Firewalls or Open Doors?
A battle is raging – alluded to in Max Cooke’s article in this issue, “Twitter and Canadian Educators” – between those who see the Internet as a threat to young people and those who see it as a boon. The battle lines are not narrow, of course; every sensible person acknowledges that dangers lurk in cyberspace, and I don’t know anyone who would deny the educational advantages of living in the information age. But schools are aligning themselves on the two sides of this broad line.
On the one hand, some schools have erected firewalls in order to protect students from unlimited access to the Internet, and banning personal devices like tablets and smartphones from the classroom. They are taking these steps to limit student access to educationally appropriate websites, to protect teachers from unwanted distractions, and to block use of social media during hours that should be devoted to mastering the curriculum.
On the other hand, some schools are embracing the cyber-world in all its messy glory. They are encouraging students to bring their own devices to school, using social media to encourage collaboration among themselves and with their teachers, and tapping into the Internet with minimal interference.
It’s easy to see the rationale on both sides in this battle. It’s impossible to deny the personal and professional risks that open access invites. The Internet is awash with troublesome images and misinformation. Wikipedia, as Yuri Takhteyev points out in his article, “Free Software and Free Textbooks”, is hardly a substitute for textbooks. Texting friends about Saturday night’s party is not part of anybody’s curriculum. And social media raises serious concerns about privacy and credibility.
All true. But in the end, how can we slam the door on this world because it’s messy and inherently dangerous? Hasn’t the world always been both? Our job, as educators, is to search for the ways that this complex and interactive cyberworld our young people live in can be used to enhance their learning. We aren’t going to do that by denying them the very elements of that world that engage them most.
Legitimate as concerns may be, this battle won’t be won by firewalls and prohibitions. It will, eventually, be won by innovative educators across Canada who are finding ways harness the power of social media and the Internet to engage students with the curriculum – who are opening the classroom to the latest of the world’s many messy realities rather than building walls to keep them out.