August 14, 2009

Are you in charge of filtering websites? Then you have some explaining to do.

Henry Jenkins

Common sense will never, it seems sometimes, win the argument over allowing our youngsters access to their tools in a school environment, with most education establishments the world over insisting on blocking and filtering YouTube, Facebook, Bebo and other social networks du jour.

Henry Jenkins outlines how the leader of the Free World came to power thanks to a resurgent interest in politics amongst a generation that we haven't seen since Vietnam. Young people didn't think they could create a change, especially not by voting, but in the end the devices that pushed them to the vote were the very tools that the State currently bans within the State's institutions:

"54.5 percent of Americans ages 18 to 29 voted last November, constituting a larger proportion of the total electorate -- 18 percent -- then Putnam's bowlers, people 65-years-and-older (16 percent). The youth vote was a decisive factor in Obama's victories in several states, including Indiana, North Carolina, and possibly Florida...

"The Obama campaign was able to create an ongoing relationship with these new voters, connecting across every available media platform. Log onto YouTube and Obama was there in political advertisements, news clips, comedy sketches, and music videos, some created by the campaign, some generated by his supporters. Pick up your mobile phone and Obama was there with text messages updating young voters daily. Go to Facebook and Obama was there, creating multiple ways for voters to affiliate with the campaign and each other. Pick up a video game controller and Obama was there, taking out advertisement space inside several popular games. Turn on your Tivo to watch a late night comedy news show and Obama and his people are there, recognizing that The Daily Show or Colbert are the places where young people go to learn more about current events. This new approach to politics came naturally to a candidate who has fought to be able to use his Blackberry and text-messaging as he enters the White House, who regularly listens to his iPod, who knows how to give a Vulcan salute, brags about reading Harry Potter books to his daughters, and who casually talks about catching up on news online. The Obama campaign asked young people to participate, gave them chances to express themselves, enabled them to connect with each other, and allowed them to feel some sense of emotional ownership over the political process.

What has all of this to do with schools? Alas, frequently, very little."

Considering that most countries employ somewhere between 30-50% of the workforce within the public sector this means that Governments, that's politics and not the dry common sense of people living and breathing reality, are regularly doing little more than those working The Great Firewall: blocking the truly sole means of voter engagement and therefore democracy for those that will carry their countries forward into the future.

It's just appalling. Shameful. And while I would understand if this were a new issue on which decision-makers needed some time I'd be more inclined to be supportive and wait out a more sensible response than the existing one of blocking and filtering ad nauseum. But network admins and their managers have had nigh-on four years now to react to the changes around them.

Would anyone making that decision in a Local Authority or Administration care to explain it?

Photo from Joi


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Here in Ireland, all schools are on a centrally managed broadband network that blocks access for teachers and students to Facebook, Bebo, MySpace, YouTube, Flickr, Picasa and Wordpress. They will allow access to Twitter for a trial period from September.

It's time these were opened up for access in schools. There is a need to look at the benefits of social media in schools versus the risks e.g., inappropriate content.

Students are accessing these sites anyway in school on their mobile devices and at home.

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Ewan McIntosh is the founder of NoTosh, the no-nonsense company that makes accessible the creative process required to innovate: to find meaningful problems and solve them.

Ewan wrote How To Come Up With Great Ideas and Actually Make Them Happen, a manual that does what is says for education leaders, innovators and people who want to be both.

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School leaders and innovators struggle to make the most of educators' and students' potential. My team at NoTosh cut the time and cost of making significant change in physical spaces, digital and curricular innovation programmes. We work long term to help make that change last, even as educators come and go.

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