Opening or Closing of the Walled Gardens: The Ultimate Web 2.0 Debate

Educators integrating web-based tools in the elementary classroom have all seen that same warning: site blocked. It may be inappropriate content, social media, or even online banking. There are several steps school districts take to protect students. The question is, how much protection is necessary? When does the protection of our students hinder learning? I feel that protection is necessary; until worthwhile learning experiences become inaccessible.

The term used in this debate is “walled garden“. The analogy is that students view only filtered and approved media content. I strongly believe that there needs to be some filtering of content in the elementary school setting. We protect our children every day from inappropriate books and magazines. Why would I not do the same for internet resources? The National Center for Missing and Exploited Children found some interesting results in a recent study.

•    One in four regular Internet users younger than 17 was exposed to unwanted sexually oriented pictures online during the past year.
•    One in five youths received an online sexual solicitation or approach during the past year.
•    One in 17 was threatened or harassed online during the past year.
•    One in 33 received an aggressive sexual solicitation online involving offline contact or a request for offline contact during the past year.

Knowing that many children have been exposed to information that is above their maturity level, I feel that filtering of some content is necessary. The main area of concern for me would be pictures and video from unmonitored sites.  I consider myself an expert in early childhood education, having been a kindergarten teacher for eleven years and earning two Masters degrees. Thus, I should note that I am not speaking for the junior and senior high setting. I have read research on both sides of the walled garden in this setting, and honestly, I can see pros and cons to either side of the debate. With that in mind, I cannot imagine subjecting my kindergarten students to an open internet search. We have all seen what pops up from seemingly harmless search terms.

However, I do not find it necessary to block social media in the classroom setting. There are tools out there that can be very useful, even in the elementary setting. The good news is, there are often child-approved, social media tools that are quite child-friendly. Students in my setting are not old enough for a Facebook account. However, setting up a blog for them to utilize or an account in Edmodo is very safe. I feel that monitored and assisted use of web-based tools in the classroom is worthwhile. Education World recently interviewed a classroom utilizing blogging as a classroom tool. They found that student engagement and motivation increased dramatically. Students are also able to relate tasks to the real-world: “The fifth-graders are seeing the power of writing as it is displayed on a blog” (Education World 2010).

I find this level of motivation in my own classroom of five and six-year olds. When we are filming a Podcast or creating a blog post, all students are enthusiastic and ready to help. There is not a single child who sees the social media aspect of learning as a bothersome task. I can easily turn a learning objective into a socially relevant experience that creates an excited group of kindergarteners. I do not see the point to blocking this experience from my children. Rather, I will monitor content, block inappropriate media, and allow the worthwhile tools to meet the needs of my students.

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2 responses to “Opening or Closing of the Walled Gardens: The Ultimate Web 2.0 Debate

  1. Randi, you are really to be commended for integrating technology in such brilliant ways, especially for young learners. My own son is in Kindergarten and is nowhere near as engaged in the classroom as what you describe here. I completely agree with you that elementary schools face different issues than middle and high schools. Filtering and protection is extremely important. However, a blanket ban of social media is wrong and limits both teachers and students. Teachers should be allowed to expose their students to such tools you have described here that offer authentic and protected opportunities. This type of integration should be embraced rather than feared. I truly wish there were more teachers of young students like you. Well done!

  2. Good for you, Randi for (1) presenting both sides of this debate, (2) discussing the importance of social media in this day and age, and (3) presenting a perspective from a Kindergarten teacher’s perspective! You had a lot of great resources.

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