The big event in the past week or so in my life has been the first birthday of my daughter. We decided to have a party in our backyard, which necessitated much gardening. I am not much of a fan of gardening (I'd replace the lot with concrete if it were up to me!) but even I can appreciate the result. I love our back yard - green, lush, and with a sense of privacy.
A garden with privacy - the so called "Walled Garden" - is pretty common in educational technology circles - most notably for us here in Victoria is the Department's Ultranet, but also things like SuperClubs Plus and Kidblog. This post is not supposed to be a criticism of those who use Walled Gardens - I have and do set them up and use them - but a criticism of making the garden too small.
The Walled Garden is presumably so popular for fear of this chap (I'm assuming it's a male) here. This image accompanies pretty much every article in Melbourne newspaper "The Age" that is about the dangers of the internet - in fact, I found it by searching "internet" and "theage.com.au" on google images. I'm not going to comment on how much of a threat this guy poses to our kids, or how likely it is that he'll be trying to get into a school site. Every school, teacher, and parent needs to make their own decisions as to the risks and benefits of using web-based technology.
It should be noted, however, that the benefits of using technology reduce with the size of the garden. In fact, if you make the garden too small, there becomes almost no point in using the technology at all.
A case in point is my recent exploration of how different teachers see the use of blogging. Some want to control who can read it, and who can comment on it, to the point where they see anyone else outside of this specific audience reading or commenting on their work as potential danger, and undesirable.
If this is the intention - to communicate with a very small audience that has been pre-determined - that's fine, but don't call it blogging. Because it's not. You may as well email your correspondence to your specific audience, and they can email you back with feedback. I'm not suggesting blogging needs to have a potentially infinite audience - that blogging can't occur within a walled garden - but that if you already know who it is that will read and comment on your work, and that number of individuals is small, then perhaps email, or paper, may be more suitable technologies to your purpose.
In my mind, blogging must have the element of some unknown audience, even if that audience is not completely unrestricted. I'm not confident enough to get my kids in a totally unwalled garden yet, mainly because of spam rather than our green-backlit friend above. This belief is best demonstrated in our writing community, The Writers' Club, which has 500 students from 25 schools. I don't know each and every member of the club; but I do know that each one is either a student at a school or is a teacher of one of the students. Anyone can read the writing, but only members can interact with the authors.
Again, I want to stress that this is not a criticism of those who are more cautious with technology. The caution comes from good intentions. But we risk watering the benefits down to nothing if we let fear rule our use of technology in education. And for those of us leading this, if we place too much emphasis on the perceived dangers, we give those who might be convinced a reason to opt-out.