“Access Denied: You do not have permission to view this site” has become one of the principal frustrations for my district’s teachers and students. Our administration‘s existing policy uses the “walled garden approach” for browsing the Internet at school. “Walled garden” refers to firewalls instituted by school districts to control access to particular websites for students. This includes limiting access to all social networking sites, including student e-mail and blogging.
Today’s students are participants in a world where global communication is imperative for their success, now and in the future. In the 21st century, students are required, by mandated standards, to participate in learning activities requiring collaboration with students from all over the world. Internet browser restrictions make it nearly impossible for students to connect with learners globally in order to problem solve, and to lessen the barriers of their concrete classroom walls.
You may ask, “What is global communication, and how should students apply it to their critical thinking skills?” Global learning projects are easily achieved using a variety of access tools; i.e., e-mail, video conferencing, digital photography and video, digital storytelling, instant messaging, blogs and social forums. Students are capable of joining groups such as ePals or education wiki sites such as Ning. Within these group examples, students can connect to a classroom consisting of similar age students with similar interests to research and collaborate with on a specified topic. The group ePals has a terrific unit of study on global warming (Global Warming; The Planet is Heating Up, 2010). Students discuss the effects of global warming and create a presentation explaining methods of reducing global warming. The selected partner school students discuss the issues in tandem with your students. There is a required amount of communication within this engaging lesson. Children’s Dreams at Global SchoolNet Foundation (Children of Dreams, 2000) is another excellent lesson for student global collaboration. This very practical activity requires higher order thinking skills allowing students to develop a vision of the future by visualizing their county’s past in relation to the future. Students develop an appreciation for the various viewpoints of others by encompassing differing lifestyles and cultural backgrounds. This fascinating interaction with students in different countries is accomplished without ever having to leave the classroom.
It has become amazingly simple to establish a topic of interest and locate a participating school from around the world, resulting in communication for your students within a safe Internet setting. According to Julianne Reed (2010), global project based learning “promotes creativity, addresses all learners, provides success for all students, makes content meaningful, provides an authentic audience, motivates students and empowers students to make a difference.” This statement confirms my conviction for the use of open technology and supports my understanding of the subject. Schools should be required to open up the “walled gardens” and embrace social networking sites. Our students use their cell phones, computers, Twitter, Facebook, etc. as soon as they leave our classrooms. Why not round-up that energy? Although some networking sites may not have a relative advantage within the classroom environment, there remains a multitude of safe networking sites with carefully monitored incoming content and membership access. Students have the ability to safely connect and collaborate with other students, teachers and experts from around the world. Teachers have the ability to restrict groups or web pages access by using a required password or invitation code. This open technology provides students with the opportunity for freedom of expression, as they enjoy with their peers when they are not in the school setting Students’ cherished form of communication can always be tweaked for educational purposes. The result of collaboration with students from other schools and other areas of the world are sure to increase motivation and enthusiasm. As the old adage goes, “If you can’t beat them, join them!” There is no better place for students to experiment with social networking, than in the safety of their own school. It is a win, win situation for all. I challenge educators to convince administration about the disadvantages to site restrictions and blocks. Someone has to throw the first hammer or the “wall” will never crumble. Make your students proud!
Children of Dreams. (2000). Retrieved March 3, 2010, from Global School Net: Linking Kids Around the World: http://www.globalschoolnet.org/programs/dreams/lessonplan.html
Global Warming; The Planet is Heating Up. (2010). Retrieved March 3, 2010, from ePals Learning Space: http://www.epals.com/projects/info.aspx?DivID=GlobalWarming_overview
Reed, J. (2010). Global Collaboration and Learning: How to Create a World of Success Without Leaving Your Classroom. Retrieved March 3, 2010, from ED TECH Focus on K-12: http://www.epals.com/projects/info.aspx?DivID=GlobalWarming_overview