Monthly Archives: September 2009

Fear Mongering, Social Media & You

hidingI have really been trying to pick my battles in school this year. Rather than trying in vain to integrate every new technology I find into the curriculum of every faculty member I am trying instead to focus on one larger project at a time. So my first project of the year is perhaps the largest, to get my school to relax the internet filtering system to the benefit of all. It has been a bit of a bumpy experience so far, but I think that I am making headway.

After my initial meeting with the Superintendent went pretty well, he asked me to come and speak to the entire administrative team about the issue. This meeting was where the discussion got bumpy. The meeting was going pretty well, I had convinced them of the educational value of sites like YouTube, and then the subject of Facebook came up. This is where the conversation came to a screeching halt. The administrators in the room where adamantly against allowing Facebook to be used in school. When I asked what the issue was “that nothing serious ever happens on Facebook” (paraphrase), “it is a place to waste time with your friends.” I assured them that thanks to my new PLN if they gave me 24 hours I could give them ten valid educational uses for the service.

Then the conversation took a turn to where I knew it could go, but hoped it wouldn’t…”Facebook is a dangerous place where predators stalk kids.” At that point in the meeting I just sat and listened. These administrators are good people who seem to have legitimate concerns for the well being of their students, not merely a fear of litigation (although I’m certain that was present). Some of them quoted recent events in the national media like the so-called Facebook Killer, or other sorts of vague reports of kids being abused by sickos.

These fears are roadblocks to the least restrictive internet environment and unless I can craft a thoughtful and logical argument to rebut it the service will remain off limits here. Are these fears unfounded? Are they partially correct? Can I use technology to make it safer, or is this as I suspect a rather matter of culture.

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Did You Know 4.0 – Stunning

How Can We Employ Student Cell Phones Effectively?

iphone-banI have been mulling over this one for a while and I am looking for help from the community. We all have been aware for some time about the problems posed by draconian internet filtering in schools. The solution to this problem appeared for me when I took the time to prepare, made a meeting with my superintendent and made a measured argument regarding the potential educational value of Web 2.0 tools and networking sites. My school, along with others across the country are now running into the issue about what to do with student cell phones. As more and more students acquire cell phones schools have scrambled to put policies in place to police them. In my school the way that these policies have been imposed reminds me of the arbitrary way websites were added to the districts. The current policy here is simply that students are not allowed to have a cell phone on their person during the school day. The district encourages students to leave them at home (which doesn’t happen), but if they do bring the phones to school they are to remain in their locker powered off throughout the school day. If a teacher learns that a student has a phone on their person, or if the device goes off in the locker the device is to be immediately confiscated.

I understand the districts position a little on this one. As it stands now, cell phones are mainly a distraction because they are not employed by the school in any meaningful way. I myself have been interrupted during a class by a student’s cell phone going off. The district has also run into the problem of students calling parents or the media during an emergency or drill. As phones and networks become more sophisticated, and as handheld devices eventually replace desktop devices what can we do to use these tools in our instruction without simply banning them? I am open to ideas.

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Internet Filtering is Class Warfare

computer-graphic-of-king-henry-viiiBoy, as I was doing a little research on this topic I have discovered to my delight that it is one that is often discussed and that many educational thinkers out there share my opinion about the over reaching aspect of internet filtering. Much has been written recently about the topic and just recently @rmbyrne set up a wikispace trying to collect success stories of educators who have had any luck with peeling back the digital curtain.

In my school I have come to the realization that the internet filter and the ability to override the filter result in an ad-hoc caste system among the faculty resulting in resentment among the ‘digital untouchables’. When a website is blocked the user sees a blockedblack screen containing some language about education law, the category of the site that has been blocked and a link to override the page and bypass the filter. At first only administration had the codes to override the filter, but eventually out of necessity certain teachers were also given the keys to the digital kingdom. These teachers were usually people who were viewed for one reason or another as technology leaders in the building or the district (I was included as one of these). Eventually what happened was that these few teachers would give another teacher their codes so that they could go about their teaching without the encumbrance of the filter. Soon conversations could be overheard in the teacher’s room like: “how were YOU able to use that YouTube video, when I try it is blocked”. It wasn’t that my fellow code holders and I were trying to exclude our colleagues, but that was what was happening, and the people who needed the access the most (the students) were left out completely.

Recently I have begun a dialogue with my administration about these issues and to their credit they have seemed very receptive. I am hoping to abolish this digital divide here by the end of the year.

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A Pair of Great Videos

thanks @rmbyrne

2009 EETT Grant Workshop

dsc_0010-w450-h299The Madison-Oneida BOCES, applied for and won the 2009 Title II, Part D Enhancing Education Through Technology (EETT) Grant. This is kind of a big deal as the grant infuses a lot of money into many local districts for the purpose of instructing technology leaders in ways to use Web 2.0 tools to improve student literacy. These leaders were invited to attend a three day seminar were they were introduced and reminded of a number of excellent Web 2.0 tools that are easily employed in the classroom.dsc_0007-w450-h299 Here is a link to the flyer that was produced for the event. Some of the tools that were discussed included Xtranormal, Blabberize, bubbl.us, VoiceThread and others, many of which are over on the links page. These teachers will be working together throughout the year in learning communities and are required to produce a minimum of two learning experiences that incorporate Web 2.0 technologies and best practices. The group was a mix of techish types (eh-hem), techy moderates and enthusiastic newbs. dsc_0012-w450-h299I am very excited to be working with these people throughout the year and spreading the gospel.

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