Do any of these scenarios sound familiar?
A teacher is turned down when he wants to have students do podcasts as part of his curriculum. The Director of Technology claims it’s because the teacher can’t guarantee the safety of the students.
A very technology saavy and creative art teacher wants to provide an innovative project where kids connect to other kids and artists outside her classroom through blogs, e-mail, and IM. She is turned down without an explanation. It’s particularly frustrating because over the years she has advanced several ideas for projects that employ technology and each of them has been turned down.
Staff members and students are complaining that the filtering systems in their school is too restrictive and needs to be adjusted.
A few weeks ago, my school began to block Wikipedia. When I asked why, I was told that a student searched how to make pipe bombs. When I asked what they did to him, I was told nothing because they don’t know who did it. [I am back in my old school district as of Sept. and was shocked to find out that we don’t have a student sign-on that allows us to track the student traffic.] When I mentioned that the majority of students use it properly I was told by the school librarian that the information in Wikipedia was not accurate. I shared the article you pointed out during the workshop and she said it meant nothing because she actually found an author misspelled on the site. Today I was told by a superior that she read an article about how bad Wikipedia is. HELP ME FIGHT THEM. I am really getting frustrated. Today a teacher proposed a wonderful class that would allow movie making a student website building. Again my superior said, no because she does not want their content tied to our school site. “Help me fight them!”
From Will Richardson’s post “dispatches from the front lines”
These are recurring themes that are common everywhere I go. The restrictive nature of the decision making is frustrating a lot of passionate ed tech leaders, so let’s spend some time looking at the problem and developing an approach that has some chance of changing the outcomes.
Let’s be clear, this has to be a generalized conversation. It will not be accurate in every situation.
First, what are the key factors that are going into decisions?
1. Student safety – fear of having an incident where a student is exposed to an online predator. Also in this genre, is the fear of kids within the school harassing each other and defacing the system with obscenity. These fears also extend to students gaining access to materials that are pornographic or inappropriate, such as bomb making.
2. Security – fear of opening the system to a process or an application that might allow unauthorized access to the network, as well as to the sensitive data that often resides there.
3. Overwhelm – unwillingness by a decision maker to take on more work because they are barely able to keep their heads above water with the status quo.
Obviously, there are other factors that go into the decision to allow a particular technology into the schools; but we’ll deal with only these three for now.
The most difficult explanation for restricting many online technologies is the effort to keep students safe. This rationale is complicated and must be approached carefully. It is important that we not dismiss the concerns that many decision makers have for safety. Here are some statistics that raise alarm bells for educational decision makers:
One in -five children have been solicited sexually while on the Internet. (Telegraph.co.uk January 2002).
Four (4) percent of all youth Internet users in 2005 said online solicitors asked them for nude or sexually explicit photographs of themselves Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later. 2006. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Crimes Against Children Research Center, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. December 4, 2006
More than three-quarters of the unwanted exposures (79%) happened at home. Nine (9) percent happened at school, 5% happened at friends’ homes, and 5% happened in other places including libraries (Online Victimization of Youth: Five Years Later. 2006. National Center for Missing & Exploited Children, Crimes Against Children Research Center, Office of Juvenile Justice and Delinquency Prevention. December 4, 2006
Maintaining the safety of the children in their charge is a major part of the social bargain between parents and schools. Parents who drop off their most treasured possessions at the school’s doorstep, expect them to be returned safely, and more knowledgeable than when they left them.
Once we acknowledge the concern for safety, does that end the conversation? Not by a long shot. It is our job to put the concern into context, provide a balanced perspective on the issue, and to educate decision makers as to the “facts”.
A good place to start is to look at the steadily decreasing Child Sexual Abuse trends:
All forms of child abuse, not just sexual abuse are undergoing a dramatic decline. Of course, you’d never know this from the hype the media is giving the cases of Internet related sexual abuse that they can trace back to MySpace or Facebook.
The picture painted by the media gives the impression that child abuse and sexual abuse are increasing and that our children are under siege from online predators and pedophiles using the Internet to snare their victims. The following chart puts some perspective on the threat from strangers, Internet-based, or not.
The key statistic that is so often overlooked and rarely discussed is that 95% of Child Abuse and Sexual Abuse is perpetrated by family members. 79% of perpetrators are parents. Other relatives accounted for 7% and unmarried partners of parents and “other” accounted for 4% and 5% of abuse. If we want to decrease child abuse our efforts would be far more effective if we focused our attention on the family rather than the few sensationalized Internet-based incidents.
A great place for schools to put their efforts if they want to reduce the incidence of child and sexual abuse is in training their staffs to identify the warning signs. Although educators report more abuse than any other sector of society, incidents continue to be severely under-reported.
It important to remember that ninety-five (95%) of all abuse is perpetrated by a family member or someone known to the victim. Of the five percent (5%) of abuse perpetrated by others, the Internet is involved in only a small percentage. I was unable to find any definitive statistics on the prevalence of these types of cases.
It is also important to point out that when Internet related abuse cases have been reported, 79% occurred at home, 9% happened at school, 5% happened at friend’s homes, and 5% happened at other places, including the library. When we slice the “less than five percent pie” into these smaller pieces, the risk gets much, much smaller.
Our first step as leaders is always to listen carefully to the concerns and issues of those we wish to lead, especially if they are decision makers and leaders themselves. We must take their concerns and fears seriously and not dismiss them as irrelevant.
Our second step is to put the risk into perspective.
All charts, reports, and other documents used in this post, as well as other links to key sites on the topic are available at the edtechjourneys wiki.
In future posts, I’ll examine some practical steps you can take to influence the decision making process in your district.