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What Are We Teaching Kids About On-Line Decision Making?

Posted August 19, 2008 6:00 AM by ShakespeareTheEngineer

Are educators doing students an injustice because of the limitations that Internet filters provide? Ever since use of the Internet in public schools became widespread, concerns about students misusing the Web have caused headaches, arguments, and lengthy and pricy solutions to limiting student access to "inappropriate" content.

Suffering from Exposure

Because of the rampant pace at which pornography has proliferated across the Web, it's hard to argue that schools don't need any standards for Internet use. Therefore, the issue becomes how we develop, implement, and communicate those standards. Today, many students (even high school seniors) are unable to decide for themselves which Web sites to visit and which ones to avoid. Without basic decision-making skills in this area, some are finding that when they are granted wide access in the workforce, that the trial and error method is the stuff firings are made of. And in fairness to their skills, let's not forget who teachers ask for help when they need to get around a filter: the students, of course!

Is There a Middle Ground?

This may be an unpopular question to ask because of our desire to protect children at all costs, but I'll ask it anyway. What is content-filtering really doing for us? It's taking away students' ability to develop the process of making their own decisions. It's also depriving them of an opportunity to learn about the consequences of their actions, maybe even until those actions become so extreme that you have Michael Vick on television, in court, shaking his bewildered head, not understanding that a little dog-fighting is wrong.

The Real Lesson to Be Learned

Until we grasp the concept that teaching kids responsibility means more than turning in homework on-time and showing up to work when you're scheduled – that responsibility means integrity – we are going to have issues with our culture of entitlement. This will be compounded by the continued development of an ability to blame anyone you can think of for something you are really to blame for. How can technology reverse this trend?

Why not start that process by teaching students how and when to discriminate between appropriate and inappropriate Web sites? This will require Web monitoring – not Web filtering – software. It will also require a mature realization that a student who is the caliber of a National Merit Scholar shouldn't have research on breast cancer blocked because it contains a word a computer decides is always inappropriate. This means that as students move from elementary to middle and then high school, they should see a reduction in filtering software, corresponding with an increase in how they are monitored. Violators, those intentionally visiting inappropriate sites, should be taught why it was wrong to visit the site, not just that it was wrong.

The Bottom Line

Call me crazy, but teaching students to make that call will go much farther in terms of educating them about integrity, responsibility, and character, than blindly attempting to do the impossible - to accurately and reliably block the Internet from a population that knows much more about how it works than most adults do. What do you think?

Resources:

http://www.masternewmedia.org/privacy_security/bypass-internet-censorship/bypass-internet-filters-anonymous-browsing-guide-20071118.htm

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#1

Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/19/2008 12:27 PM

It seems to me that at this day and age, most kids are protected by their parents (mostly), but also from educators and other superiors. How do parents expect their kids to learn if they keep protecting them? I am sure that only some parents at home will put a filter on the internet, especially if they use the same computer. While mild filtering is to be desired in schools, the extent to which filtering is done nowadays just needs to stop. There is a point to where more filtering = less learning on how to find reputable sites on the internet.

The internet is a vast resource - if you know how to use it. Students need to learn. Filtering different content isn't the way to teach kids. How are kids supposed to learn how to ride a bike if you never let them because you are afraid they will fall down and break something? With kneepads, they will be fine. Same goes with the internet, let them try, but only with the mildest of filtering - they need to know how to be independent.

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#2
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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/19/2008 12:35 PM

Jaxy,

Thanks for the comment. To use your bike analogy, obviously most adults don't still wear knee pads (except in extreme sport cases). As the child ages and shows skills and the ability to use judgment and discrimination between appropriate and inappropriate sites, the protectors get reduced.

Removing the ability to learn how to think for yourself only delays the horrors that parents fear until it is a high stakes scenario. Life exists outside of the bubble and the longer we cling to the fallacy that we can keep kids safe from everything, the longer we will continue to undermine them becoming responsible, self-reliant adults!

I am not saying throw six year-olds to the wolves, but treating fifteen year-olds the same as you would treat a six year-old is also dangerous.

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#3
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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/19/2008 12:37 PM

If we bubble wrap them more, we wont need digital filters since the layers, upon layers of bubble wrap will blur the screen!

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/19/2008 12:41 PM

Ha. Looks like we need to just invest in snorkles.

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#5

Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/19/2008 8:18 PM

While your blog this week focuses on filtering, i believe that the real issue is teaching discerning valuable content from crap content.

Monitoring may have a valid place in this, if one has students that are exploiting thier access, but in my experience, keeping the computer monitor big and out in the open where all who pass by can see keeps one's children on the up and up.

as does turning off the internet when one isn;t around to be a "safety net"

This may be contra indicative of character in the kids (character is what you do when no one is looking) but I think that it is needed based on just how much true evil is findable on the web.

Teaching "how do we know what we know, and how can we find what is worth finding" should be the goal. and filters are a poor substitute for supervision within eyesight or parallel monitoring.

Good topic again. milo

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#6
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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 8:39 AM

I totally agree. Sometimes it is hard to keep an eye on the activities of 25-30 kids in one room, but they also need to learn to monitor themselves.

I don't visit sites at work that are not meant for work, not because my boss is over my shoulder, but because I know not to. I don't even know if we have a filter here because I haven't gone to anything that would necessitate its use.

Kids are taught that we will do the heavy lifting for them when it comes to content. It takes the character question out of their hands. How you act when no one is looking is such a classic line about character. Too bad that so many people don't care about it.

You can see that in Abe's blog about diploma mills. It all has to start somewhere and with schools getting more and more pressure about content, character education is not something that can be totally handled at school. For too many, however, it isn't being handled in the home at all and they are learning about character from TV. And that is why we are where we are.

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#7

Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 9:27 AM

Internet access in the schools and that includes the high schools limit strict access to the internet. Kids can't access any pornography, nor can they access any site that could contaminate their servers with trojans and spyware.

As far as using the internet as a learning tool, educators will explain and make the students cite the references for any information obtained from the internet. Wikipedia is not considered a creditable source for information.

They teach them to be careful how they type the URL addresses in the browser because Whitehouse.org is not the same thing as Whitehouse.com.

They will also have the students reference more then one source for gathering any information because much of what you read on the internet is influenced by peoples own opinions and agendas. Which is another reason they are required to cite the source. The students are given example quilifiers to determine if a cite is creditable.

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 9:35 AM

Janissaries,

Thanks for the comment. I also know that a lot of schools have subscriptions to library databases which are generally very reliable in terms of source quality. Many students think wikipedia first, but when they learn that the databases can actually save time because they don't have to weed out the garbage, I think that they will eventually consider that option.

Just "Googling It" has become a standard practice. I think the parameters that teachers set are wise ones, especially lessons on url differences (how .com differs from .edu, .gov, and .org), as well as other ground rules for establishing source credibility.

Would I be correct to interpret, then, that you are in favor of full internet filters for schools (high schools, in particular as what you are referencing seems to be cover high school level research, mostly)?

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 9:50 AM

I've used high school computers while taking IT1 and IT2 through the Cisco Systems Networking Academy and experienced some of the access limitations there.

My son is in the 5th grade. They've had his classes working with the internet since kindergarten. He knows more URL addresses off the top of his head then I've ever accessed and none of his addresses are to anything harmful. Mostly fun activities content.

Googling is a good place to start. It will bring you to where you want to be. While taking college courses, I was introduced to some good sites for doing research but I don't remember what they are now. They made it easier to narrow down your search criteria. A little more specific then google.

I came across some information about one of my Great-Uncles in google in his activities in Europe after WWII. I just googled his name because he has a pretty active career in the Army and Secret Service from when his career started in 1912, to being in charge of the CDC in Europe after WWII when he relieved Brig. Gen Weems of duty. Weems became too senile to function.

But that's bragging a little.

It doesn't matter where you search, you just have to look at the source for the information.

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 9:57 AM

True. And I think that is where the "we have a filter, let 'em rip" is where it falls down. Most educators I know don't do that, but I feel that teaching kids the rights and wrongs of how to use something also includes dealing with the wrongs.

If they come across something obscene, which does happen by accident some times, just close it and move on.

I find that a lot of kids try to beat the system just to beat the system. A filter teaches students nothing about why it exists and often frustrates those trying to do legitimate research, depending on the sensitivity of the filter.

Funny that you mention that search. My grandfather, who passed before the internet mas really a public phenomenon (1993) spent time in the NAVY during WWII. I was able to find pictures and the complete history of his ship, the USS Santee, which I found was a converted oil tanker that the Navy turned into an aircraft carrier for the war.

It can be a great resource if one learns to validate sources and use it correctly.

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 10:01 AM

I believe that 'googling it' can have very good benefits - if you know how to use it. Knowing the right words to use to find the content you are looking for are key when using search engines. I think a part of learning about the internet should be teaching kids what are good words to search with as opposed to others.

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 10:09 AM

True. Also teaching the different commands for a boolean search, such as using quotations marks, and the + and - signs and how they effect outcomes.

Google also does a site search, where you can search only a specific site for content (like discoverychannel.com) which is very easy to do, if you know how to do it.

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 11:14 AM

"Wikipedia is not considered a creditable source for information."

However, the most efficient students start there. I call it "Reference Prospecting." Go to the references cited for that topic at the bottom of the article, and then use them as their cited work. The honest ones then follow up with those original works, not just the wiki quote. Wikipedia actually becomes Your topical reference source of sources (kind of a meta search) or collection of references which one can then examine, and cite or not.

We knocked the socks off one professor at the graduation banquet at my daughter's university when he said how none of his students used Wikipedia or google. To which my daughter replied " Sir, how do you think your students actually found all of those wonderful references???"

Now he and his department colleagues are cataloging the references that wikipedia and other utilities give for the topics that they assign. They will then ask to see pdf or xerographic copies of the original source material...

milo

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 11:19 AM

Exactly. I call it Reference Harvesting, and used to do the same thing back with encyclopedias. At the end of each World Book article were "additional resources" which I would then go to the library and look up.

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Re: What Are We Teaching Students About On-Line Decision Making?

08/20/2008 11:49 AM

Yes, I'm not saying they can't use Wikipedia. However if Wikipedia is cited as a reference for a school assignment it won't be recognized as creditable. If the student lists Wikipedia as a reference and is required to list 5 creditable references they better have the 5 listed along with the Wikipedia or they will only get credit for four references.

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#16

Re: What Are We Teaching Kids About On-Line Decision Making?

08/21/2008 3:43 PM

A couple of employers back, I had this as a job title: Regional Environmental, Health, and Safety Coordinator. The IT department blocked certain classes of websites from access by any/all employees. One of the blocked categories (why, I never knew) was "health". One-third of my job title and I could not access anything to do with it. Of course, after I complained, I was granted free access, but the net nannyism (or ninnyism!) was just ridiculous. And this was with adults! While it is true that evil exists, it is more important to teach kids how to avoid it than it is to try to prevent them from knowing it is there. Obviously the effort must begin at home, but it must also continue into the school systems.

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Re: What Are We Teaching Kids About On-Line Decision Making?

08/21/2008 3:47 PM

Believe it or not, a colleague who taught sports literature found that ESPN and FoxSports were both blocked. He complained and the Tech Dept told him "too bad".

In both schools I work at, teachers and students have the same filter for the web. There was/is no teacher override code at either school.

It's just plain out of control. Teaching responsibility and discrimination of what is appropriate and not appropriate (and then actually getting that reinforced at home) would make this a relative non-issue.

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