One of the frustrations I had in China was the so called “Great Firewall of China” which blocked access to many sites often without apparent reason. The Blocked sites include social media like facebook, communication tools like twitter and strangely enough Google Spreadsheets , sites but not documents. However, tools like Astrill which allow you to access these sites and more through the firewall are not blocked by the Chinese government.
Some of the blocked sites included:
- Google docs and spreadsheets
- Google Sites
- PB wiki
- YouTube (and many other video sharing tools)
The reasons for these actions, in China, have to do with control of the populous, freedom of speech etc. They are, after all, a single party state, communist and at times quite repressive.
Reflecting on this state of affairs has me wondering about schools policies regarding firewalls and access to web 2.0 tools and social media. There are perhaps some parallels that could be drawn and it is worth reflecting on the reasons for blocking sites.
Why do we block websites?
Well, we block some because they are total unacceptable. For example pornographic sites
But what about some of the other sites like social media?
If a student is accessing social media in class we should be asking why are they accessing this rather than learning. This is surely a teaching/engagement/motivation problem. (This is not pointing the finger at the teacher, as sometimes inspite of interesting programs, student involvement and motivating activities some students will not engage, however often it is a reflection of the teacher him or her self. ) Blocking the site is masking the issue rather than addressing it. Would it not be better to monitor the site and act appropriately when require seeking the source of the issue be it lack of engagement, motivation or classroom management.
A concern is the potential damage to the school of students posting material that may not be appropriate, the abundance tools and sites combined with the students level of access from their own tools (like cell phones) and at home have rendered this agrement obsolete.
The argument for conserving bandwidth is also now weakening. The availability and reducing cost of internet connection is reducing this argument. So students do not seriously effect other by surfing such sites.
The question of duty of care arises – blocking the site may mean that we can say yes we are protecting them, but it doesn’t really holistically address the issue, its a bandaid a sticking plaster. it protects the schoolat the expence of the students. Isn’t it better to allow opportunity, monitor and then deal with the issue rather than saying “I’m alright” its now someone else’s problem.
We expect our students to be responsible digital citizens, we do not encourage or develop this by removing the potential. An ethical and moral digital citizen makes a conscious decision or choice rather than having the decision removed. Similarly, we expect the students to make appropriate decisions about when and where to access social media, and again we don’t do that by removing the opportunity.
I think it is time for us to consider what we are filtering and whether such filtering reflects the ethos that we uphold.