Blocking social networks and banning cellphones in schools makes it difficult for teachers to do their jobs effectively in a digital world, a new report says.
"School policies around technology are very frustrating to me," an elementary school teacher from Atlantic Canada says in the report from the Media Awareness Network, a Canadian non-profit that promotes digital literacy.
"I think it's one of the biggest benefits of having the Internet in our classrooms or on our projectors, is being able to connect with others on in a real-time situation but, in fact, we can't use Skype."
Others complained of similar restrictions. A teacher in Atlantic Canada tried to get students to use Twitter to collaborate on solving math problems, but the school refused to unblock the site. Teachers in Ontario and Quebec complained they couldn't incorporate video into their lessons because the schools wouldn't allow access to YouTube.
"To me it would be so much easier if it were just unblocked and the board trusted teachers to show the kids how to actually use this material," said a high school teacher from Ontario. "Instead of blocking it, (we should be) finding a way to talk about it and then actually having an open discussion of what's right and wrong, what's appropriate and what's not."
When schools do use technology in the classroom, they focus too much on teaching kids how to use devices, which they already know.
Teachers said kids know how to Google, but they can't distinguish good information from the fake stuff. They can use Facebook, but they don't know how to protect their personal information. They can watch YouTube, but they don't use it to learn new things.
An elementary school teacher from the North said his Grade 5 students working on a project about sasquatches included a picture of what they said was a sasquatch penis bone. They'd found it on a bogus website.
"They know more about say, the nuts and bolts of getting someplace," the teacher said, noting he was surprised his "A-level students" were so easily fooled. "They're clueless about how to use it and especially how to use it safely and appropriately. They can find sasquatch penis bones all over the place."
Meanwhile, teachers from schools that let them integrate technology into the class on their own terms reported successful outcomes.
One teacher used the Webkinz site to teach students about the importance of not giving out personal information online and having a good password. Another had students create blogs about various topics to teach them about producing high quality material for an audience. A teacher in Quebec used texting and instant messaging to teach kids about cyberbullying and online etiquette.
Sometimes students find themselves faced with the dark side of the Internet, but instructors use these instances as "teachable moments," explained one teacher who accidentally landed on a site with pro-Nazi content in the classroom.
The negative message was buried under flowery writing, he said, and it wasn't immediately clear to the kids. So he used the opportunity to teach them about the complexities of propaganda.
"That was a way for them to see, for them to get interested in the idea that somebody was actually preaching hatred and it didn't even feel like it."