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Stop restricting, teach how to navigate through preparation

Tell a student they can't go there and they will. Prepare them for when they get there.

Tell a student they can’t go there and they will. Prepare them for when they get there.

In Losh and Jenkin’s article, Can Public Education Coexist with Participatory Culture they express obligations of institutions to promote responsible citizenship, respect for others, and a willingness to sometimes sacrifice immediate self-interest for the long-term common good. They suggest that laws and regulations that currently exist that act to shield or restrict students from viewing online content based on concerns about predators, bullying or distraction be challenged. They argue access to information and the learning the internet promotes far outweighs the potential risks that can be avoided with explicit teaching in the area of digital citizenship and critical thinking skills.

In many school divisions, this restriction on specific websites has affected the teacher’s also. In many cases teachers are unable to access the content they need. A research project done by Project New Media Literacies (NML) showed that this headache around teachers having to basically “hack” and find ways to show their two minute YouTube clip highly discouraged them from incorporated web-based materials. This block of access to many key platforms such as YouTube, Facebook, and twitter where participatory learning takes place takes away from many meaningful learning opportunities. In addition to the list of websites that were blocked to restrict students (and teachers) many divisions utilize software that picks up on certain words that are deemed as inappropriate and blocks sites that are inappropriate. Losh and Jenkin’s shared an example of how this process of restricting information deemed as inappropriate has created a barrier for a meaningful learning experience. A whole school division was blocked access to almost all sites about Herman Melville because the title of his best known novel includes the word “dick”.

Losh and Jenkin stress that, “schools have a central role to play in connecting what takes place outside the classroom with the kinds of assessments and certifications that will create future educational, economic, civic, and creative opportunities for students. These opportunities connecting what students are learning outside of school with what happens within formal education have been described by Mimi Ito and her colleagues as “connected learning.” At their Connected Learning website, they explain how problems occur when there is a strong disconnect between formal education and learning outside school.” Furthermore they explain that, “Each time a teacher tells students that what they care about the most, what makes them curious and passionate outside of school, does not belong in the classroom, that teacher also delivers another message: What teachers care about and what is mandated by educational standards have little or nothing to do with learners’ activities once the they school bell rings.”

Losh and Jenkin offer the following suggestions for schools and educators:

  1. Use digital media to engage learners.
  2. Recognize the value of participatory culture/connected learning.
  3. Teach ethical standards and skills in critical judgment

The Google Play Project ran extensive interviews with youth about their online lives and found that students lack formal mentorship in this area. They pointed out that a newspaper committee has a staff advisor to help them with ethical issues, provides feedback and helps students with editing their writing. They then point out that many of our students are reaching far larger audiences through blogs, vlogs and social media yet receive little guidance from mature mentors on how to navigate their online world. As teachers we need to assist our youth in learning to take part in participatory culture. Web 2.0, educational policy tends to be restrictive. In an effort to ensure student safety it appear to limit student choices rather than provide them with the information required to be a responsible digital citizen. The Good Project was created at Harvard as a result of the Google Play studies. They have developed several tools for educators to teach students skills to navigate our digital world.

Henry Jenkin’s article, Confronting the challenges of participatory culture he discusses the importance of providing access to all students. It presented projects that have been created in areas of poverty to provide low income earners with access to the internet. However, he also explains the importance of not just dropping them off. People need to be taught how to be responsible digital citizens. Additionally he talked about the important of recognizing the shift from viewing the internet as a place for individual expression to all the possibilities for collaboration.

“Instead of focusing on gatekeeping… let’s focus on how school librarians can help young people interact with human mentors and peers as students learn to observe norms and respect boundaries.” Losh and Jenkins, 2012

Katrina Schwartz talks about trust and how it is so important for us to teach students to use the internet properly rather than restrict their access in her article titled Why trust is an important ingredient  I agree with this entirely. We need to teach our students in the classroom so they are prepared to deal with issues that may arise later on their own in their own lives. There needs to be a link between home and school. Losh and Jenkin’s would also agree. They stated, “Young people are not rendered safer when schools block access to these sites; instead, blocking ensures that many kids will be forced to confront online risks on their own. Many young people lack opportunities to learn how to use new media tools effectively and appropriately. Reliance on blocking sends the message that sites and tools important to students have little to nothing to contribute to intellectual pursuits.”

Passive learning is not effective. We need to find ways to engage learners by including their own interests. A new term that I came across in my reading was “Affinity spaces,” as James Paul Gee (2005) has labeled them, are critical sites of important kinds of exploration, experimentation, and play, where at least some young people are developing and deploying their own expertise in the service of their own passions and interests. These affinity spaces can be such a powerful thing and we need to use them to our advantage and there is many meaningful skills our students can acquire in these places. Creating a connected culture is crucial.

 YOUNG PEOPLE MAY NOT need adults snooping over their shoulders, but they certainly need adults helping to watch their backs. (Losh and Jenkins 2012)

Losh, E., & Jenkins, H. (2012). CAN PUBLIC EDUCATION COEXIST WITH PARTICIPATORY CULTURE? Knowledge Quest, 41(1), 16-21. Retrieved from http://search.proquest.com/docview/1076399985?accountid=13480

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