Sunday, February 21, 2010

George Orwell, Big Brother & Digital Cameras

Some schools have disabled student laptop cameras in the interest of security and safety. While I understand some of the fears, I think that it is unfortunate.

I worry much more about government and corporate surveillance and the manipulation of citizens through propaganda and advertising. While I'm not blind to the needs for privacy and safety, removing a tool that uses an increasingly dominant mode of communication does not help, in the long run, to educate our children in the appropriate and ethical use of that medium.

Any tool can be used for good or evil. While we spend an inordinate amount of time focusing on text, much of the communication sent our way now is multimedia. It is our responsibility to help kids learn to discern the messages that they are consuming, and to do that, they need to create and think critically about these forms.

Cameras are everywhere now. Places such as YouTube are thriving. Don't schools have an obligation to help model effective and critical uses of video? I fail to see how denying access to cameras in schools will help to create better citizens in the 21st Century.

When I taught 5th grade, if I found that one of my students was using a pencil in an unsafe manner, I might have temporarily taken it away from the student, but it would have seemed absurd for me to have outlawed all pencils in my classroom or school as well. Rather than forbidding them in the educational process, there were consequences for not following the rules. In other words, individual responsibility.

How are student cameras different in that regard? Now granted, digital technology is faster and more powerful and complex, but doesn't that make it even more important that we model appropriate use in and outside the classroom? How can that be done without the tool?

Instead of forbidding them, let's . . .

1. Make movies
2. Learn visual grammar
3. Think critically about movies
4. Investigate privacy issues
5. Learn about propaganda and advertising
6. Become Media Literate
7. Discuss ethics and decorum and responsibility and trust and etiquette in the context of our work.
8. Learn constructive ways of using Photo Booth

George Orwell, Big Brother Is Watching Your House


Cheryl Oakes said...

Jim, Great post. Our 7th and 8th graders have initially had the cameras turned off, as the teachers had not found a way to embed their use into the curriculum. The cameras were turned on recently for a project and success!
I believe when teachers are supported with new technology and shown ways to embed the technology to make the curriculum more engaging that our students will benefit.
Baby steps forward are sometimes more beneficial than a few steps ahead and many steps back.
I also believe that the State of Maine MLTI project and our school have a responsibility to inform our teachers, parents and our community about the positive power our new macbooks have. By next year this conversation will be one more accepted feature. Right now, for many, it is an unknown.
Thanks for starting and continuing this conversation. Maybe some 7th and 8th grade teachers and students will share their projects with us.

Cheryl Oakes, Collaborative Content Coach for Technology, Wells Ogunquit CSD

Tami Brass said...

When my school first started using laptops w/webcams, I was a little nervous. I knew there was a possibility of misuse, and I have to admit that that possibility overshadowed the likelihood that kids would find really cool uses for them. Two years later, I educate kids to be careful users of the cameras and help them be aware of potential risks while using them.

I guess I just needed to rely on my faith in the kids a bit more. Would have saved me a ton of unnecessary anxiety.

Jim Burke said...

Cheryl and Tami . . . thank you for your stories. I understand completely your initial anxieties . . . and applaud you for following your own paths to utilization. :)