Will better school policy provide "traction"?

Cross-posted at ThinkTime


It has been almost a month since I posted a call at ThinkTime for educators and educational technologists to share examples of progressive policies that embrace web-based tools for content sharing, creation, and collaboration.

Realizing ThinkTime is not as high-traffic as some other "super-hubs" in the edublogosphere, I also posted my question at Classroom 2.0.

And I've been tracking comments on other blogs, such as Think42.com where Steve Dembo issued a similar call, also in September.

To date, the response has been zero, zilch, nada. Why is that?

I'm so confused. There are threads all over the blogosphere about Internet filters, censorship, and CIPA. (See recent dust-ups at blogs by Wesley Fryer, Doug Johnson, and Kurt Paccio.) But where are the parallel discussions about the need for proactive, systemic policies that embrace, or at least acknowledge, the changing information landscape?

To extend David Warlick's flight metaphor from the K-12 Online Preconference Keynote, is our focus on filters essentially because they equate a grounding of aircraft? Without access to web content and the web-based tools that empower sharing and creation of content, educators and students can't take flight much less contemplate detours, lay-overs, and emergency landings.

I get the problem of filters. I really do.

I have firsthand experience with blocked web sites in the classroom context. I resented the administrative process to remove a block from an educationally valid site. But, in truth -- and please don't mistake me for an apologist here -- my system was reasonably responsive. I never once lacked access to Internet content I needed for instruction (provided instruction was planned several days in advance).

Yet, that was prior to 2005 -- before my interest in interactive self-publishing sites and social networks.

Now, in 2007, the best that I can gather from my teacher and librarian friends is spotty, inconsistent blockage of blogs, wikis, and networking tools persists in our county. Enough to stifle creativity and production? Maybe, but that is only part of the problem.

You see, in my community we have a layer of system-wide web publishing policy that also acts as a "blocker," of sorts. The filter blocks access to content; current policy as stated in the procedures handbook for web pages blocks administrators, teachers, and students from creating content. I may be interpreting the procedures incorrectly, but they seem only to address teacher- and student-generated web content on officially sanctioned web pages hosted on local servers.

So, provided teachers, librarians, and administrative leaders are vigilant about requesting access to appropriate sites, it is possible to operate under the flawed filter. But who is evaluating the web publishing procedures? Who is advocating that these procedures be refined to be a more accurate reflection of the new web landscape?

There is hope. Some folks in my community are willing to consider a new approach, but they want to see models.

I am begging for some outside perspective here!

I have considered the possibility that some educational systems and institutions have acceptable use policies (AUPs) that encompass both the access and creation of web content. I actually would love for that to be the case, as I am in no way advocating adding another layer of policy upon policy.

But what I fear is more likely the case is an overall lack of intentionality or conscious policy making regarding the read/write web.

Thus, we have situations like this, described to me in an email from a librarian friend who works in a school system here in the Southeast U.S.:

We go by the official AU policy . . . . And as you noted, there is really nothing about blogs, wikis, social networks, etc. I think our district shies away from getting too detailed because they don't want to open a can of worms. I am just speculating it, but sometimes I think they take this approach in hopes that if they don't draw attention to it, then they don't have to deal with it. I do know "Wordpress" is the officially approved blog host by curriculum, but there is nothing in writing about this -- it is just what has trickled down to us, and I truly doubt most teachers know this.

In his keynote posted on Oct. 8, Warlick describes three brand-new conditions converging on our classrooms: info-savvy students, a new information landscape, and an unpredictable future. He warns, "We've tried to ignore them, we've tried to contain them, and to even block them out. But the best thing we can do is to realize that these three converging conditions can actually become new boundaries off of which we can gain traction."

Warlick uses the metaphor of airplanes, which travel in invisible but established flightpaths and which still need runways for take offs and landings.

I am starting to wonder how we can pilot the aircrafts without flight manifests and air traffic controllers. How long is this under-the-radar, ask-forgiveness-not-permission way of doing things going to persist?

How desirable is it, really, to Build this Plane While It's Flying?

What do you think?

Views: 38

Comment by Ian Carmichael on October 18, 2007 at 12:38am
The lockdown problem seems to be more prevalent in State systems. It's a function, I think of three things
1. fear of legal liability
2. geographical remoteness from educational contexts
3. intellectual remoteness from educational contexts
Our network administrators so often don't 'get' education, so much of their focus is on security, protection and backup. They don't see that tools are for use, collaboration and sharing. (And neither, BTW, do many operating system makers.) And they don't see the products made with the tools, so there's no reason to 'get' education. We need to work on a generation of education-savvy IT administrators, who see their role as enabling as much as possible, while locking down as much as necessary. (Currently, the practice is the opposite - lock down as much as possible, enable (grudgingly) as much as necessary!). Administrators - leave your consoles - to the barricades! Time in the school, in the classroom is important. As teachers we often have a 50-minute window, and if our resources are dead for 10 or 15 minutes, then we're demolished. So a step is to convert the administrators - and that may need a powerful lobby in a State or district system. As a largely independent school in this regard, we are fortunate. There's plenty of f2f conversation, our IT administrator does 'get' education, and he and I pretty much have equal sway with our IT philosophy - and its mostly a common enabling viewpoint.
In a US context you may not know a claymation series called Wallace and Gromit (they're the same creators who made Chicken Run). A brilliant scene in the sense of build the plane while its flying is here - http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH0fjTof8P4

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