Next week, the CEGSA AGM will have the pleasure of a presentation from Mike Seyfang (aka the Fang) which will hopefully provoke the assembled masses into some sort of reaction, be it excitement or fear (or maybe a heady mix of both). Mike is an independent consultant specialising in mashing Web2 technologies and because he doesn't come from a classroom background and doesn't fear sacred cows from that environment, is the ideal person to shake and challenge some conceptions and perceptions about the state of technology in education today. In collaborative fashion via his blog, his newly formed twitter account and the Net2Blazers email listserv, he's circulating his embryonic idea for his little presentation and wants any input, regardless of whether you are a CEGSA member, or in this case a TGZ reader.
His idea? The virtual web excursion. Really, read his post to get the starting ideas, but to me, it's take the filters totally off for the period required for a specific project or task so that access to any required tool is not an issue. Back it up with consent forms and clear outlines as to what will be occurring, treating it like taking the class to the zoo on public transport. It could be the class is building a wiki with another class overseas and need a synchronous hookup using IM, skype, etc to communicate as they build, access to building areas like pbwiki or wikispaces (currently blocked) and building materials (hosted web sites, flickr CC pics, YouTube vids or podsafe tracks. The hassles required to have each item unblocked via the administrator is significant, so supervised access minus filters would allow the project to be completed in good time, without delays caused by access restrictions. The concept is definitely designed to make you think because there are many issues at play here, ranging from teacher web competencies and savviness to student/teacher rapport to unbroken precedental ground.
What's going to stop this being a good idea? I'll deal with the negatives first because such a proactive idea deserves to end on the positive.
Firstly, the teacher.
Some teachers are glad that there is a filter there. It means that their responsibility for actively teaching and guiding kids through the internet is diminished - they can't get into too much trouble, if they try to go on a dodgy website, the filter'll bounce 'em - so they are going to run away from this idea as fast as possible. The excursion analogy is an interesting one because even on an excursion, there are places you would never take a class of kids - the red light district, death row, town rubbish tip etc. - but on the web, it's all there when the filters go down and only the confident teacher who has the communication skills, expert monitoring of where a class group is at any one time in cyberspace and clearly defined goals and criteria of the virtual excursion is going to attempt this feat. So, the big danger is that no matter how big the potential for this idea, no matter the worth of the suggested information literacy activities, most teachers are going to be so uneasy and unfamiliar with where students might head on an OPEN internet connection, they will see the risks to outweigh the benefits. So, instead of widening the potential pool of educators wanting to engage with this idea, once again it will be the boundary pushers, the web-savvy teachers, the pure constructivists who will be the only ones taking advantage of this opportunity. These are the educators who already work out ways to get access to as many default filtered tools as possible by befriending their local network administrator, or discovering workarounds (i.e. Flickr is blocked here in SA schools, but one can access the Creative Commons content from Flickr by using an unblocked tool like flickrcc) to enable the collaborative online projects for their students.
Next, the students.
Again, unless the students have had the benefit of a teacher who values web based literacies and is aware of the potential pitfalls that the OPEN web presents, they may well be as fearful as the non-confident teacher. If they are not good managers of time, they may well be distracted by the EVERYTHING that is available for the allotted time and come up empty on the actual task assigned for the online excursion time.
But there are some positives behind Mike's challenging suggestion. I personally would utilise his suggestion, but the idea shouldn't just be confined to a handful of Web 2 enthusiasts who also happen to be teachers. I think that just like my post from the other night talking about what the technology can do, the online virtual excursion needs to identify the benefits that can be achieved sans filter so that the naysayers (myself included) don't poison the water. I need to expand on how this idea can work and work well but as this post has stretched over three evenings I'll stop here, post and trackback to Mike so he has a little bit of input to work with.DSCF4465 by mobology