New Media Literacies and Internet Blocking… mutually exclusive concepts?

November 14, 2009

This week’s class session discussing the social media literacies of contemporary learners and instructors as well as the pros/cons of internet blocking has me thinking in a number of different directions all at once. On one side we have the issue of instructors wanting to use social media in ways that benefit their learner’s learning and teach them to be discerning consumers and purveyors of media. There are a number of skills and competencies learners need to polish and acquire to be able to do this successfully. In response to Alec’s reflective question for the week: ” What are the new media literacies, and how should teachers and/or schools address these?” I’d have to say that teachers need to help their learners to:

  • Discern and discriminate: I believe this needs to occur in two fundamental ways.

Firstly, learners need practice in evaluating the value/authenticity of web based content (is the information reliable? How do we know?) as we all know that anyone can publish anything on the web at any time and not a word of it needs to be truthful. The web is rife with examples of false information, much of it intended to be satirical or entertaining. It’s a mistake for teachers to believe their learners automatically can tell the difference from reliable information based on substantive fact from opinion driven inaccurate information that may bear little resemblance to reality.

Secondly, learners also need practice in determining time and place-appropriate activities. For example, it may not be appropriate to watch streaming videos of friends doing some sort of embarrassing or dangerous stunt on YouTube during class time. Though it certainly could be appropriate if one was participating in a safety class of some sort. Appropriateness is often determined by the contextual situation at the time. It also might not be a bad idea to encourage students to establish a “professional” digital image/reputation for school/work based networking and perhaps maintain a separate one for social contacts. I personally have only one FaceBook account, one YouTube account, etc. and I don’t have a separate identity for school/work/home because I enjoy the overlap and there is nothing I have posted on any of these sites that people from different contexts of my life couldn’t see. (General rule of thumb for me:  If my daughters shouldn’t read it, I shouldn’t write it and post it, but that’s just my take on the issue.)

  • Appropriate and Attribute: I believe learners need to become proficient at viewing published content, seeing it with their own perspective and world view and be able to take it, mold it into something new and fresh and yet be able to attribute the original idea to the original creator. That takes a skill set that takes time and patience to encourage and require of learners. It can seem a daunting and frustrating task when one receives paper after paper filled with “appropriated” content and not a word of attribution from learners. (Whenever I have an essay due for class, I emphasize over and over the necessity of proper citation of sources, and provide many “how to” lessons and yet there seems to always be a couple of learners every semester who hand in something someone else wrote and published on the web with no citations. I’m sure this isn’t an unfamiliar phenomenon for instructors around the world!)

There are many more competencies that could be addressed and I think a lot of them could be slotted and categorized under the broad ones I have mentioned above. I think that schools and instructors need to become minimally proficient at these skills themselves first, before they can be reliably counted upon to instruct learners in how to do this. Though,  for a great many of the skills that learners will need to acquire to become media savvy creators and re-mixers of media, I think the learners have an expertise advantage over a large number of instructors out there. I’m sure that’s pretty intimidating for many instructors to consider, the idea that learners have more media skills than they do in some respects. It’s not at all threatening to me as an instructor though. I love to learn from my students because then the instructional pattern in the classroom becomes something engaging for everyone concerned. It becomes more transactional and reciprocative in nature and I love to be more of a facilitator than a “font of knowledge” for my learners.

This all leads me (eventually) to the topic of Internet Blocking. I despise the current trend I’ve observed in many K-12 schools to ban wholesale any and all social media sites from school-based computers. YouTube blocks in particular bother me immensely. I use YouTube video clips in ALL of my online courses that I design and teach and when I have learners unable to access these instructional and educational resources, it becomes frustrating for both me and the learner involved.

I have to wonder what it is we are really saying to young people when we blanket forbid things and don’t expect them to filter appropriate content for themselves. For me, the message is something like this: “You aren’t to be trusted; we know what’s best for you better than you do; the Web is a collection of smut and dangerous content.” Maybe this is a bit exaggerated, but it’s close and it’s not a message I want to endorse, either as an instructor or as a parent, frankly. I believe we are doing our learners a tremendous disservice to plunge our heads into the Internet sands here and just “ignore” social media tools that COULD possibly be abused and misused by anyone. Where is the education in such a stance? To me that speaks more to fear than to anything else. (Plus anything forbidden automatically becomes more desirable and attractive, doesn’t it?)

I absolutely LOVE the link Alec posted on the EC &I 831 wiki, the one leading to Bud the Teacher’s blog. His response to teachers requesting Internet blocks is bang on. I plan to pass this along to others as he has encapsulated so many of my beliefs and thoughts on the issue of internet blocking in a clear, non-confrontational and eloquent way.

The bottom line for me is that my job is to educate learners in the best ways I can. I believe that by helping learners become more discriminating and better able to judge the value and accuracy of information, to be able to attribute it properly, to be able to take information and reshape in ways that are meaningful for them and how to share that vision with the rest of the world, then I am doing my job. If I teach fear and loathing by blocking off the flow of information and media, then I absolutely cannot teach and encourage appropriate internalization of control.


9 Responses to “New Media Literacies and Internet Blocking… mutually exclusive concepts?”

  1. Thanks for this solid response to this week’s session. I hope we can get the message out to others and to other schools. The current condition of blocking in schools, as it is being done and as a philosophical barrier, needs to be addressed.

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Thanks Alec! These thoughts had been brewing for a long time and it was thanks to this class that I was able to coalesce them into something (relatively) cogent and coherent (despite the ridiculous hour I wrote it at).


  2. starkg said

    Thanks for the great post Michelle! I hadn’t considered the implicit message sent by blocking internet sites. A very interesting point!

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Thanks Greg! Those sorts of messages are very easily missed, simply because they are implicit and not obvious. I’m actually shocked and pleasantly surprised I was able to pinpoint one 🙂

  3. Trisha said

    Wow! Sure sounds like you have an excellent understanding of this topic. Thanks for your insights!! I agree that students need to learn to understand what is valuable and what is not.

    • Michelle Clarke said

      Thank you Trisha, though I’m not sure it’s a thorough understanding of anything more than it is a frustration I’ve struggled with for sometime now. I don’t think I’ll ever understand the mindset about “forbidding” access to web-based content. I don’t think we can reasonably expect our learners to learn responsibility and trustworthiness if we as educators continue to demonstrate that we simply don’t trust them or believe in their ability to think and filter for themselves. (Once they have been taught how to do that, of course!)

  4. Bettina Welsh said

    I guess it depends what the perspective and the responsibility is of the decision makers. I would like to know how the decision makers would react to ‘why’, why block social media? I also think it depends what filters that are in place. As a parent of a Kindergarten child, I like knowing the schools are doing what they can to protect my child from ‘offensive’ material that may be stumbled across by accident. Great post, Bettina Welsh

    • Michelle Clarke said

      You are absolutely right, Bettina. I wrote this post from my perspective as an instructor of adults and older aged students, young men and women who need to learn how to filter and self-monitor their behaviours. I too would be most interested in hearing the other side of the debate. Looks like I have something to go and research a bit, perhaps!

      Thank you for your comments. You always give me something else to think about and I love that!

  5. […] New media literacies & Internet Blocking: This was by far the best post of my blog, I felt. I had struggled for a long time to frame and articulate what my beliefs were surrounding the thorny issue of how much trust and accountability we expect of our students to self- monitor and filter content for themselves. I don’t think they SHOULD do it by themselves, of course, but this presentation sparked a lot of thought and introspection and when it was coupled with Bud the Teacher’s blog post, this topic ended up being my favorite to explore. […]

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