pay heed by most uncool
Children in my class cannot use YouTube at school, but as soon as they leave at the end of the day, they will.
Since the exponential growth of the online video giant I have never once used a video directly from YouTube in my classroom. It is exempt from my teaching routine. On reflection I find this fairly incredible.
In England each local authority can choose which sites are open to use in the classroom. YouTube is blocked by many due to inappropriate content, which includes the comments accompanying the footage. However I have never been shown, read or offered an explanation by my local authority about their reasoning.
At the end of school children will go home and use the website, open to the inappropriate content we block in school. Not only is YouTube exempt from my teaching, I am exempt from helping children better understand, process and find value amidst a mass of video content. I am exempt from demonstrating and educating the children in my class to appreciate the power of such an information source. Apparently that is a good thing.
In my opinion it comes down to some hard decisions. The longer, more protracted path of educating young primary school children in dealing with open content on the web (including YouTube) is too hard a path for some to consider. The easy route is to block it. And that is what has happened.
It is hard to fully appreciate the effect this will have on years and years of children not being given guidance about open content, from the very people who are best placed to provide it.
I consider YouTube an unprecedented source of information in the form of videos. Does the blocking of access to this information infringe on our rights? According to Kimberley Curtis,
Article 19(2) of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights holds that freedom of expression includes the right to information. Specifically, it states that
Everyone shall have the right to freedom of expression; this right shall include freedom to seek, receive and impart information and ideas of all kinds, regardless of frontiers, either orally, in writing or in print, in the form of art, or through any other media of his choice.
It goes on to admit that governments can place certain restrictions on these rights, but only if necessary. This has long been understood to cover access to government information, such as rights covered by the Freedom of Information Act in the US. But increasingly some are starting to include access to knowledge, particularly in regards to the internet, in this rubric as well.
No hands ma! by OLD! (NEW! http://flickr.com/codooautin)
I take it then that governments have given school’s local authorities the freedom to choose what to block “if necessary” and YouTube falls into this category and the easy short-term decision is easy. So what would I want to see? What would I do with an unblocked, unfiltered web? I would invest the money from filtering in high quality guidance, training and materials to provide teachers the ability to properly guide young learners in the web they use at home anyway. Bringing some parts of our teaching force up to speed with the internet their students are using, and equip them with the basic principles for teaching and using an open web.
Having complete access to knowledge will after all benefit an economy in the long run, right? The Every Child Matters aims and objectives state that whatever their background or their circumstances, every child should have the support they need to:
- be healthy
- stay safe
- enjoy and achieve
- make a positive contribution
- achieve economic well-being.
With a filtered version of the internet are we providing children the best possible chances to feel they can make a positive contribution to society? Is their protracted exclusion from a growing information source such as YouTube actually detrimental to their chances of achieving economic well-being? Would an unfiltered web make children more or less safe?
Access to knowledge means that the right policies for information and knowledge production can increase both the total production of information and knowledge goods, and can distribute them in a more equitable fashion. The goal is first, promoting economic efficiency and development, and second, widespread distribution of those knowledge and informational goods necessary to human flourishing in our particular historical moment– the global networked information economy.
I repeat: It’s not just a trade off between equity and efficiency. We are not simply fighting about how to divide up a pie. Access to knowledge is about making a larger pie and distributing it more fairly. Or, at the risk of extending this pie metaphor well beyond its appropriate scope, access to knowledge means giving everyone the skills to make their own pies and share them widely with others.
(“How to make a pie” returned 23,500 results on YouTube.)
Beyond the filtering of YouTube there is massive inconsistency across UK schools about which sites are blocked and which are open. I work in Nottinghamshire, for some reason many of the sites that I use for educational purposes are open to me in school. For many of my colleagues across the UK it is different. Would my development of learning technology use have been completely different if I was 30 miles further North, South, East or West? Of course it would.
Similarly children in one school will be able to use different learning tools in the classroom than another. As someone said to me recently this is a sort of “learning technology postcode lottery.” Inevitably those teachers that consider certain web based tools crucial to their teaching will think twice about a post in those local authorities most effected.
I want to hold a lens up to the inconsistency between local authorities in England. I have started a Google Spreadsheet with a list of 80+ web based tools used in the classroom and the opportunity to state OPEN or BLOCKED for your local authority.
Ollie Bray has been working on something similar for Scottish authorities – perhaps when both documents have reached a critical mass they could be amalgamated to create a full picture of web filtering in schools in the UK.
I would be grateful if you would complete the spreadsheet for your own location (unless Google Docs is blocked of course!) and help encourage others to do the same, this way we will build up a complete picture.
Five things I am hopeful for:
- This will continue to keep the issue of open web access on educator’s agenda.
- Local authorities will look at the list and question their own decisions. “Why has Nottinghamshire left Wordle open and we have not?”
- I would like to see teachers who are using these tools become part of the process of deciding upon filtering.
- Explanations why sites are blocked are provided to teachers and not some random category. We have reasons we want to use them in a positive way, LAs ostensibly have reasons why they are blocking them – that debate needs to be had.
- More consistency for what the web looks like for teachers and for students.