Thinking about school computers

There’s no nice way to say this, so I will just come out and say it: it’s getting more difficult to deal with how students are using their computer time and our scant resources on non-school related sites. The internet use policy is clearly stated in the student handbook, and we supervise students as best as we can to make sure that they are not playing games or visiting inappropriate sites. Still, the proliferation of what is available online has blurred the division between where students should and shouldn’t be during school hours, on school computers.

Take for example, the student who is in the library during his study period and is checking out last night’s sports scores. There is no offense in getting onto the Boston Globe site and reading the story, but what about playing the two minute highlight clip? We have clear rules about earplugs, and we don’t allow audio to be played through the computer speakers, so is the highlight video without sound against our rules? How do I explain the difference to those around the first student who are watching videos of skateboarders or an episode of their favorite anime series? How about the student who gets a pass from his teacher every day for two weeks to use the computer to get pictures for a collage he is working on? When I confront him and ask why he is always on sneaker sites, should I believe him when he says his collage is about NIKEs?

It’s easy to spot and deal with the student who is playing solitaire (who then argues that it is a mathematical challenge based on probabilities) or the student engaged in a shooter game (who then argues that neurosurgeons use video games to hone their hand-eye coordination), but other online activities are challenging our notions of what should and shouldn’t be viewed using our school computers. One group of students that I have in mind, uses all of their computer time to read their favorite manga series which we can’t afford to purchase in print form. So technically, they are reading, even if the majority of the story is visual, and even though I don’t think the story is particularly interesting or valuable – I could say the same thing about many young adult titles and best selling novels. The fact is that graphic novels, anime and manga have all become staples in the literary lives of young people. Thus, when I see students reading their anime or manga online, I let them be.

What’s more difficult to determine, and dissuade, is students using the school computers for their personal social networking activities (facebook, myspace, instant messaging) and as online entertainment centers. Even when there were filters to block these sites, many students learned enough to be able to get around the filters. Now that the school has eased these restrictions, students have taken this as a sign that it is okay to spend whole periods at a time catching up with their virtual “friends”. No longer are chat rooms (which are not allowed) necessary for communicating in real time with others on the internet. Equally distressing is the number of students who spend their time watching online videos that are clearly not educational in nature and some that are definitely not suitable for school. Blocking YouTube is not the answer. There are too many other sites that now offer streaming entertainment videos and there are plenty of worthwhile clips that can only be found on YouTube.

The question going forward for all of us in education (students and teachers) is how do we deal with the ever expanding reach of technology? There are no easy answers, of course, but we should be conscientious of how we use our computer time and resources at school. Perhaps it is best to remember the words of our school mission which reads, “The Mission of Haverhill High School is to produce self-directed learners who read, write, and speak effectively in Standard English and who apply analytical and technological skills to interpret information and problem solve.” Using our technologies to achieve this goal, should be the first priority for everyone who logs on at HHS.

Thank you for stopping by and have a great Friday!

© 2008 henry toromoreno

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About htwilson

born in brooklyn, raised in queens, massachusetts, that's where I be.
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