A walled garden or not?

There is an understanding amongst most teachers and parents that by opening up student web sites to be accessed by all, that we are putting them at risk of being noticed by certain members of society that we would not want to associate with. In this instance we are referring to displaying images or movies of a student on a web site with their name or some identifiable information, we are allowing them to be identified and then approached by ‘internet pedophiles’.

I agree wholeheartedly that child safety should always come first, we don’t want to put any child at risk of being a victim of any inappropriate behaviour – but are our fears justified? What are we basing our fear on? Are we overreacting? Do we need to shut the gate and control access to the sharing of student learning?

I have started to look more closely at this issue simply because I believe that opening up student learning to a global audience has the potential to engage and motivate the learner to a higher level. In a scenario, a student has openly posted a new podcast on their ePortfolio, this is then made available for the global internet audience to view and comment upon. The student receives comments from all over the world, and in different languages and even video responses. This leads on to more sharing and even collaborative projects with other learners across the globe…

This already happens of course to a certain extent, one just needs to look at You Tube to see how sharing movies is done so effectively. Also many portfolio solutions allow for public and private views of artifacts. There will always be some information that is not for public viewing. But should all shared learning be anonymous or hidden behind passwords?

So are our fears justified? What does the research and data tell us? To begin with I have been reading numerous recent studies, reports and surveys on Internet safety. These have been accessed at Just The Facts About Online Youth Victimization Researchers Present the Facts and Debunk Myths. The information is very interesting and highlights the potential and real dangers of Internet use but also many misconceptions. What does this mean for the security of the students’ portfolios?

So my two key questions are really:

  1. Will opening up student ePortfolios to a global audience increase the chances of inappropriate contact?
  2. Will opening up student ePortfolios to a global audience lead to improved student learning?

I will add further posts as I finish reading all reports!

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