Friday, March 30, 2007

Worth the Risk

The recent assaults on Kathy Sierra only underscore the importance of teachers in promoting acceptable use of the internet and exposing the insidious nature of cyberbullying.
I have been teaching science for 20 years . Risk assessment and safety are topics discussed the first week of every school year.
Let me tell you, the science laboratory is a dangerous place and the potential for bodily injury or worse is present. Yet we allow, dare I say, encourage our students to participate in laboratory activities every year in our science curriculum. Why? Risk/Benefit assessment. The risk of having students participating in properly operated and maintained laboratory facility as part of a high school course of study is far outweighed by the benefits of inquiry that can only be attained by a hands-on lab experience.
Are there concerns? Yes, but students are instructed in proper procedures for safely conducting themselves in the lab and then monitored throughout the activity.
Have the safety issues changed over the past 20 years? Yes.
Do we close down high school lab facilities as new safety issues arise? No.
There is a deliberate and collaborative effort on the part of the science teaching community to develop and communicate new protocols to allow students to continue working safely in the lab.
For example, during the 1980's, concerns were raised about the risks of AIDS infection during the blood typing lab conducted in most high school biology courses. The protocol changed such that a school or volunteer nurse would conduct the bloodletting step in the procedure. Later, as the risk of hepatitis and other blood borne pathogens became more likely, the Florida legislature halted the use of any human tissue, including blood, in the secondary laboratory. Did this stop the activity? No. The intervening years saw the development of blood substitutes and synthetics so that today, students still conduct the lab procedure. Some might argue that something is lost in the student not determining their own blood type, but the lab skillset is still practice and assessed.
Now a new risk emerges, exposure of our students to cyberbullying.
I believe the call to act (Vickie Davis, Andy Carvin)in response to this issue of cyberbullying will prove more effective than the call to remain silent (Robert Scoble). As in the case of lab safety, together we can develop the protocols which establish the behaviors for our students to engage the internet safely.
As for being on the cutting edge, I will paraphrase a Boy Scout mantra. There is no safe way to swing an axe, but there is a safer way.

1 comment:

ATG said...

Great job reflecting on this problem. And kudos for going public about it. I wrote about the same thing not too long ago. Cheers.