Yesterday I went to sessions on policies and procedures. Today I decided to go to sessions on classroom integration ideas for technology. The ones I had selected deal with Web 2.0 resources and open source software. It was an interesting contrast, especially comparing the competing interests of yesterday’s presenters with today’s.
I arrived at the first session a little late due to a slight delay in checking out of my hotel. Kim Collaza was schedule to do a presentation on Web 2.0 resources. However, Kim was sick, and since I was late I didn’t catch the name of the person taking her place. Most of what she was showing I knew, but I did enjoy finding out about the videos of Lee LeFever, who has created an excellent series of YouTube videos explaining Web 2.0 concepts in plain English, with some entertaining animations.
During the course of the session, the presenter discussed several ways to get around filtering systems and policies imposed by the district. It was at that point that I started to take issue with what she was saying. I understand teacher’s frustrations with seemingly arbitrary rules about Internet access. I’ve also learned that teachers don’t often see the big picture, nor understand why a district imposes certain restrictions. And, I know that districts can go overboard, blocking access to resources that they have no business blocking.
Here’s a listing of some of the competing interests between districts and teachers. I’m not going to pretend to know what the solution might be. I do think that the solutions need to respect the creativity and professionalism of teachers as well as the creativity and learning styles of the students.
Teacher’s Interest: The teacher wants to develop innovative lessons using resources from third parties such as Google, including classroom web pages, blogs, and wikis.
District’s Interest: The district wants to, and has the right to control anything that bears the imprimatur of the district. It could potentially be liable for information posted on a teacher’s classroom resource, but has no access to control that resource.
Compromise: The district provides sanctioned webspace, blogs and wikis for the teachers. District and school websites only link to these sanctioned websites for the teachers. However, on their sanctioned websites, teachers may link to their third-party resources, as long as a disclaimer is provided for those links and on the resources themselves.
Some districts choose to block all Web 2.0 resources such as blogs and wikis because they are not under the district’s control. Some districts encourage teachers to use these resources as their only web resources, disregarding potential liabilities. I’ve made comment here before about some of my fellow tech directors blocking just about everything.
Teacher’s Interest: Teachers would like access to YouTube for instructional videos.
District’s Interest: In addition to inappropriate content on YouTube, streaming video can use up critical Internet bandwidth, causing disruption to other classroom resources.
Compromise: Teachers submit specific videos to be unblocked. Unfiltered access is not granted, but the teachers can get to the videos they need.
Bandwidth is a limited resource. More and more mission critical resources for the districts are being housed off-site, on the web. The district may also subscribe to online courseware such as Novanet and Apex which are used daily in the classrooms. While districts may recognize the instructional benefits of some YouTube Videos, unregulated access would use bandwidth needed for these other resources.
As stated for Conflict 1, I know of a couple of districts that block any and all websites until a teacher specifically requests that website. Unblocking a site by request can be a problem, especially if that website pulls resources from other sites, which might also be blocked. Using this method on YouTube is a bit different. You can unblock a specific video. It’s not ideal, but it does preserve some of the district’s bandwidth.
Teacher’s Interest: Teachers want to use GMail and other e-mail systems to communicate and chat with students in the classrooms and to create collaborative projects.
District’s Interest: Districts are concerned with liability issues of communication between teachers and students through unofficial channels.
Compromise: District works with teachers to provide appropriate resources for the classrooms.
Districts are concerned with inappropriate e-mail contact between teachers and students, with fears of pedophilia often fanned by the media. Some districts completely block teachers’ access to home e-mail accounts, citing “non-educational use” of district resources.
Teacher’s Interest: Teachers want unfiltered (with reasonable exceptions) access to the Internet for personal purposes to check home e-mail, shop, etc.
District’s Interest: Districts typically employ a “one-size-fits-all” filtering policy.
Compromise: Employ a multi-tiered filtering policy. Allow for “incidental personal use” in acceptable use policies.
Back to YouTube, the argument is that if teachers can’t search for appropriate videos, how will they be able to request that they be unblocked for students? Ideally, we like to think that we hire professionals who would not abuse a resource. However, it’s been my experience that teachers are just about as bad to abuse this resource as students.
Another classic example here is e-Bay. There isn’t really a content-related reason to block e-Bay, but most districts do so. The problem is that there isn’t really a good educational reason to use it in the classroom (and if someone has developed an excellent lesson plan utilizing e-Bay, please forgive me for that generalization.) One of our presenters described a district that received a FOI request for Internet access records from a local newspaper. Those records showed excessive use by teachers of e-Bay during the school day. The newspaper spun the story to create outrage – why should these teachers be making money off of e-Bay when we’re paying them to teach?
In a case like that there’s no way to win. Internet access records can be notoriously vague and/or ambiguous, and in a situation like this, the paper would not likely listen to district explanations. In the district’s mind, it would be easier just to block the resource.
This series of teacher/district conflicts is really my own internal conflict. Having been a classroom teacher, I understand the frustrations with a beauracracy that blocks access to resources. As a district administrator, I also see that problems that arise from unfettered access to those same resources. We must balance the desire for creativity and innovation with the needs for safety and conserving scarce resources. When developing policies regarding these resources, we need to involve all stake-holders so that effective compromises can be reached.