In response to IST 611 questions: “Should filters be the final authority? Who should be responsible for the safety of children online? What measures can we take to protect them beyond filters?”
“Is it possible that filters are being used to get around the issues of online safety?”
In all three of my classes – reference, information technology in educational organizations, and now fundraising which started this week, the idea of “teachable moments” comes up. How are we to have valuable teachable moments and learning opportunities if we are constantly filtering or censoring what our students read?
Students need to learn what is inappropriate material for school, and what may simply waste their time and not offer them new knowledge nor enhance their creativity or critical thinking skills. This week, when demonstrating the features of the Storybird website to a group of 2nd and 3rd graders at my fieldwork, a picture of a wolf smoking a cigar popped up. One boy went, “He’s smoking a dubie!” They all started laughing and repeating what he said. We told them it was inappropriate. Several kept repeating it. I asked them if they wanted to spend the whole time talking about a wolf smoking or if they wanted to actually have the opportunity to get on the computers and write their own Storybirds. They were hushed for a moment, and several glared at the boy who had started the commotion. Then the majority responded along the lines of “We want to get on the computers and try Storybird ourselves, of course.” And the smoking wolf was not mentioned again, nor did anyone try to use it in their pictures.
Filtering leads to things being taboo, which makes them more exciting for kids. If the smaller things, like the smoking wolf or the occasional swear words pop up, deal with them and move on. You don’t need a filter. Know the sites you are having your students visit for projects so you can anticipate any issues ahead of time, but also be ready to think on your feet – a skill you need to have when working with children, no matter the context. Monitor to make sure they are staying on task at all times – this is made infinitely easier by giving them creative projects that motivate them and that relate to their interests, and allow the students to get better acquainted with Web 2.0 educational tools. Most teachers know that the internet can be a dangerous space for children and young adults, and also a very distracting one. I would hope that most educators know they are the ones that are charged with teaching children online safety, and how to evaluate the information they find online.