It’s perhaps telling that the two most commented-on posts on my weblog since we launched Elgg.net in November 2004 are one on MySpace proxies (sites that allow them to use MySpace on their school networks even when it’s been banned), and one about Facebook penetration. The comments in both cases are all from students complaining that those sites are banned on their school networks.
What I find interesting is that these students are going out and doing research with Google, and probably with other tools, in order to get around their problem. There’s no issue with their research skills, and they certainly know how to use the technology – they’re leaving messages to each other with their email addresses, asking each other to share viable proxies when they find them.
My mother is a K-12 teacher here in California. When her students have finished their classwork, they apparently all stick up their hands and ask if they can Moodle – not because they particularly want to look at their class information, but because Moodle allows them to message each other.
Part of me wonders if this is a particularly suburban American thing – children here are basically trapped in their houses until they learn to drive at age 16, and have to take what forms of interaction they can. It may also be a cultural thing to do with the style of teaching: my suspicion is that classrooms here are more regimented than they are across the Atlantic, and that perceived discipline sometimes crosses the line into imposed subservience. But at the same time, it may be universal, and this kind of communication may be providing something for the kids that normal teaching methods can’t reach. There is, after all, a lot to learn from social interaction.
From the teacher’s point of view, they can try and block as many sites as they want, but their students will always find a way through it. There’s always some kind of hole they can exploit; better, as with all types of discipline and walks of life, to build a cooperative community rather than ban things outright.
I’m leaving the comments on those posts up.