Control in the classroom or "Zip it" at Speakers Corner

I’ve so far worked in a couple of schools to introduce podcasting. The teachers see the value, even if we are still learning the best ways to integrate with the wider work in the school. Some are hugely enthusiastic. The pupils mostly find it fun, some find it compelling.

But we always have to deal with the battle between control and freedom of expression which characterises school life. Which is why I was pleased to read Howard Rheingold on the DIY Media Blog. In his post he states the benefits very simply:

By showing students how to use Web-based tools and channels to inform publics, advocate positions, contest claims, and organize action around issues that they truly care about, participatory media education can draw them into positive early experiences with citizenship that could influence their civic behavior throughout their lives.

That is exactly what the students at Kings Norton Boys School in Birmingham are starting to do with their podcast the Podminions. The channel not only provides them with a patform to find a voice (or a collection of voices), the microphone is giving them a power boost – encouraging them to get out there and ask questions – query the world and then interpret it for an audience.

At Reaside School in Frankley the pupils combine podcasting with drama – developing self confidence and narrative skills. At the same time they shared their own view of the world – whether it was fear expressed in The Beast or affection in Wendy Scattergood.

Edit: and if you just want to listen to their in song it’s here:

So why tell you all of this?

Well our biggest barrier appeared to be that big beast – fear. Schools in Britain have high levels of control on internet access. It makes our job hard. At one school the students had to find a way to cheat their own system to allow them to podcast. At the other we ignored the school IT system and established a separate site.

Limits on internet access are put there to protect students, both from online predators and from wasting their own time. I also believe it serves to protect teachers and education authorities. After all billions of positive online experiences get washed away by the pressure of parental anxiety fueled by the rare, rare time when things go wrong. That fear stifles any realistic attempt to teach young people to assess risk by exposing them to the same.

This is exactly the same problem that Howard has identified – to him it is expressed by the moral panic which revolves around sites such as mySpace.

Lets get rid of restriction and replace it with education. Over bearing control of internet access in schools is symptomatic of a mind set which is comfortable with coercion and fears freedom. It certainly is not how most teachers start out thinking.

To my mind it is the same as preventing a child from wandering into the the grown up section of the library lest they read – well something with grown up content. Or worse taking them on a trip to Speakers Corner and telling them to “zip it”.

 

2 comments

  1. David Brake says:

    Well I can agree overbearing filters are bad and a lot of them are. Certainly one that keeps you from podcasting is pretty daft. But there is a lot of stuff out there that parents wouldn’t want kids to see on school time and if teachers aren’t to spend their time policing access themselves they have to rely on something. Can’t you find a way to reconfigure the filters?

  2. David Brake says:

    Well I can agree overbearing filters are bad and a lot of them are. Certainly one that keeps you from podcasting is pretty daft. But there is a lot of stuff out there that parents wouldn’t want kids to see on school time and if teachers aren’t to spend their time policing access themselves they have to rely on something. Can’t you find a way to reconfigure the filters?

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