Wednesday, December 9, 2009

Who Is The Enemy?

Picture have discovered the latest and greatest tool/application to use with your kids. You spend hours at home learning, reading, practicing, getting things right to introduce it the next day in class. The morning comes. On your drive to school you imagine the possibilities. You think about the wonderful learning experience that you are about to create. The kids come in. They see your excitement. And then disappointment. Blocked! (Now, I realize that you should have looked before you leaped and seen if the site was blocked before you planned, but work with me here...) After the waves of anger and sadness pass you ask your administrator why such a great resource is blocked. They give you the standard answer, "Our IT Department feels that because of CIPA this site needs to be blocked for the safety of our students and the security of the network." WHAT?

Edchat last night centered around a discussion of how to balance the needs of learning vs. the needs for Internet safety and network security. Here is a taste of what was said:
  • Strong communication between instructional leaders and network administrators is key. -An Instructional Technologist
  • Administrators need to remember their ultimate goal is to educate students. Start conversations about why filters are important; most block by categories to protect networks. Tell tech folks what sites you need for education and find out the reason for the block. Sometimes it's really a mistake. Start the conversations! -A District Administrator
  • Network admins and IT are in charge of choosing what it takes to do the job based on what teachers say they need. NO overblocking and filtering. Principals and their teachers need to work together to inform IT what they need. And teachers need go know that they are ultimately responsible for teaching students proper use and monitor them to help guide them to be safe, responsible users of tech. Netiquette and cyberbullying need to be taught. -A Teacher
  • I think that we need to teach students personal responsibility and ethical use of the Internet. We're not doing them any favors by having a super restricted, database only searches when they get to HS or college they won't know effective searching or Googling strategies. -A Teacher
  • Balancing the two needs can come through the use of filtering. However, filtering alone is useless. It's only through education, consciousness awareness, monitoring and use that such balance will exist. Teachers have to do their share by monitoring, and IT has to do their share by monitoring as well. Nevertheless, we should never forget prevention is better than cure. -A Director of Studies
You can read more here and the entire archive here.

There are 3 groups of people I would like to offer suggestions to.

Teachers- I understand that you want to have access to programs, applications and tools but that is going to take a little work. In some places you are going to have to demonstrate that you are going to use the tools responsibly. Part of that responsibility is planning. You need to take the time to plan ahead, make sure things are working the way you want. If not, don't expect them to right away. And if you discover a site is blocked that you need, don't expect it to be opened right away. Whatever you do, don't blame the School Network Administrator. Most of the time it's not up to them to determine what is and is not blocked. You also need to realize that you are responsible for teaching Internet safety. While someone else in your school like the Instructional Technologist or Media Coordinator may do the actual Internet Safety course work, you still need to talk to your kids about proper Internet usage and model it in your classroom. Oh, and please, whatever you do, don't take your kids to the computer lab or set them loose on laptops to not know what they are doing. You need to monitor what your students are doing. Technology time is not a planning period. Nothing will lead to more restrictions faster than teachers who do not monitor.

School Administrators- It's time to learn and it's time to make a stand. First, you need to take the time and learn what your teachers are using and what to use in their classrooms. I am not asking you become a Web 2.0 expert but you at least be knowledgeable of what tools and applications teachers are using and how they benefit learning. That knowledge makes all the difference when you make a stand against an ill informed board or superintendent or even worse, School Network Administrator. And yes, you need to take a stand. You need to push back and demand the best learning environment for your teachers and students. Oh, and become familiar with CIPA and COPPA. Two laws that are often wrongly cited as reasons to block.

School Network Administrators- First, don't think I am, or that teachers are your enemy. To the contrary, we need to work together. But, you have to at least meet us half way. I understand that your job is hard. I know managing, some times 1000's of machines and complex intranets is stressful. I also understand that you have a duty to protect the continuity of the network and insure 100% uptime. However, do you not also have a duty to the needs of the students as well?Your job is a crucial part of the learning environment of the kids. So we need to work together. You also need to stand up. Take a stand against administrators who want the networks so tight, it's impossible to do just about anything. You too need to understand CIPA and COPPA (and stop using them as justification for blocking). And you also need to take the time to learn about the classroom. Visit some. See what kids are doing and how teachers are using these tools. We all need to be on the same page so that we can make true progress.

Look, no one is the enemy if we are all working together to provide the best learning environment possible for our kids.

What do you think? What network practices do you see in your district or school that are limiting learning? What are you trying to do about it? Are there any success stories out there? We would love to hear them. I welcome your comments.

Image from Google CC Search. View the original here.


  1. Don't forget bandwidth. While there are some incredible tools out there that should be encouraged, the district's networks can't always handle the traffic. It used to be that fast access was better at school than at home. It is the opposite now. While there will never be a big enough pipe, there needs to be more focus on faster access in the schools. In my wife's district there are teachers now tethering their phones for better access; that is sad. Here we are at 95-100% most of the day. Teachers do think the network staff is the enemy but, sometimes it is the network that is the enemy and blocking becomes necessary because grades, payroll, fees and other business systems are now in the "cloud", as well. It is still a matter of money unfortunately.

  2. Thanks for addressing these three groups. It really has to be a team effort. Teachers need to think through their web use and make curriculum connections in order to increase student motivation and achievement (purpose is key), administrators need to be involved and know what their staff are doing- and aware of the wonderful possiblities, and IT staff need to listen and communicate with others as to why they can or cannot unblock.
    Communication and collaboration is the only way we can open up to start having great discussions where our students can be the winners (of knowledge!).
    thanks again for summarizing the discussion