I believe that fear of the Internet by parents, administrators and school boards is blocking the opportunity for real learning to take place in schools. Most school districts have Internet use policies in place. These policies, however, are restrictive and punitive. Very few Internet policies in school districts encourage the use of the Internet as a learning tool in the classroom.
Unfortunately, this fear is exacerbated by news headlines that depict social networking web sites such as MySpace as dangerous and evil. While it is true that indiscriminate and foolish use of one’s personal information on the Internet can lead to unfortunate results, this does not mean that every web site and every learning tool that can be found there will bring negative consequences.
I have spent a year learning the technical and practical applications of blogging. I’ve given considerable thought to how blogs could be used in my classes with my students. I believe that this medium has great potential for student learning. Blogs give students ownership of their learning. If a competent and creative teacher provides learning prompts and follow-up activities for students to reflect on at home and to blog about, this teacher will have effectively bridged the gap between home and school. Learning will have entered the realm of the real world and will have transcended school walls. Teacher and student blogs literally allow learning to take place 24 hours a day.
But there are roadblocks. Recently I had students create weblogs. Students would be able to use these weblogs to examine challenges and successes of their learning. The excitement in the room was palpable as students created their blogs and published their first post. As weeks went on I was able to monitor student weblogs and was able to communicate with students in my own time about issues and problems they posted in their own time. This personal attention and feedback was clearly meaningful to students. I noticed, however, that some students did not continue posting new material and questions on their weblogs. When I asked them why, they responded to the effect that, “my mom doesn’t want me blogging”. When I asked why that was the students had no answer. When I explained that we don’t have to publish our weblogs and that we keep our personal information off our weblogs the answer was still no. No blogging.
I am convinced that fear is the only factor leading to these kind of roadblocks placed by parents. The same kind of fear exists at the administrative level in schools and school districts. Unfortunately for many, the Internet is still a place of mystery and is still considered a frill and something to use to check Email. Those of us who study and use educational technology know differently. We know that student learning opportunities abound on the Internet. We know that blogging can motivate students (and teachers!) to learn even more about the subjects they study. We also know that the future will only provide more opportunities. Web 2.0 applications provide rich examples of the potential of the Internet for learning, collaboration and mastery.It is my hope that schools and school districts begin losing their fear of the Internet and embrace educational technology. Schools and school districts can be the leaders who educate parents about the good aspects as well as the bad aspects of online learning. It is time- in the world of education- to lose the fear of the Internet for the benefit of our increasingly wired and wireless students.