10 August 2007

The Power of the Net Can and Should Be Used

When I lived and worked in the south, school boards operated in a very different manner than they do where I live now. A position on the school board in the south is one of both power and status---and is often held by someone who has a particular axe to grind, as opposed to representing a constituency. Imagine my surprise to arrive here and find a genial group of intelligent people who have a great love of students and teachers...who continue to grow in their knowledge of best practices...and who are very visible at all of the school sites. The board is integral to the function of the district and is much appreciated.

On a broader scale, the National School Boards Association has just published a new study that suggests "The internet isn't as dangerous as people think, and teachers should let students use social networks at school." They recommend the use of social networking within schools, including uploading/downloading music and/or video, blogging (!), creating new characters, and more.

It warns that many fears about the internet are just overblown. "School district leaders seem to believe that negative experiences with social networking are more common than students and parents report," the study reports. For example, more than half the districts think sharing personal information has been "a significant problem" in their schools — "yet only 3% of students say they've ever given out their email addresses, instant messaging screen names or other personal information to strangers."

In fact, the Association and resesearchers at Grunwald Associates LLC surveyed 1,277 students online (between the ages of 9 and 17) — along with 1,039 parents, and 250 school district leaders "who make decisions on internet policy." And the students reported big differences from the adults' concerns. Only 20% said they'd seen "inappropriate" pictures on social networking sites in the last 3 months. (And only 11% of parents concur, even for the last 6 months.) Only 18% of the students said they'd seen "inappropriate" language, and just 7% reported they'd been "cyberbullied," or asked about their personal identity on a social networking site.

Furthermore, the numbers got even smaller when the students were asked about more worrisome situations. Only 4% of the students said they'd ever had an online conversation that made them uncomfortable, and only 2% said an online stranger tried to meet them in person. In fact, after surveying 1,277 students, the researchers found exactly one who reported they'd actually met a person from the internet without their parents' permission — and described this as "0.08 percent of all students."

"Only a minority of students has had any kind of negative experience with social networking in the last three months," the study concludes. "Even fewer parents report that their children have had a negative experience over a longer 6-month period."

The researchers concluded that the vast majority of students "seem to be living by the online safety behaviors they learn at home and at school." Many students even reported that they were using the social networks to discuss their schoolwork or other education-related topics.

Yet fear of safety for children continues to haunt policy — both at school boards and the national level. (In May, a Senate resolution co-sponsored by Barack Obama and Joe Lieberman highlighting how dangerous they thought the internet could be.) The National School Boards Association found strict controls had taken hold at most schools over student internet access.

  • 84% of school districts have rules against online chatting in school
  • 81% have rules against instant messaging in school
  • 62% prohibit blogging or participating in online discussion boards at school.
  • 60% prohibit sending and receiving email in school
  • 52% prohibit any social networking sites in school

"Students and parents report fewer recent or current problems, such as cyberstalking, cyberbullying and unwelcome personal encounters than school fears and policies seem to imply," the study notes.

My experiences in this district echo the controls above. Longtime readers here know that I valiantly tried to incorporate blogging into my class two years ago, only to be completely stalled by our technology directors. The main reason I was given was that there was fear that a pop-up ad with pornography might cause a physical reaction in male students. I kid you not. Beyond that, there were some safety concerns---which I appreciate and endorse; but I don't think we're doing our kids any favours when they are moving out into a social networking world and we do nothing to help support them in this.

I sincerely hope that someone on the current school board here sees this article and poses some questions to the school district. Are we using the power of the internet to do the best we can for our students?


Dr Pezz said...

Now here's the biggie: how do you feel about filters in schools' internet labs? Should high schools be exempt from filters?

I loved your entry! I would like to incorporate more uses of computers: blogs, youtube, and more. However, just about everything is blocked. Grrr!

The Science Goddess said...

I am very much in favour of having few, if any, filters in place. I completely understand that "kids will be kids" and test the limits of any guidelines, but while at school, it seems like a teacher should be monitoring activity---just as s/he would in a "real" activity.

Clix said...

Do you have lots of computer labs? or laptops in classrooms? How do students access the internet?

It annoys me that I need to plan my units and lessons around when I can squeeze into the lab. And don't get me started on the fact that there are 28 computers in the lab and I have 32 students in each of my English classes.

The Science Goddess said...

The number of computer labs varies by school. It will probably come as no surprise to you that there are "haves" and "have nots" in the district in terms of access to technology.

Many students in schools access the internet either through a lab or a computer (sometimes the teacher's) in the classroom.

Dr Pezz said...

I have my laptop (because we all share rooms at the high school) and one older computer for student use in my room. However, we also have four labs and ten computers in the library for student use. It is definitely nice for us.

However, the filters are so sensitive and so many sites are banned, we rarely use the labs any more. Sad.

We can also track everything typed onto a computer and by whom because every student must log-in to use a computer in the school. This helps quite a bit fighting inappropriate use.

A story we often tell the admin. team about the filters and their overkill (because it really happened) is that we tried to look at the Toppenish High School website to locate a teacher but were blocked because Toppenish has a male member's name in it. They think we're joking.

Hugh O'Donnell said...

Security concerns are slowing down adoption of tech innovations throughout our public school system.

I don't have all the answers, but when I get one or two, I share them! :-)