The Law (And Education) Can’t Keep Up With Technology

At the Web2Showcase the other week, Mike Seyfang wanted to show an online clip from our national broadcaster but the permissions clearance didn't come through in time for his part of the presentation. That led to a short discussion about the fact that the law cannot keep up with technology any more - the remix culture is constantly breeching the old protocols of Intellectual Property and the media habits of students today constantly break the preconceptions of how we access, consume and manipulate digital media. P2P networks, Creative Commons licensing, social networking are all big threats to the current laws of who owns what. The music companies are certainly having to rethink the way their product is distributed - witness iTunes cards being sold in service stations and disgruntled artists offering their music for free. This hasn't happened overnight as veteran US rap group Public Enemy flagged back in 1999. Their front man, Chuck D also recently weighed into the DRM debate - I suppose it is no surprise that a master of re-mix would have something to say! (Incidentally, Public Enemy's Fear Of A Black Planet is one of my all time favourite albums...)

So, it is also no surprise that education is also struggling to keep pace with the changes. Rachel @ Bard Wired expresses her frustrations in a recent post that is typical of keen Web 2.0 advocates in schools today:

It's a real tricky question - emerging technologies (such as the many that are now blocked) have huge potential to extend and amplify learning opportunities for our kids (& teachers) yet how do we balance this with providing a safe learning environment (filtered school networks)??
Schools do have the ability to unblock sites but who decides in a school and how do they decide without resorting to the knee-jerk reactions to block (or allow) without fully understanding the benefits & issues around Web 2.0 in the classroom.

As usual, in the comments section, Artichoke is right on the money:

...- the stuff we valorise ICTs for at conferences - the interconnectivity for knowledge building - is just the stuff we do not let happen in schools - ...

The two lagging worlds of education and law collide in the classroom far too often. As an example, I want my kids to observe IP protocol by using only public domain and CC images in their presentations and workforms but the best resource for these images is in Flickr, locked away and made inaccessible by the default filtering system. Fair use isn't enough when students need the option to publish their learning to the widest possible audience. I don't know what the solution is. As a teacher of young students, I still think that some form of filtering is useful but surely in this age of amazing digital technology, an intelligent filtering system that builds up and allows educationally valid requests should be possible. Throwing all of Web 2.0 into the category of Hosted Web Pages and using a universal block on that category is just putting everything into the "too hard" basket. The reality is that everytime a wall is put up, our smart tech savvy students will find a way around, under or through the block. Finding the chinks in the armour or the loopholes in the legislation is something that is part of the human experience - even young primary kids know that if they want to download games and movies at school, stowing it away in a subfolder on the network and labelling it Novel Report is enough to fool most of the adults in charge of their education!

So, both the legislators and educators of Australia need to get their virtual rollerblades on because technology tools are not likely to slow down anytime soon and wait for either party to catch up. We must engage now and make informed decisions about how to manage technology for the benefit of learners and be wary of being sold lockdown solutions that make schools irrelevant to the networked world our students are part of today.

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5 thoughts on “The Law (And Education) Can’t Keep Up With Technology

  1. greg carroll

    Hi Graham
    There are many schools using Web2.0 tools as integral parts of their classroom programmes – blogs, wikis and podcasting in particular.
    The interesting thing about filtering is the almost default way you can get around it. I have seen instances of the image search in Google being blocked yet a simple word search with images in the search terms is allowed.
    While I absolutely agree that we need to both keep children ‘safe’ inside our schools and teach them the ways of being safe in the wider environment, lets hope the knee-jerk DOPA type reaction never takes off here!
    Isn’t it David Warlick who recently described ICT’s as the ‘pen and paper of our times’? Access to the ‘net is a part of this I would argue… The issue is how we manage these things in our increasingly letigious and protective society.
    Please lets keep the focus on the incredibly positive difference these tools can make for kids …. and not on wrapping them in cotton-wool, just in case …

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  3. Graham

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    Greg, I couldn’t agree more BUT our teaching force has to get up to speed quickly. A filter system also has the unforunate side effect of giving teachers a safety net impression – “I don’t have to worry because the filter will keep the nasty content away.” – and consequently, their own skills in dealing with the internet atrophy. If they are active users of the internet (as we know that a large majority of our students are) then they will want to use these tools for learning and call for the Filter Iron Curtain to be lifted or modified. The cries of protest are still too few and scattered across the education sector – hopefully we will be reaching a “tipping point” soon where teachers will be forced to engage with read/write technology to be relevant to today’s learners. But while the filters are still in place, maybe ignorance is still bliss to the average classrom teacher. Students know that filters are hackable, work around-able but I think that too many teachers still think (hope!) that the protective system is infallible. I worry also that programs like NetAlert, as good intentioned as they may be, still sell a story of the internet as a place to be feared, instead of the greatest learning innovation and opportuniy of our time.

  4. greg carroll

    So we agree … where’s the fun in that 🙂
    I do have an issue with teachers relying too much on filtering though …. do an image search on ‘bikes’ for the 8year olds who need a photo for their poster, or better still ‘jugs’ for the Y5/6 girls looking for a picture to go with their work on making ginger beer.
    Or then today the conversation I was having with a principal who is increasingly frustrated with the default filtering on his ISP stopping many of the things he is wanting to do – like tag to!
    We need to find a happy medium somewhere don’t we…
    My concern would be that we err on the side of ‘safety’ and the most conservative and cut out most of the things that the creative teachers are wanting to do.

  5. Rachel

    Hi Graham – long time no talk – I have had my head down for quite some time lately but just coming up for air now – its our holidays over here 🙂
    We need to get together on this one because i believe we all use the same SINA filtering system and we do have control over it – i think???
    Here many of our schools are SchoolZone schools that use the SINA internet management tools filtered through Schools can individually unblock sites or categories of sites and we can also ask the SchoolZone governance group (VEN) to unblock sites nationally on the whole SZ network.
    How do you have control over the filtering in your schools?
    I believe their needs to be some internet management system in place in schools to protect our kids from the nasty stuff but this has to be balanced against allowing freedom of access to all the cool stuff and teaching our students how to walk confidently, critically & safely in our digital world.

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