28 August 2009

Make It Stop

Since making the decision to move into the realm of educational technology, I've had one common reaction from teachers: Make them take off the filters. By "them," they mean their districts' policy people (and IT staff)...and by "filters," they mean anything blocking the use of web tools in their classrooms.

I feel their pain. In 2005, I tried blogging with my AP students...only to have repeated junk from IT shoved in my face to kill the project. In 2008, I had to turn my class into outlaws in order to use GoogleDocs to write lesson plans for 5-year old children. I can name any number of other instances where IT caused maximum damage to the instructional process. Since then, I've had people outside the district tell me that the "neanderthals" running the filter there have one of the most restrictive set of practices in the entire state.

All this being said, I am not in a position to make any changes to the ways districts do business...much as teachers here would like. There are few things that can be done at the state level when local control governs things. However, I can certainly do a lot of modeling of tools and listen and suggest to teachers when and wherever possible.

The past few weeks have been particularly interesting for me on Twitter, as I see how many teachers are frustrated by similar restrictions. I'm sorry, IT people, but you can't blame everything on limited bandwidth and/or CIPA. Don't tell me that you're just following what the school board says, because we know better. We know that the board doesn't tell you to block specific sites---that kids are not allowed to participate in Nings or build wikis to show their learning. You interpret guidelines...and, frankly, some of you are doing it wrong.

When I saw this tweet the other day, my heart sank at first. You see, for all its flaws I really do believe in public education. But it needs to pull its head out of...the dark ages...and allow more flexibility in instruction and learning. Now, I am thinking that parents like Alec may be the ones who provide the tipping point to get the filters scaled back (at minimum) and removed (at best). Teachers are ignored where this issue is concerned...kids are in a powerless position (and usually excluded from conversations regarding instruction and tools). Here's hoping that someone can make it stop.


Dorothy Neville said...

Um, you think that administrators would listen to *parents*? Not in my district.

And over something like this, where some parents without understanding the implications would blindly support IT in protecting their children from teh evil innernets?

-a glad to be ex-Seattle PS parent

The Science Goddess said...

I do think they would---if enough of them made a stink. Look at what is happening with curriculum adoptions.

However, I believe your point is valid. There may well be enough parents scared into censorship that they wouldn't speak up. Mind you, these are likely the same parents putting cell phones in their kids' hands. Rather powerful little computers that don't have filters. :)

BookChook said...

All over the internet, I hear stories like this. And other stories about districts mandating reading programs and evaluating by quantity, not quality. It's happening here in Australia too. More and more voices are joining in, and as you say, parents are leaving state schools. Eventually, surely a critical mass will be reached and whoever needs to hear will do so?

Tim said...

In my experience, the people running the filters in most districts are far more restrictive than they need to be. They often block more sites than would be required under CIPA or most state laws.

IMHO our administrators are more afraid of lawsuits and negative publicity (rule 1 around here: don't get in the Post) than they are concerned with providing teachers with powerful learning tools.

Save the MAC said...

I know that the filters school districts use are, for the most part, not flexible (i.e. able to allow instructors to manage access for themselves and their students) because they are, well, the cheaper models. REAL powerful filters (read: flexible and smart) are beyond the district budgets, and so they are not purchased, AND they require personnel to pay attention to them at the district level.

So, the affordable filters end up being deployed, and nobody is happy. Upgrading is not easy: imagine trying to persuade people that a more robust, expensive filter is what is needed for accurate, flexible filtering. "Not a spending priority" and "we need less filtering, not MORE" is what you hear.

Since "no filter" is not an option, then the issue is leadership to inform decision-makers and users.

BTW, it is not uncommon for a district to be blamed by teachers (and their union representatives) for NOT having a blunt enough, strong enough filter to protect the teacher from unprofessional conduct using computers and the Internet. This, of course, drives Supts and Boards crazy. Do we want more filtering or less, or do we want it both ways?