This is indeed two different conversations. However, the response is indicative of the synergistic relationship between these two and the characteristics of schools to respond to change. The Ning site that is referenced is for collaboration between educators-professional development- and not for student interaction. For schools to respond that they are blocking social networks and that this Ning site will not be allowed through their filters, is evidence of supporting the need for continued dialogue on the nature of communication and technology in the 21st century. Each school should be able to “tune” their filters to allow specific traffic to pass. This is something that must happen on the IT side of the house but requires knowledgeable school management to know the possibilities. Usually, IT does not set this type of policy.
As for social networks in the educational environment, Ning and others provide several levels of ability to configure your network space. This means that the network can be wide open where anyone in the world can join or they can be closed so that you have to request permission to join the network. Again, education of school administrators and teachers is key. The problem is that professional development in schools is woefully lacking and when it comes to professional development surrounding issues of technology, it is even worse. Organizational change in schools is very complex. As we all realize, schools are traditionally resistant to change. Social networks and other web 2.0 tools represent change. They also represent a loss of control and schools like control.
Now when we look at the way schools make decisions, they are often based “in the moment” and can result in poor decisions. We are so quick to ban “things” we think are bad or dangerous without really taking the time to fully understand the nature of these “things”. I was amazed at the number of schools that were still trying to decide if they should grant their kids e-mail! We hear in the news all the “problems” with teens online-social networks, blogs, chat, IM etc. and we are quick to pass judgment. Block the social networks, don’t let the kids use blogs, deny them access to e-mail. The list goes on.
While we were at the AC in NY, news was being made in Dallas. A teacher at one of the Dallas independent schools was arrested on campus while he was engaged in a chat with an undercover police officer in another city. He was on campus on a school computer while school was in session. The nature of the conversation-solicitation of sex from a minor. Now was the computer the problem or was there another problem? Over the past several years, we have all read the stories about teachers who have had improper relationships with their students. Where is the call to ban teachers from the classrooms? Look at carpool. There are over 350,000 family abductions of a child in the U.S. each year (National Center for Missing and Exploited Children). How many of these are facilitated by carpool? When are we going to ban carpool?
These conversations remind me of the times when rock and roll was “evil”. They remind me of the Pool Hall of The Music Man. We fear what we don’t understand. This I believe is the actual problem. This fear of the unknown is the foundation of so many of our social ills. Lack of understanding of race, culture, religion and yes, web 2.0 tools and teens desire to connect in ways we never thought possible. Lack of understanding in these areas and others leads to fear and ultimately, poor judgment and resistance to change.
Bottom line, the need to educate our educators should be a top priority. Educational institutions should become communities of learning. Not just for the students but for all members of the community.
Well, this ended up being longer than I thought it would be. However, as you can tell, I have some passion on this topic .