Moral Fear vs. Digital Faith


I’ve just spent the past few days in Melbourne, working with the Department of Education and groups from schools who are doing some exciting stuff in the area of integrating ICT into learning and teaching.

A hot topic in part of our discussion was internet safety – spurred in part by the concerns around the development of The Ultranet – described as “an intuitive student-centred electronic learning environment that supports high quality learning and teaching, connects students, teachers and parents and enables efficient knowledge transfer.???” The vision for this environment is that it will include various Web2.0 technologies, such as blogs, wikis and podcasting technologies – all within a ‘protected’ environment (ie closed off from the open internet).

This led to discussions around the potential dangers of social software environments – and the announcement while I’ve been here by Prime Minister John Howard has of a $189 million program to improve internet safety. The money will be spent on filtering and blocking solutions to “protect” innocent children and families from the nasties of the web.

In another press release I’ve read since being here is an announcement:YouTube banned in Australian Schools. Such responses to the very real dangers of the internet are based on what some refer to as “moral fear” – by which they justify the banning and blocking of access in the name of safety and protectionism.

But is this really the answer? In a strangely paradoxical situation, in the same paper that I read about the banning of YouTube, I read about the Australian PMannouncing a gap-year Army program on YouTube (watch it here) So where does the PM expect his intended audience (senior secondary students) to view the clip from since they’re banned from doing so at school?

Meanwhile, in the USA I read of a Senate bill to promote web safety which will require the FTC to carry out a nationwide public-awareness campaign on internet safety for children. The response to this bill appears to have the support of those promoting the “digital faith” approach, with US ed-tech advocates agreeing the current legislation seems to make more sense and marks a more level-headed approach to internet safety.

“We now see a bill that asks schools to take their proper role in teaching safe and responsible use of the internet, rather than trying to block emerging communication and social-networking systems with great potential for positively engaging students and improving learning,” said Don Knezek, CEO of the International Society for Technology in Education.

“One of a school’s primary functions is to ensure safety and build responsible citizens, and trying to block every threatening activity that goes on in society is not a formula for effective education.”

Knezek applauded the bill’s efforts to increase web-safety education and cited New Jersey Gov. Jon Corzine’s recent request that teachers begin internet-safety training.

“That’s exactly the kind of approach we hope to see happen, rather than prohibiting modern communication structures and tools,” he said.

I came across some material on YouTube that supports this educative approach that I used in my presentation in Australia – including the one below titled “Cyber-bullying – Talent Show:


It’ll be interesting to see how these two perspectives on how we deal with issues of internet safety and cyber-bullying in the future play out. Certainly we can find politicians, policy developers, parents and teachers on both sides of the debate – and in the middle are our students, who, even if they find this access blocked in schools, will face the decision of what to view and how to respond etc. when they access the web from home. So – even if blocking and filtering software is being contemplated, we owe it to our students to also address the issue of personal responsibility around their use of the internet.

2 thoughts on “Moral Fear vs. Digital Faith

  1. Interesting article Derek, we are grappling with this issue at present. I have unblocked youtube to allow our senior children responsible access. The children have been using it responsibly in their blogs- for example our principal recently covered Neil Young’s “Ohio” as part of a unit on Vietnam and one of the children posted a video of him performing the song live, an example of an authentic purpose.

    (Please excuse the overuse of pets on the blog!!)
    I think there is a place for it, but we have to be seen to be “covering our backs” and we have an internet policy and agreement that covers responsible use as well.

  2. I am bringing my first proposal for on-line teaching in to my school and expect to plunge into the middle of this debate. I hope I can consult with you as our drama gets underway in Philadelphia, USA?

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