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Is the intenet doing more harm than good?


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#1 Matt Davies

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Posted 11 May 2004 - 09:56 AM

One of my student posed me this question today and I was wondering what all you out there thought?

#2 John Simkin

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 12:29 PM

This is a very interesting question. If I take it at a personal question I would say for me it has done more good than harm. For example, I have been able to create my own website where I can supply free educational materials. I get an average six million page impressions a month so I suspect others think I am doing good as well. The internet has enabled me to communicate with people all over the world. I have in fact created a large number of friends via the web. As with this forum, the web is very good at putting people together with similar interests.

However, the fact that I and others produce free educational materials is not good news for everybody. This is hurting the large educational publishers. They have yet to find a way to make money from the web. They in fact will be unable to do this without the help of government funding (for example, such as the e-learning credit system).

In fact, the best thing about the web is that it has helped redistribute power from the rich to those who are intelligent enough to make full use of the medium. Up until the development of the web mass communications was dominated by large multinational companies. This has changed. A good example of this is the recent stories about soldiers torturing prisoners in Iraq. There is nothing new about this. However, in the past, soldiers who disapproved of this process found it very difficult to communicate this information via the mass media. National newspapers and television stations would be reluctant to publish this information. Now a soldier does not need to go to the press. Instead he takes digital photographs and emails it to websites who are critical of illegal wars.

For example, last year a person in Iraq filmed a US helicopter hunting down and killing civilians. None of the television stations would use the film. Therefore it was put on the web. It was only after this happened that the film appeared on television.

The same is true of the Red Cross report on the treatment of prisoners in Iraq. The UK refused to publish the report. As a result it appeared on the internet. The government therefore had to back down on this issue. In other words, governments now find it impossible to control information in the same way as they did in the past.

What will be the long-term consequences of this? One is that in the future governments will find it more difficult to lie to its population. For example, in 1963 the American government was fairly successful in covering up the fact that its own agencies were involved in the assassination of John F. Kennedy. Of course, some people knew the truth and tried to tell the rest of the world. With the support of the media it was able to keep this information from coming out (we have had to wait until the release of CIA and FBI documents in the late 1990s before we could start working out what really happened).

I also believe that the web will help bring democracy to countries like China. The Chinese government has made a valiant effort in stopping its citizens from using the web to obtain information. It is bound to fail and eventually the people will have the same democratic rights enjoyed by people in the west.

#3 Derek McMillan

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Posted 13 May 2004 - 06:43 PM

I agree with John on this one. It has enormous potential:

Firstly my pupils are motivated to write when sending emails to pupils in Thailand and this includes pupils who are very reluctant to write English essays.
Secondly my pupils produce web pages about their interests which can be seen by other pupils all over the world rather than just marked by a teacher.
And thirdly my pupils have taken part in international research on cyberpets organised by Sherry Turkle's initiative at MIT.

In more general terms the availability of news sources is very useful. Pupils can compare the stories from different sources on the same day. They learn to question the validity of the information provided. Governments find it harder to lie and censor when there is such a multiplicity of sources.

And on the dark side there are porn sites and paedophile sites. I do not know how much of the concern over this is technophobic in origin but it has generated a moral panic which needs to be addressed one way or another.

One thing which I do is to take an interest in how my children are using MSN and Yahoo chat. They are attracted by the safety as much as by the danger and there are simple rules which can help them stay safe online. The pupils can usually be relied on to generate the rules for themselves by the way. The contempt expressed for other pupils who give out their addresses to strangers on the internet is striking.

#4 Guest_Andrew Moore_*

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Posted 14 May 2004 - 12:21 AM

If pressed, I say an overwhelming yes - these technologies have empowered me as a teacher, and changed my life, much for the better.

But it conceals a category error - that is, it is the wrong question to ask. Most technologies are neutral in themeselves, but can be used for good or ill - even a fridge may be used to keep bacteria for biological warfare.

Such questions also invite polarization - so that, for example, we simply say that TV is bad, as if we can do anything to change its influence.

Internet technologies are a reality. If we have a vocation as teachers, then we may recognize that it's up to us to help others use these technologies well.

The number of children harmed by paedophiles who use Internet technologies does not come near the number harmed by motor vehicles - often driven by fearful parents who believe Internet scare stories. I don't see anyone going on TV to alert the public to this danger.

#5 Derek McMillan

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Posted 14 May 2004 - 03:12 PM

A list of officially approved torture techniques
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http://www.antiwar.c...?articleid=2559

http://www.guardian....4082468,00.html

http://www.theage.co...4289748000.html

http://www.spiegel.d...,299467,00.html


I got this from the internet and I think it is a case in point.

This is not material which I am happy about my pupils reading - they would find it frightening or distressing and one or two lads would find it ...or pretend to find it...interesting and exciting.

And on the other hand of course this is happening. It is being done "in our name" and governments cannot prevent their citizens from knowing about it these days. Arguably it is an essential part of "citizenship" to know what the state is all about (yes I have been listening to that anarchist son of mine again!)

The internet is a strange and worrying mix and I have to agree with Andrew these technologies have empowered us and they can be used for good and evil. Do a google search for "torture" and you will find everything from ppl protesting against it to ppl who treat it as our ancestors did...as a spectator sport.

As for accuracy, it is very important that pupils question any source of information whether it is the internet, the TV, or "what my dad always says"!

#6 Matt Davies

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Posted 16 May 2004 - 03:03 AM

I propose that one of the admins or moderators moves this topic into debates in education, seeing these replies.




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