(541) Walled Gardens: Keep them or tear them down?

Beginning in 1961, the Berlin Wall was constructed to divide and ultimately separate East Germany from West Germany for over 20 years.  The East German Government claimed that the wall was necessary due to Nazi ideology still littered around West Germany.  West Germany claimed that the wall was shameful and restricted the flow of freedom (Cate, 1978).  For years, both East and West Germany were affected by the division and lack of unity.  The East was restricted under communist ideology- travel to the West was not allowed, furthermore, people were cut off from their families and employment. The wall, aptly referred to as the Iron Curtain, symbolizes the modern-day censorship and networking protocols that has limited literature to viewers, especially on the web.

Is blocking information a good thing?  It depends.  Freedom is the foundation of life.  People must have freedom to decide what information they see.  Sure, certain laws are in place that regulate information  and how it is used, but ultimately each of us are our own masters when deciding what we should see and how we should see it.

Freedom is all good and well, but does the same freedoms exist in Public education?  Should students be allowed to view just anything on the world-wide web?  To answer these questions, and using my experiences I decided to take it to the classroom and ask my students.  I asked them to share their thoughts and feelings regarding blocked websites that limited mobility around the world-wide web.  They came up with a list of pros and cons that I am listing below (These are students idea but my words):

Pros to blocked websites:

  • Certain social media sites are a distraction within the classroom.  Often times, instead of listening to classroom instruction students are consumed with social media sites and with topics that are unrelated.
  • The temptation to view unrelated sites are too great.  To have so much autonomy as a young teenager is ultimately a bad thing.  While there are some students who are more mature and can handle such freedoms with responsibility, there are others who will abuse such opportunities.  This can lead to social problems such as bullying, viewing explicit and or illegal material, and downloading files from untrustworthy sites.

Cons to having websites blocked:

  • Having the freedom to view any and all websites creates an atmosphere of responsibility and maturity within the classroom.  With such freedom, students can step up and show the teacher what he or she is capable of.  It is the teachers role to regulate such an atmosphere and to teach best internet practices that focus on student behaviors and etiquette on the web.
  • Social Networking is inherently a good thing.  The benefits of using such sites as Facebook or mybigcampus.com (the Public school version of Facebook) creates a stronger learning network and confidently prepares students for what they will face outside of the classroom.
  • Blogs and wikis are an interesting way to capture student work and it saves the work in one safe location.  Having a paperless classroom is also good for the environment.  Students would have access to each others work, make comments on it, share ideas and have fun doing so.
  • Other schools and students who allow Twitter and Facebook are surpassing those schools and students who are not.  Learning equality is starting to become an issue!

Now let me be clear here, these results are fabricated from 157 students that range from 14-17.  In this specific context, the results reflect the freedoms of this age group rather than those a 5-year-old Kindergarten student should have.

In a 2010 interview Karen Cator, the Director of Education Technology at the Department of Education interview stated that:

“The bottom line is that we do need to figure out how kids can be safe and out of harm’s way and not exposed to inappropriate materials online. But the filtering programs we have are fairly rudimentary. We need more intelligent filtering programs, safer search environments, smarter technologies so that people aren’t just shutting down large swaths of the Internet. There’s a lot on YouTube, for example, that could be safe and really instructive, but since it’s just in one bucket, a lot of schools just shut down YouTube.”

In 1987 American President Ronald Reagan challenged the Former Soviet Union to “Tear down this wall!” in an effort to create a lasting democratic freedom for the German people.  With the help of multiple pieces of heavy machinery, the wall fell in 1989 (Ratnesar, 2009).  In 2010 Karen Cator is finding a way to lower the wall that most school districts have built up in an effort to block questionable information from reaching their students.  The hope is that as more and more schools rely on 1:1 computing and teachers integrate instructional software into the classroom, the WWW wall will finally be demolished allowing students every advantage of classroom technology free from the current limitations.

Resources:

Cate, Curtis (1978). The Ides of August: The Berlin Wall Crisis—1961. New York City: M. Evans

Mindshift: The DOE’s Guide to Allowing Online Access in Schools (2010) http://mindshift.kqed.org/2010/12/the-does-guide-to-allowing-online-access-in-schools/

Ratnesar, Romesh. “Tear Down This Wall: A City, a President, and the Speech that Ended the Cold War” (2009)

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2 Responses to (541) Walled Gardens: Keep them or tear them down?

  1. mirandajuza says:

    I love the student comments and ideas. They are the ones we are concerned with, so who better to get insight from. I do think that having the sites available often makes them less of a distraction. It seems to me that when something isn’t “against the rules” it loses its luster and it not as highly sought after. Also, if the instruction is clear and explicit and students have motivation to complete the assignment, there is no time to explore unnecessary webpages. Great post!

  2. William says:

    Shaun, This is an excellently thought out post. By rooting your argument in such a wonderful analogy, you clearly make the case for opening the classroom to the WWW. And by going to the source and surveying your students you add a high level of authority to your post. The last bullet in your con list is quite eye opening. The idea of learning equality within the context of online accessibility becoming a hot topic among students is profound. I’d be curious to know more about your school’s policies and which side of the wall your students view the world from. You say that schools with access to Facebook and Twitter are surprising schools who don’t have access. Can you elaborate on this further? I’d like to know more about students’ use of these sites.

    Great job.

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