Thursday, September 28, 2006

Safe or sorry?

I have so many things I still want to say about SETT and the TeachMeet but I'm getting further away from both and still not finding the time to type up my thoughts. (Is there any significance in "typing up" compared to "writing down"?)

I realised today however that I have written a the equivalent of a couple of posts in comments on other peoples blogs in response to the whole issue of filtering. This seems to have stirred up a few people in the aftermath of SETT/TeachMeet. It is not a new topic (see for example Open the windows) but perhaps the imminent arrival of Glow and increasingly easy access to the Internet is bringing more teachers up against the frustrations of a restricted service.

Read some of the conversations I have joined and add your own thoughts:
What do you think? Is this a short term problem? Will the the issues go away or get worse with near omnipresent wi-fi and ubiquitous access to the technology to take advantage of it? Or will things get worse as schools (and governments?) try to ban, legislate and restrict?


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7 comments:

Kenneth said...

A couple of thoughts occur to me on the topic of Internet control in schools by councils.

Firstly, it sounds like a good idea to me if a research active academic was to get a copy of each councils internet access/control policy they would be able to formulate a common framework for the evaluation of the strengths and weaknesses. If you are a member of SICTDG perhaps you could ask for it at the next meeting. Alternatively you could put a Freedom of Information request in to each council for the relevant policy documents.

Second issue is one of power. That's what is at the heart of this issue. Who has it, what are they doing with it, etc. Stephen Boyle at Glasgow University posted a paper on the PICTAL conference addressing these issues, with specific reference to SSDN (now Glow). One interesting issue he raised was the metaphor of the guerrilla gardener to describe teachers/educators who develop their own "Educational Online Spaces (EOS)". I would suggest that David and his fellow bloggers are perhaps "guerrillas" in relation to Glow.

I think I'll stop there...
Kenneth...

David said...

Thanks for the (as usual) thought provoking comment. (Do you have a blog? If it is half as challenging, I'd love to read it.)

Hmm! I'm not sure at this stage I want to start making freedom of information requests as it may prompt an even more hard line approach. Softly, softly at the moment I think. My feeling is that educational ICT people within the authorities are not without sympathy on this (although I did hear one asking if pupil's email could be pre-moderated!). I think dialogue might produce results more quickly. A discussion under the heading of sharing best practice or developing a common policy might be a very good way to proceed.

Thanks also for the link to Stephen Boyle's paper. I had registered for PICTAL and dropped in one or two times but somehow never managed to get properly involved. However I remembered my login and password and retrieved Stephen's paper. I'll give it a proper read next week, but off the top of my head, I loved the idea of "guerrilla gardeners" working outside the walled garden (or the Glow garden!).

Kenneth... said...

I've just created my first blog ICT-Echo with my fist posting. I feel I've got html under my nails now (continuing the gardener analogy) having not had to code html in anger for sometime. Yourself and David Weinberger get some credit for getting me started - esteemed company. :D

The learning curve on blogging can be very steep especially if you want it to look as good/professional/nice as other bloggers.

In relation to FOI I was suggesting that it be a last resort if membership of SICTDG failed to provide the information. But on the FOI note, as a citizen/subject of the UK you are entitled to make FOI requests of any government body. It should not be characterised as a "hard line approach" but a right for all and a requirement of all who work for the people. I'll hop off my soapbox now. :)

Lastly you can now see David Weinberger's Keynote presentation at LTScotland. I've embedded a link in my blog.
Kenneth...

Ulrich said...

Some short night thoughts about filtering. Whenever a new network/transport (cable, satellite, or for a specially targeted usergroup) to the internet is created out of whatever reason, it inherently contains the danger/possibility of censureship/filtering. While it is done for good reasons it always can be abused at a later time. Control of the filter can create power.

The only real free internet is the dial-in-network. As long as an internet server could be found globally by using a telefon modem you would have access to an unfiltered internet by starting where the content is allowed.

Since it is so easy to work around any filtering mechanism, education with the passing of values to others (are we doing that?) is the only way to enable others to use the possibilities of the internet in a sensible way. Can this be done by filtering the insensible away?

Do we need nonsense to tell us what makes sense? Does this make sense? It is getting late.

Good night - Ulrich

David said...

Hello Ulrich

I think bits of it makes sense! :-)

I don't have a problem per se with filtering school Internet connections - particularly for younger pupils. I think however that the techniques being used to do so are a bit of a blunt instrument. For example, are some sites filtered, and therefore inaccessible to all users, because they are inappropriate for younger children but which would be right and proper for older children? Also, I think it can give a false sense of security.

I think your point "Since it is so easy to work around any filtering mechanism..." is an important one. I have heard a number of stories about pupils finding ways around filtering restrictions so it seems the people who are disempowered are the teachers! That's why I'd like to see teachers given the power to over-ride the filter when they feel it is appropriate. Give teachers the power and trust their professionalism.

A bit I'm not sure I get your meaning though is where you say: "education with the passing of values to others (are we doing that?) is the only way to enable others to use the possibilities of the internet in a sensible way." Is your answer to your question in brackets "We should be"? If so, I think I agree, but perhaps you could expand your thinking on this.

Ulrich said...

Hello David,
here is a try to clarify my ramblings. Yes, first I do agree with you that especially with younger pupils some kind of protection (filtering) is definitely needed. But we must be aware that no filter is a hundred percent perfect. You always have false-positives (content that should not be filtered) and false-negatives (content that should have been filtered). One kind of error is always increasing if one tries to decrease the other one. I can expand on that if necessary. So if you have false-positives you have censureship (btw. this might be content on safer sex, ...). If you have false-negatives, pupils should be prepared to deal with it. So they are not overwhelmed. Also there is quite often an easy way around a filter and it is interesting (the forbidden apple) and could get them in contact with undesired content. They should be prepared to cope with such situations.

In my opinion that means the pupils need values and experience to rate the content. Thus you are right that teachers would need flexible filters to open or close content to create controlled learning environments.

The other idea I was trying to express is that any kind of filtering mechanism can be misused. Certain kind of informations could be just filtered out. Considering the experience with good working search engines the algorithms might soon be there. Future interest groups might have motivations to do so. For example, if you are using a spamkiller with a blacklist - who is checking the blacklist.

For me education is not just the passing on facts and competencies but also the offering of values. I believe that especially in order to teach (offer) values you must contrast them with situations that are poor of values. Fortunately history provides us with many examples rather void of values - but then again at other times...

Building an analogy here in order to highlight (common) sense you have to contrast that with nonsense. Again we can find that in our daily lives once in a while ;-)

Ulrich

David said...

Hello Ulich

Yes, I thought that's what you meant. I agree that it is not possible to make filters 100% safe. I wonder how many teachers/authorities think they have solved all problems by putting a filter in place and don't do anything more?

I think what you are arguing is the need to help the children in our schools become self-regulating. In a school, it is appropriate (I think) to have structures in place to support this (e.g. filters) but we need to help students to behave responsibly at all times - not just when Big Brother filter is walling them in.