Tuesday, January 27, 2009

It's a matter of trust...

I picked this up via a news posting from Computing magazine: Wikipedia considers limiting user access. It seems that they are considering having trusted users that can edit Wikipedia pages straight away but other, newer users, will have to earn their trust as initially their edits will have to wait to be moderated.

Originally uploaded by Dru!

It seems as though Wikipedia is caught between a rock and a hard place. One of the fundamental ideas of Wikipedia is that it is "the free encyclopedia that anyone can edit..." and yet, thanks to the actions of a few numpties, they are having to re-consider this most basic of principles.

Perhaps Wikipedia are victims of their own success. They are so well known that they attract the numpties who are more interested in hindrance than help and they are so big, that there are quieter corners where acts of vandalism can sit unnoticed for a while.

Wikipedia's dilema led me to think again about the perenial debate on restricting access to the Internet in schools. Rather than just trying to block everyone from accessing sections of the Internet, would a trusted user system be a better way to go? Teachers would be trusted users and have (more or less) free access to all areas of the Internet. Pupils would earn increasingly trusted status as they get older and as they demonstrate a history of responsible behaviour. Would this satisfy schools' desire (need?) to protect the young people in their care while allowing appropriate use without overly restrictive blocking policies? To be honest, I'm not sure. I think we could end up with a system that is complex, clumsy and not much better than what we have just now. And of course, the untrustworthy will find ways round the system anyway (as they do at the moment!).

Final thoughts. I described the discussion of Internet restrictions in schools as a "perenial debate" but I wonder how wide this debate really is. For example, some recent discussions I've observed are Ewan McIntosh enlisting Barack Obama as an ally in the fight for openness, ("Yes we can!"), a consideration of whether the Internet should be instant or filtered, a fairy story and a wiki considering what education will look like in 2020. I suspect that it is a small minority of teachers, the already Internet/Web 2.0 savvy teachers, that are getting frustrated. Is it an issue that concerns the majority? How widely is it debated and discussed by people in a position to bring about changes to policy and practice at an authority or national level?

As usual, a blog post with more questions than answers.


David Gilmour said...

My tuppence worth, based on the experience of enabling YouTube access for staff and students in East Lothian, is that this goes well beyond the "web savvy" group. Many of the staff who have been providing positive feedback definitely wouldn't count themselves in that group. One primary teacher, for example, was delighted to find she could use it with the basketball club she runs, because that's just where everyday internet users like her go to learn about basketball moves. We learned, once it was unblocked, that inability to get to YouTube in school had been a big frustration for her in running the club.

David said...

Thanks David

Interesting. I suppose it is inevitable that as more teachers get Internet access in their classroom, even if they are not planning on making it a big feature of their teaching, they will run up against the frustrations of the filtering systems as soon as they try to use it for something other than internal mail.

David said...

Joe Wilson responded via Twiter:

when ? http://tinyurl.com/3oy3xz and many blogs blocked in most schools too.


Thanks for the link Joe. I'm fairly sure I read your post at the time but it's good to see evidence of the long term frustration this has been.

Neil Winton said...

My 2¢…

The issue is becoming more and more obvious in my own school. Rarely a day goes by without at least one of my colleagues either voicing displeasure at the lack of acceess, or asking me if I can show them how to circumvent the filtering software.

Subjects concerned include: languages, Religious & Moral Education, sciences, and Home Economics...

I have never shown them how to get past Content-Keeper, though I am well aware that it is a simple matter to use a proxy to do so. Strangely, my upbringing means that I am unwilling to break the rules to get access to the info I need. My colleagues sometimes think I break the rules. I don't. But the pupils have no such qualms, and I can't help but think that, in some cases, they are right.

I think what I am trying to say is that, those who need to move, those who need to enable the changes, are not really listening… or if they are, they are maintaining a telling silence. Until they start talking, we are unlikely to see any real change, but that isn't going to stop us from having our say!

(PS: You might want to consider Mrs W's thoughts on that much vaunted "Duty-of-care" argument that seems to appear every time someone asks for a site to be unblocked... http://mrsw.wordpress.com/2009/01/25/in-loco-parentis-by-any-other-name/)

David said...

Hello Neil

I think I'm glad to hear (at least I think I'm glad) that lots of people are complaining. I'm sorry to hear though that you feel the people who can change things aren't listening.

What will make the change do you think? Who needs to talk so that they will listen? (Or does something need to happen?)

And I didn't know Mrs W blogged. Excellent.

Col said...

I suspect the "trusted user" approach to pupil access will fall at the hurdle of pupils needing to gain trust by not accessing stuff that they have to be trusted not to access but have to have access to (in order to prove they didn't access it). Phew. Does that make sense? In other words, the forbidden fruit has to be available in order for them to show they can be trusted not to touch it. Makes my head come close to exploding just thinking about explaining this to, well, anyone.

David said...

I think you're right Col. Even as I wrote it, I decided it would be too clumsy and ineffective.

Ewan McIntosh said...

When I take general stats for game playing, certain web activities and self-publishing in particular and then ask large groups of (normally ICT competent) teachers at events for a show of hands, I nearly always draw the conclusion that the teaching species is a peculiar one, different from the rest of society. The one redeeming factor is that it's getting harder and harder to draw that conclusion.

As Lord Carter makes his recommendations tomorrow we will see that, on a hardware and cables level, everyone will have the right to be connected. What it means is that institutions have to give people something worth being online for, and that means opening the net as wide as it can go, not further filtering it down.

But it also brings with it a huge responsibility (but not to "keep people safe"). The main reason that those unconnected currently are unconnected is not poverty or ignorance. It is that they believe there to be no content of interest. Fact (check Ofcom and the OII's research from last year, summarised on my blog throughout Spring 08).

Therefore, if interesting stuff is blocked because of a minority of questionable material our institutions are blocking progress in a very real way.

Worse still, if we are to combat the misconceptions that blogging is worthless, that Twitter takes too much time, that YouTube is full of porn, that social networks are eating the soul of our children... then we have to make sure that the widest section of our population is educated not just in reading the web well, but in navigating and finding the web, too.

\rant over.

--Ewan McIntosh -

David said...

Hello Ewan

Rant away as much as you like. :-)

"educated not just in reading the web well, but in navigating and finding the web, too" ...not forgetting publishing too. Thanks for the reminder about the research.

Mr W said...

To answer your questions, I think the change will come when it becomes inexcusable to do anything but change. We need to hi the tipping point for the various social networking tools and by that, I think it's a case of gradual creep rather than an overnight Damascan moment.

Take Laurie O'Donnell. He's just joined twitter having, as he says in his first tweet, seen Stephen Fry talking about it in the news. I bet he's not the only new user as a result of the BBC coverage. Lots of people will now be finding a new way of sharing that they didn't know existed. Many will drop away again, but a lot will find it useful and keep going.

Twitter use is interesting. There are thousands, millons of pointless tweets going on, but there are just as many that are keyed into specific networks of people that give the participants great value. In education, it is the fostering of the all-important PLN. In music, it is the sharing of new bands and gigs. I dare say there are legal and medical and retail networks of twitterers as well... each of the groups finding the application useful, and so each of them wanting others who join their real life networks to join them on Twitter as well.

Righly or wrongly, education is still driven by the needs of society. If society sees value in Twitter, then it is only a matter of time before schools will be expected to, if not teach Twitter, then at least use it. Think about the use of computers themselves in schools.

Computing has gone from being a discreet subject with a few computers that only the geeks could use (apologies for the sweeping generalisations!), to being recognised as an integral part of all subjects. It is expected that we will know how to use computers now, but this does not mean computing has to be studied as a discreet subject.

So it will be (I think) with social networking. It may never be taught as a subject per se, but society's needs for the benefits it can and does bring surely means that we will be expected to know how to use the tools and that means allowing schools — teachers and pupils — to access them. Anything less is plain daft!

Of course, this change cannot come soon enough for me. I have a son in 1st year and a daughter in 2nd year and every day I see them becoming more and more proficient in using tools like Scratch, wikis, and blogs... but none of this is happening in their school. They spend most of their school day 'disconnected' and most of their own time connected. No wonder schools are struggling to appear relevant to pupils...

As to who will make the change... All of us, but we need to do so by highlighting the positives and acknowledging the negatives. It does get a little boring, but we need to highlight the detrimental effect of filtering at every opportunity we get. Small steps, as they say!