Tear Down the Walled Garden?
Social Networking is a growing phenomenon, especially among the youth in America. According to the Plew Global Attitude Project people under the age of 29 make up 77% of those who use social networking sites. Some might say that the logical next step would be to find a way to integrate it into education. Through social sites students can interact with people from all over the world. They can talk to people with all types of careers and experiences.
As a teacher, it can be very frustrating to have a great idea for a lesson thwarted by having your access denied due to 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). Walled gardens are in use to keep students from wasting class time on a social site such as Facebook or looking at inappropriate material. The reason for using these safe guards in schools is a sound one, especially when looked at from the side of student safety. Schools are supposed to be safe havens for students and that includes when they are online. No parent wants to worry that when they send their child off to school they will be put in harms way by having no safeguard from online predators or inappropriate sites. However real the dangers may be, I believe that there are benefits to taking down the walled garden. According to the M.I.T. white paper entitled, “Technology of Today in the Classroom Today,” students spend as much time on Facebook as they do watching television. It asserts that learning is social and therefore being able to use social sites could be beneficial in a classroom setting. It also brings up the point that using technology such as the internet and social sites is not only for helping teachers find new ways to teach old things, but also to teach new things.
I understand how Facebook can be seen as not the best option for classroom use, especially with all the privacy issues it seems to be plagued with as of late. However, there are other social sites available for teachers geared towards education. Ning is where teacher’s can create their own networking sites. This site is not designated only for education, but with teachers being able to choose who is in their groups, it makes it a safe place for students to communicate. Since I teach History to middle and high school students, I am always looking for ways to help bring the subject to life and make it relevant. One example for a lesson using Ning is to have the students discuss or debate as a certain historical character. For example, students could take on the role as a member of Congress and debate on a bill. They could do research on a certain Congressman and find where they stand on that bill. It could be any bill past or present. I would give them access to the bill with notes and even let them use quotes from the document in their argument. At the end of the discussion we could take a vote. All done through Ning.
Another great site is Edmodo. This site is designated for educational use and again, teachers have control over who is in their group. An example of an activity I found on Edmodo has to do with Art History. As a History teacher, I could still use this lesson plan to help expand on a topic in History by delving into what was happening in art or music during that time. In this lesson the teacher has the students separate into groups and each group is assigned an artist. From there the group has to find three different artworks from their given artist and then would have to answer questions about the paintings. Then they would share their findings to the rest of the class outside of their group. It is a great example of how social sites can be used to create an opportunity for cooperative learning which is sometimes hard to accomplish on a regular basis in a History class. To me sites like Ning and Edmodo would present more opportunities for this sort of collaboration.
Can there be cooperative learning without using technology? Yes. Teachers have been using methods of cooperative learning all along. However, the benefit from being able to communicate with classmates in this format is not only social, but technical. Through my History class I can produce tech savvy kids with help from sites such as these. I can imagine the opportunities if schools would open the internet for students. Now as an educator and a parent, I am aware that students do not always do what they are supposed to. If you give them free reign on the internet without being aware of what they are doing, some will surely veer away from an assignment and get into something they are not suppose to be in. So until there is some sort of happy medium in what is prohibited, teachers must become the safe guard for their students on the internet. There should be consequences if a student does not follow a certain protocol set up by the teacher. As far as parent concerns, I believe the best way to help parents is to have an open line of communication. Let them know what the students are doing. Maybe even invite them to join a group so they can see what their child is learning in class. Create a learning community that gets the parents actively involved. This takes time and effort, and probably isn’t ideal for every teacher. As for me I want my students to know that the internet is not a toy, but a tool. A tool that can allow them be apart of the world.
Edmodo. Retrieved from http://www.edmodo.com/home.
Goff, J, Haas, J, Klopfer, E, & Osterweil, S. (2009).Using the technology today , in the classroom of today. Retrieved from http://education.mit.edu/papers/GamesSimsSocNets_EdArcade.pdf.
ning. Retrieved from http://www.ning.com.
Webopedia, Walled Garden, Retrieved from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/W/walled_garden.html.