Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Real Internet

To begin, an analogy:

When you have a toddler, you tell him or her to stay away from the street because it’s dangerous. And it is, for someone who doesn’t have any knowledge of the things that could happen. However, as the child grows, you help him or her learn how to cross the street safely. No longer is it something to avoid, but something that is usable and helpful, as long as the child knows what to do and what to look for.

The same thing applies to our students and the internet. As they grow older, they must be allowed to access the real, unfiltered internet; so that they know what to do when they arrive at online scenarios that leave them with choices to make.  Too often, when we as teachers aren’t sure ourselves how to deal with online citizenship, we gloss these situations over by relying on web filters to “keep our students safe.” 

In reality, this only serves to make them unaware of what to do when they encounter the real internet (which they certainly will). In essence, to go back to our previous analogy, it’s as if we were to never teach a child how to cross the street, but to continue to tell them to stay away from the street because its dangerous, even as they become young adults.

Our job as educators is to give our students the skills they need to navigate the internet with eyes wide open, using caution as well as research skills. In my technology courses, we use very little filtering. We spend a significant portion of time talking about how to effectively use Google. If we only give students a list of pre-approved websites to do research from, they’ll never learn which types of sites give them reliable, unbiased information, and what websites look like that they should NOT trust.

Even more, it’s important that we don’t shield them from inappropriate comments online. We need to point them out, identify the issues with behaving that way, and then discuss together how you could participate in the conversation in a civil, respectful way, even when you disagree. (A key distinction!)  

These are crucial skills that will impact how effectively our students use the internet, which will go on to be one of the biggest technological influences in their lives for years to come. The majority of us never had any formal education in these skills, and look at where it’s gotten us. To an internet showcasing useless information, rude comments, and lots of time wasters hiding the actual gems of knowledge.

If we, as teachers, don’t teach our students these skills, who will?

[Photo: Student photo from 8th grade Photojournalism class]