We seem to be at a critical juncture in the struggle against overzealous filtering in schools. Many administrators indicate that they are ready to unblock social media sites, but claim that network administrators and lawyers caution them against it. There is a lot of misinformation about federal regulation in this realm. To demystify the issue of e-rate funding and CIPA (Children’s Internet Protection Act) compliance, Tina Barseghian, of MindShift at KQED in San Francisco posted an interview with Karen Cator, U.S. Department of Education’s Director of Education Technology on April 26, 2011. A few weeks earlier, Lisa Nielsen (The Innovative Educator) and Tom Whitby (My Island View) address some of these issues in their co-authored blog post, The World's Simplest Online Safety Policy (April 3, 2011). In February, COSN (Consortium for School Networking) outlined recommended guidelines for Acceptable Use Policies in Web 2.0 and Mobile Era (February 18, 2011).
Students today lead dual lives – their interactive social life and their “receptive” academic life. At the end of the school day, young people log on and engage online with peers. They share resources, express themselves, opine on their friends' content and activities and the world at large. They are contributors in their social world. But in school, collaboration often begins and ends with “group projects” – which, in many cases, feel contrived in contrast to the organic participatory culture students experience outside of school. In order to inculcate that same participatory culture into students’ academic life, and channel it toward productivity, it is important to provide them with a wide range of online edu-social experiences. Unfortunately, portals for online social interaction are often blocked in schools. We are thus denying students critical learning opportunities about digital citizenship, collaboration and communication. If we are not teaching these skills in a relevant, real-world context, we are failing to teach them how to apply our lessons to their “other life.”
To highlight the importance of the First Amendment, the American Library Association (ALA) has a longstanding tradition of celebrating the freedom to read -Banned Books Week (BBW) – during the last week in September. Librarians are enlisted to feature frequently challenged books. This is a most worthy cause as it celebrates our freedom to access information and exposes censorship. At New Canaan High School, which is a free-range media/BYOD, public high school in Connecticut, we will extend censorship awareness week into a two week intellectual freedom celebration, prefacing Banned Books Week with Banned Sites Week from September 17-24, 2011, and feature sites that are commonly banned in schools – Facebook, Twitter, YouTube, Skype, Blogger, etc. We hope that other districts will join in this initiative. Got questions about CIPA compliance? Answers here. And for more information about using social media for instruction, please visit my blog at Bibliotech.me.
Michelle Luhtala is the Department Chair of New Canaan High School Library, which won several 2010 awards including the National School Library Program of the Year Award. She also facilitate a 2,000+ member online professional learning community for school librarians called Using Emerging Technology to Improve Your Library Program at edWeb.net/emergingtech, where she presents monthly webinars (they are all archived online). Michelle is a regular conference presenter. She is co-authoring a forthcoming book, Relevant Librarian: a 21st Century Guide to the Responsive Library, and contributing a chapter to a forthcoming book called School Librarians as Leaders in Professional Development. She blogs at Bibliotech.me.