Since the introduction of Web 2.0 technologies the gap between what school students can do at home, Internet cafes or public libraries has grown dramatically.
This is exasperated by most Australian State Education authorities being painfully slow to even acknowledge the need for an integrated approach to the inclusion of Information Communication Technologies (ICTs)into school learning environments.
While States like Queensland are rolling out a new Managed Operating Environment across its state schools, the draconian policies of blocking almost all Websites and virtually all the available Web 2.0 tools, means that student learning experiences are much poorer than those they can experience outside of school.
Not only are they poorer, but the gap between what is possible and what the schools can offer is growing very rapidly.
When you add these issues to the ridiculously complex security regime that requires students to log on twice with different usernames and passwords and again if the computer is dormant for a relatively short period of time. The task for teachers becomes enormous, particularly for younger students.
Unfortunately, the issues with school Internet access does not stop there. Many schools in Queensland are starved of bandwidth. The author has worked in one large school in Central Queensland that was expected to manage with 1.5MB of bandwidth for around 800 students plus staff. Showing a streaming video clip, even in low usage time was not even possible. In this school, staff were told that they had to use the Internet as much as possible so that they could demonstrate to the State governing body that they needed more bandwidth. Of course, in these circumstances teachers give up on the technology as their working lives are already busy enough without having a disgruntled bunch of students complaining and becoming bored at the slow access.
Restricting access to all externally hosted Web 2.0 technologies and most external Websites, appears to be motivated by the organisations fear of being accused of allowing student access to inappropriate material and uncontrolled contact with persons outside of the school and the student's immediate family. This fear is not without foundation as the Australian media is quick to judge and make inaccurate assertions. Pedophilia (or grooming), and child access to explicit material sell newspapers and fuel television ratings. Because the State education authorities are responsible to the State governments of the day, the issue becomes political with ultimate responsibility resting with the Minister and the government.
But what about the Internet access at home, friends, Internet cafes and public libraries? Just because this is not "on school grounds" does not mean that the State authorities do not have responsibility for educating school students in cyber safety and issues around inappropriate material.
As yet none of the Australian State education authorities have integrated cyber safety and issues around inappropriate material into their curricula. "Stranger danger" of the physical type is there but not the former?
The video below offers a student perspective on blocking technology and access:
In Queensland, all of the mentors charged with implementing the "
As a teacher educator, the author regularly has students and graduates who complain that they are unable to implement the innovative digital pedagogies they are taught at University because of the security policies and procedures present in State schools.
As the video shows, this is not just an issue in Queensland schools. Other Australian States and other countries have similar problems around these issues.
Why is Web 2.0 so important?
As you would see from much of this Blog, learning engagement is the key to successful and deep learning experiences. In Australian schools the Literacy and Numeracy crisis is not due to the curriculum taught in school, but to a lack of learning engagement that leads to absenteeism and behavioural management issues that block learning in the students' early years. Once the student is behind the schools system marches them through into areas they are unskilled and under-prepared for and the die is cast for the majority of those students. They feel "dumb", develop low self-esteem and finish school completely unprepared for work or further study.
Low socio-economic status (SES) and indigenous students are over represented in this area and this leads to generational poverty and disadvantage (Vinson, 1999; Black 2007).
Keirsley and Shneiderman (1999) and Herrington & Oliver (2002) assert that authentic learning experiences with outcomes valued in the real world lead to learning engagement. In both cases, the integrated of ICTs plays a pivotal role in this authentic learning, as a quick search of this Blog will reinforce.
By way of example look at the video below to see just one example of how this can work with Web 2.0 technologies:
What's the Answer?
So here is the the tough question and one with no easy answer.
First and foremost, there needs to be a national curriculum that has cyber safety and recognition of inappropriate and dangerous material integrated within it.
Secondly, there needs to be a scaled approach to School Internet security with the most security applied to the youngest and most vulnerable students and a gradual relaxing as the students reach later years. In all cases, where a teacher deems it necessary/desirable for their students to have access to a particular technology, it should be provided and the teacher supported throughout its use.
Lastly, we need to ensure that the Australian media are aware of the reasons for this approach and an undertaking from them that they will not sensationalize incidents that may occur.
Regardless of what happens, there should be wide consultation with all the stakeholders an a genuine attempt to educate children, their parents the general public and the media on the need for 21st century learning approaches.
It is not impossible and many private schools are already managing this issue very well.