Attempting to use online social-networking tools, read blogs, or see multimedia presentations on a classroom computer can generate a message that’s become all too familiar in many American schools: Access Denied.
So what teachers and students in Trussville, Ala., are doing on the Internet might be considered illicit activity in other districts across the country. Lessons in the 4,100-student district near Birmingham include YouTube videos and film trailers, Internet chats with peers in Nigeria or award-winning children’s authors, even blogging sessions and Web research on open search engines such as Google.
Faced with concerns about Internet predators, cyberbullying, students’ sharing of inappropriate content on social networks, and the abundance of sexually explicit or violent content online, many school leaders and technology directors are placing tighter restrictions on Web access to shield students from potential harm.
Yet in Trussville and other like-minded school systems, educators and school boards are instead expanding access to online resources, including social-networking sites, for students and teachers. Instead of blocking the many exit ramps and side routes on the information superhighway, they have decided that educating students and teachers on how to navigate the Internet’s vast resources responsibly, safely, and productively—and setting clear rules and expectations for doing so—is the best way to head off online collisions.
“We are known in our district for technology, so I don’t see how you can teach kids 21st-century values if you’re not teaching them digital citizenship and appropriate ways of sharing and using everything that’s available on the Web,” says Shawn Nutting, the technology director for the Trussville district. “How can you, in 2009, not use the Internet for everything?”
A version of this article appeared in the October 21, 2009 edition of Digital Directions as A Wider View