The Internet can be empowering in schools
The scene: a high school classroom. Students gaze into their laptops. They might be taking notes like good little boys and girls. Or they might be passing the time on MySpace, quietly playing a Web game while their teacher thinks she has their undivided attention.
It looks like a teacher's worst nightmare. But it's the future. If we're smart.
The best thing about the Internet is the power it gives. Power to have a voice in civic government, power to learn on our own terms, power to share our lives. But that power isn't allowed in the classroom. Not yet. And that's a mistake.
Schools all over the country lock their computers away in a lab or a library. That's the situation at Garfield High School, where the district's Web filter blocks access to sites like MySpace and YouTube and occasionally some blogs teachers want to use in class.
The filter saves everyone a lot of trouble and worry. Students are curious and schools are scared. Filters are the easiest way to stop young minds from wandering where they shouldn't -- whether it's a mindless online game, a profanity-filled blog or worse. Schools need to be careful. So they hold back. They stay safe.
That's the wrong way to go.
Giving the Internet a place in the classroom would cost teachers some control, but the perks are worth it and teens deserve it -- not just to make use of their skills in the classroom but to take make full use of the technologies available to them.
Consider the situation at the University of Washington's medical school, where laptops are required gear and no one walks around the class to see what students are doing on them. "We could be checking e-mail," said first-year student Kristina Rudd. "Many of us are."
But they do other things, too. The second an obscure term escapes the lecturer's lips, someone in the classroom will look it up in Wikipedia or medical journals, dig up a relevant article and send it to the class. Suddenly, the influence of the lecture no longer relies on the effectiveness of the lecturer.
And it can happen in high school.
At the private Lakeside School, 14-year-old Janelle Dy hands in almost all her work by e-mail. When she's allowed to use her laptop in class, she makes the most of it.
"When I took notes on paper, sometimes I'd have difficulty understanding what the teacher was talking about, due to vocabulary," she said. "But now I have a dictionary on my laptop I'm allowed to use at all times. Also I can get to other Web sites, like Wikipedia or Encyclopedia Britannica."
Not everyone in her class is as dutiful. Some students find ways to distract themselves, and a few, making use of their tech savvy, bypass the school's Web filter and go where they shouldn't.
That will happen. But to base all students' technological access on the behavior of an irresponsible few is not only lazy, it denies them an opportunity to learn integrity.
Granted, many schools are not equipped for this. Besides the obvious financial barriers, too many teachers are unaware of all the ways technology can supplement their lessons and few schools have the technical prowess to keep Internet rebels in check.
But there's something else holding educators back: fear of losing control.
Clearly, teens have a fluency with the Internet most teachers can't match. Bring this technology to every desktop and teachers are put at a disadvantage. We can continue to play it safe, or we can take some risks and give teens some power. Who knows? They might surprise us.
And the nightmare scenario might be a dream come true.
and, also from the Seattle Post-Intelligencer
My heart just about stopped when I saw the headline on today's Seattle Times site: "School officials unite in banning Wikipedia."
I am a Wikipedia junkie--it's my starting point for everything from determining what direction the Deep Fork River flows in Oklahoma, to keeping track of Kid Nation TV show developments, to figuring out what's up with a trend in some cities with kids using bicycles without brakes. I have a close friend who's using Wikipedia to learn about the potential new owners of the corporation where she works. On the Save Seattle Schools blog, contributers reportedly consulted Wikipedia to learn more about McKinsey & Co., the outside consulting firm that Superintendent Goodloe-Johnson is using to help craft a strategic plan.
Is Wikipedia the final, definitive source of all information? No. But I don't agree with those crotchety librarians in the Times article who complain that, "we don't see it as an authoritative source," and subsequently block the site from students.
With today's technology, information flow has become much more fluid and immediate. Just because it can't be found in a bound book doesn't necessarily mean that it ain't so. Indeed, there's a tremendous amount of subjectivity that goes into what is printed as the "truth." Of course, just because someone posted a statement online doesn't necessarily mean that it is true, either.
It's a shame that the teachers and librarians quoted in the article didn't take advantage of the situation--finding inaccurate information on Wikipedia--by having their students revise the Wikipedia site with their own research, or engage in broader discussions about how authority and truth will be staked out in new media (a battle that's raging right now between traditional journalists and bloggers).
Do you or your kids use Wikipedia? Do you think it has a place in schools?