Social Networking and Walled Gardens

Webopedia refers to walled gardens as “ a browsing environment that controls the information and Web sites the user is able to access” (2010).  These controls are put in place to safeguard against inappropriate sites or online predators as well as to help students stay focused on academic endeavors. Inevitably, when a school or library puts up a walled garden, access to useful, non-offensive sites may be blocked.

I feel that at the primary school level, schools should provide an online experience that prevents students from accessing inappropriate material. However, older students are tech savvy and if someone is determined to access information, no matter what it is, they will find a way. It is quite easy to set up a proxy and tunnel under the walls of the garden. Therefore, instead of putting up walls, it is more important to teach appropriate use of the internet, set guidelines and rules that should be followed while in class and allow students to make their own decisions.

By opening up the garden, students will blossom in correlation to their environment. Social networking skills are necessary for today’s digital climate.  “Students using social networking sites are actually practicing the kinds of 21st-century skills we want them to develop to be successful today.” (Greenhow, 2008) Sites like pbworks and edmodo are excellent tools for educators and allow exceptional collaborative ability. These tools help “teachers increase students’ engagement in their education, increase technological proficiency, contribute to a greater sense of collaboration in the classroom, and build better communication skills.” (Social Networking, 2011) Karen Cator, from the US dept. of Education comments on Edutopia, “Think about not only incorporating technology into your lessons, but creating more and more compelling assignments so that 21st century skills, the kinds of things students will have to develop in terms of critical thinking, problem solving, collaboration, global participation — that these are incorporated into assignments. The best spaces will incorporate social media, and interacting with others. “(2011)

Educationally based, social networking are all well and good, but what about sites like Facebook? Do these sites have a place in the classroom? Anthony Orsini, Benjamin Franklin Middle School principle in Ridgewood, New Jersey, exclaimed vehemently, “there is absolutely, positively no reason for any middle school student to be a part of a social networking site! None.”(2010) His emotional statement stems from the daily occurrence of cyber bullying at his school and his perceived lack of parental control where social media is concerned. Superintendent to the Ewing Public School district, Michael Nitti writes:

 “Then there are the downright nasty things that we are seeing.  Facebook group pages that are devoted to hating one targeted student.  Pages dedicated to the perceived promiscuity of a student or group of students.  Trash-talking taking place before athletic contests.  The anonymity and separation of the Internet does not help.  I once asked a student, by all accounts a good kid, how she could be so mean with her postings.  Her response: “It’s easy; I don’t have to look at her ugly face.”(2012)

This is no doubt a nasty side to social media and requires careful observance and vigilance on the part of parents and teachers. Nitti goes on to write in regards to allowing a child a Facebook account, “Before caving in to any requests for a Facebook page, reflect on whether you have the time, and inclination, to adequately supervise your child, if you trust them to act as they would in the real world, and if you and your child are ready for all the things, both good and bad, that come from being a part of this social network.”(2012)

Personally, I feel there is a place for Facebook in the classroom. I have created a teacher page that allows me to separate my private and professional persona. Each class has its own ‘group’ and each group receives occasional updates and reminders about upcoming assignments and project due dates. I will also post questions for homework that require a considered response. I have found this method to work quite well. Much of my effort is to break student out of what my colleagues and I refer to as ‘the economy of response.’ This idea is based on HG Widdowson’s ‘least effort principle’ which basically states that second language learners will usually respond with as few words as is necessary to give a complete answer.  In a face to face setting, Korean second language learners will often shy away from expressing themselves. Therefore, having students post to their Facebook group allows them to think carefully about their response, edit as necessary and not worry about pronunciation.

In conclusion, I feel the enormous potential the internet and social media has to offer education outweighs any negative consequences. By teaching our students appropriate uses of social media and involving parents in the conversation, we can help foster an environment where everyone can prosper. And as one who values freedom of information, I thought I might add a bit of information about Korea. This is somewhat off topic, but interesting no less.

Behind the Kimchi Walled Garden

It is the policy of the Korean government to block sites it deems inappropriate or dangerous. One example of this is the ‘Cinderella Law’ passed in November 2011. This law attempts to curtail addictive internet gaming. 8% of all Koreans are addicted to internet gaming and 14% of adolescents between the age of 9 and 12 are addicted to internet gaming. (Lee, 2010)  The law “blocks those under 16 from accessing gaming websites after midnight.”(Lee, 2011)  It is also policy to block pro-North Korean websites. Though accessing North Korean sites is not against the law, The Korean Communications Commission (KCC) blocks these sites because “young people with poor judgment could be fooled.”(Kim, 2012) Other objectionable websites are blocked as well such as pornography and gambling sites. Through these policies, it is clear the Korean Government wants to protect its citizens from what it has determined as harmful and immoral influences beyond the borders of the South Korean peninsula.

References:

1. Huffington Post. (2011, March 27) Social Networking  In Schools: Educators Debate The Merits Of Technology In Classrooms . Message posted to http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2011/03/27/social-networking-schools_n_840911.html?view=print&comm_ref=false

2. Edtopia. (2011, March 9). The Department of Education’s Karen Cator Answers Your Questions about the National Education Technology Plan. Retrieved from http://www.edutopia.org/blog/karen-cator-doe-video-answers-questions-national-education-technology-plan

3. The Ewing Public Schools. (2012). Facebook and School Students: An Imperfect Union. Retrieved from http://www.ewing.k12.nj.us/Page/196

4. 1. Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2010). Integrating educational technology into teaching. Boston: Allyn and Bacon.

5. Widdowson, H.G. (1998). Context,Community and Authentic Language. Retrieved from http://www.jstor.org/discover/10.2307/3588001?uid=2134&uid=2&uid=70&uid=4&sid=55876663683

6. Lee, J.Y. (2011, November 22) South Korea Pulls the Plug on Late-night Adolescent Online Gamers. Retrieved from http://edition.cnn.com/2011/11/22/world/asia/south-korea-gaming/index.html

7. Kim, K.W. (2012, February 6 )  Questions behind true motivation for blocking of North Korean websites. Retrieved from http://english.hani.co.kr/arti/english_edition/e_northkorea/517643.html