Limiting internet access at school, a service or disservice?

Senior, Jon-Michael Poff, of Batesville High School, in Batesville,Arkansas, believes that severely limiting Internet access in schools is a disservice.  He believes this so strongly that he wrote this article in Dec 2008/Jan 2009 edition of Edutopia. 

And Jon-Michael isn’t the only one that sees the increased firewalls as a limitation to student creativity.  Students, teachers, and administrators across the country are fighting this battle every day.  Poff notes limiting access impairs students ability to complete projects assigned by teachers, limits student access to creativity, and most importantly it restricts their access to the very sites that they are to use to obtain their homework.  In the article he notes that “last fall, a classmate at Batesville High school told me he spent forty minutes trying to access his school based blog, one our English teacher graded regularly.  Another classmate said she couldn’t get to the images she needed for her desktop-publishing class; she had to download them at home. (Luckily for her, her family owns a computer.)”

So how is it that attempts to protect students are now inhibiting their ability to excel in today’s 21st Century learning environment?  Well, in an online debate about whether or not schools should limit internet access, Bill Ragsdale supported the need to limit internet access.  Ragsdale teaches computer education at Harvest Park Middle School in Pleasanton, Calif. and serves as a consultant to the NEA Center  for Education Technology.  In his argument he stated, “Kids have a natural curiosity about how things work, but, more often than not, they haven’t developed the sense of responsibility they need to keep that curiosity in check. Until they do, it’s our job to protect kids from themselves.” 

Opposing his argument was Les Snavely a media specialist at Boman Public School in Boman, North Dakota, and a member of the North Dakota Education Association board of directors.  Snavely stated,  “Technology is crucial to kids in rural-even remote-locations like Bowman. The computer and the Internet are really the only way they have to access certain information. To restrict Internet use here would be to stifle education.”  Snavely refers to the exact stifling of education that student, Jon-Michael Poff, spoke about in his article.   

Realizing the challenge of protecting students and giving them the freedom and access they need to do school assignments and work on digital media, Snavely recommended two options.  He notes that educators must first become digital natives; fully adept at using the internet and aware of the good and the bad.  Second, the students themselves must have a say in creating “a written policy for internet use that clearly states expectations for every computer user and penalties for misuse”. 

In a generation where almost every student has a phone and is in constant contact with their friends via text messaging, AIM, Skype, Facebook, and many other online sites, the question must be posed to administrators and teachers, “why aren’t we more involved?”  Isn’t it time to let students be a part of the policy creation for internet safety?  Shouldn’t we have a presence on these sites to help create learning environments and monitor the information instead of blocking it? 

When children are in school they aren’t banned from speaking to one another.  Anyone who’s ever set foot in a classroom, as a student or teacher, knows that’s avoiding socialization in school is a futile effort.  Instead schools and teachers allow appropriate times for socializing and the same needs to be done with the internet.  Students need direction, they need to share the responsibility, they need to be involved in making policy to create safe environments, and they need to be taught how to use the internet responsibly.  Yes, Ragsdale is correct that children have a natural curiosity, but they will only put their hand on the hot stove once, maybe twice, before they learn that it doesn’t feel good and that they don’t want to do it again. 

So, BoardBuzz has to ask, when it comes to internet safety and limiting internet access in schools, what do you think?  Should it be limited or should internet safety education and internet professional development for teachers be enough?  Is limiting internet access at school a service or disservice?  How is this debate shaping up in your district?

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