I'll meet you where two worlds collide
The aim of schooling and education is essentially to prepare students for life in the outside world. Sure, we also learn content from subjects we enjoy and we strive to achieve grades high enough to allow us to go on to further education, but the hope is that we arrive at school as students, and leave as adults.
So it stands to reason that the ‘school world’ should resemble the ‘outside world’. There is no point keeping students completely sheltered from potentially negative influences, when there will not be that protection later on in life. When a young employee finds himself dealing with a bullying boss, there won’t be a stern vice-principal to look down her nose at him until he slinks away, embarrassed. Instead, we are taught techniques to develop self-confidence and to deal with situations calmly and safely.
So why is it that teachers don’t use the same formula when teaching about digital footprints? I can only speak from my own experience, but the limited education I have been exposed to on this topic has been sadly lacking. The focus, rather than being on developing similar coping tactics and techniques for smart and safe internet usage, seems to be on scaremongering or blatant prohibition of resources such as social media sites.
At my school, Facebook and Myspace are amongst several sites that are blocked from the server. Supposedly, no student can access these sites. Every member of the student body knows, however, that there are ‘proxy’ sites that allow you to bypass site blocks. And with that, the level of social media access during school hours rises significantly. It’s an oldie, but a goodie: “The best way to make a teenager do something, is to tell them they can’t”. Banning these sites only serves to make them more attractive to students, who see it as a way to rebel. If the school says we can’t use it, then it must be ‘cool’ - because the ‘school world’ isn’t ‘our world’.
My school has been lucky enough to upgrade a lot of its facilities with some government funding. Unfortunately, they aren’t being used to their full potential just yet. Some teachers are starting to use Interactive Whiteboards, but primarily as a projector for slideshows. Computers are essentially a fancier way of writing up essays and reports. And because of this, there are some students who believed the school is wasting money on upgrades that aren’t necessary. None of these technologies are being used in an interactive, ‘Web 2.0’ way – there is little or no connection to the world outside of school.
As a result of this, the only positive use of the internet and technology that we are being exposed to is for research, and the ‘online world’ remains completely separated from the ‘school world’, and students have little idea about the potential uses of technology in areas other than the social sphere.
As I see it, students would benefit more from a shift in focus on cyber education. Constant scare tactics and campaigns to make students aware of the consequences of irresponsible online behaviour have passed their expiration date.
Instead, I believe a focus on the possible benefits of using the www would be more effective. We’ve been told about the things that can go wrong, work with us to develop positive ways of using technology. Teachers facilitating discussions about ways to foster a positive digital footprint, establishing blogs to allow comments and feedback about work, and incorporating the use of social media in coursework (characters from classic novels such as Pride and Prejudice have appeared on Twitter and retold the story in collaboration with the other characters, using Jane Austen’s language and first-person recount style) are all ways for teachers to demonstrate that technology is not simply a teenager’s social domain.