While I am not a teacher, I have been working with educators in three school districts, the farthest is seventy five miles north and another thirty five miles to the east; a distance of 110 miles in between. Two of the three school districts have no limit on Internet access and one does. Why does this happen? Is this because of the different views of the administration? May be. But I believe that perhaps that there is a generation gap. This gap is creating a digital divide amongst the educators within our own county as some are strapped into the “walled garden”.
On the Internet, a walled garden refers to a browsing environment that controls the information and Web sites the user is able to access. This is a popular method used by ISPs in order to keep the user navigating only specific areas of the Web, whether for the purpose of shielding users from information — such as restricting children’s access to pornography — or directing users to paid content that the ISP supports. America Online is a good example of an ISP that places users in a walled garden.
Schools are increasingly using the walled garden approach in creating browsing environments in their networks. Students have access to only limited Web sites, and teachers need a password in order to leave the walled garden and browse the Internet in its entirety.
The term walled garden also commonly refers to the content that wireless devices such as mobile phones have access to if the content provided by the wireless carrier is limited.
The common goal of a walled garden is to protect the students from inappropriate content found on websites. The problem with this attitude is the firewalls put up to block content and websites is very general and widespread. Therefore, we can find that social networking websites are block from student and teacher use at school. If a student has accessing a social network before and after school to find help with homework, then why not incorporate that into classroom instruction. Creating social network websites specifically for a curriculum that allows students to share ideas and information will only improve their chances of succeeding in the classroom and outside of school.
On the other hand, student access in primary education for online collaboration tools is a big bag of mixed feelings for me. I feel that it is important, very important, to keep our younger students, grades K-3 for example, protected from wandering into websites that are inappropriate. Roblyer and Doering point out that the best way for schools to abide by, “The Children’s Internet Protection Act”, and of course the e-rate funding, is to keep filtering software in place like “Net Nanny”. What this and other type of filters do is limit access to sites based on keywords. This is the time when I have to think, until we can help our younger students learn how to search and navigate the Internet for primary and secondary sources of information it would be appropriate for a gated network. For one, the reading level of students may be hampered by the resources that would be too hard for them to read / understand. Another reason is that society as a whole does have predators out in the virtual world that want to get information from you, sell you something, and deceive you.
Would a walled garden preventive action restrict our younger children’s creativity? Again, I would have to point out that Local Area Network software programs should be used exactly for creativity. There is software that is available such as, “Inspiration and Kidspiration” that is designed especially for younger students. For research, elementary school libraries provide access to databases of information such as InfoTrac when needing to search for information.
Author Christian Dalsgaard believes that social networking should not be the main source of educational instruction but rather a supplement to other tools for enhancing instruction. In addition he notes that transparency in the communication between students, and student and instructor is vital to the potential of social networks in education. Our school districts use Edmodo as an integrated classroom collaboration tool. Edmodo provides a safe and easy way for your class to connect and collaborate, share content, and access homework, grades and school notices. The web site Edmodo is a way for students to collaborate with the teacher in a site that functions like Facebook but has the understanding implied by CIPA.
I feel that there are times when it is appropriate to maintain a walled garden. While many of the ideas for integrating technology into the K-12 classroom are excellent, protecting student privacy is necessary. There are always positive and negative aspects to any argument; however, when it comes to incorporating social networks in curriculums the positive out weight the negative as long as it is age appropriate. In addition, I also feel that there is a time when the walled garden should be broken and student achievement can move online as teacher preparation meets student learning interest and needs from upper elementary grades and on.
Dalsgaard, C. (2008). Social networking sites: Transparency in online education. Institute of Information and Media Studies, University of Aarhus, Helsingforsgade 14, 8200 Aarhus N, Denmark. Retrieved March 1, 2012, from http://eunis.dk/papers/p41.pdf
Roblyer, M. D., & Doering, A. H. (2010). Integrating educational technology into teaching (5th ed.). Boston: Pearson/Allyn and Bacon Publishers.
What is browser? – A Word Definition from the Webopedia Computer Dictionary. (n.d.). Webopedia: Online Computer Dictionary for Computer and Internet Terms and Definitions. Retrieved March 9, 2012, from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/B/browser.html
What is walled garden? – A Word Definition from the Webopedia Computer Dictionary. (n.d.). Webopedia: Online Computer Dictionary for Computer and Internet Terms and Definitions. Retrieved March 9, 2012, from http://www.webopedia.com/TERM/W/walled_garden.html