One of my favorite podcasts is Geek!-Ed!. I listen to every episode and I usually agree with what they say. Occasionally, however, I don't. Near the end of this week's episode (episode 87) they were talking about Google Docs and other similar tools. This led to a statement by Chris who said (at around 35:30):
"As educators, we have no control over what happens with our student accounts."
Chris goes on to say that this is why he won't use Google Docs in his classroom.
The following rant is not about the Geek!-Ed! podcast, but about an attitude I run into quite often among educators.
Now I know there is a great possibility for students to stumble into problems when they use internet tools, but to not use one because you as an educator do not have complete control over what students will do with it sees to be a bit alarmist. Students can use pencils and paper to get into lots of trouble and I have no control over how they use them. I only have control over what they put in my hands. Does this mean I shouldn't teach them to write? There are lots of books in our public library that I wouldn't want students to read without supervision of some kind, but does that mean I don't encourage them to utilize a great resource? We have no control over what happens at local government meetings, does this mean a civics teacher shouldn't require/encourage their students to attend them?
In order to use many internet tools I have to knowingly relinquish some control over my students, but this is no different than when students are taught to read or write. I have no control over how they use these tools outside of my classroom. So, what do I do? I try to teach them about the potential pitfalls. I point out that just because it is in print does not make it a fact and I teach them that they typically sign away their right to privacy when they use the internet, I teach them that the person they trade messages with on MySpace may be a monkey.
I'm an educator and so I see education as the answer. I'm not a big fan of blocking a tool just because it can be used poorly or when used improperly could be unsafe. After all, a pencil could be used to stab someone, write a bomb threat on a bathroom wall, or write an anonymous threatening note to another student, but we still typically require students to have one when they walk into our classrooms.
Is it different just because it's the internet? We always talk about computers and the internet being a new sort of pencil and then we treat them differently.
Now, I teach high school. Maybe I'd feel differently about this if I was in a middle or elementary school. I just don't know. Anyway, that's the end of my rant for the day.
What do you think?