losing battle to censor communications, we need to learn how to use it to our advantage. Internet and cable TV filters, as poor as they are, will catch the really nasty stuff. We must concentrate on helping students understand how to be their own filters for the rest of it.
That, however, will require a radical change to our concept of education. Teachers can no longer fill the traditional role of gatekeepers for information when the walls around them are full of cracks and the world is leaking through.