#ITEC11 Reflection

Image from http://itec-ia.org

Well another ITEC has come and gone, which means it’s time to reflect on all the learning that has taken place over the last few days.  This year was probably my favorite ITEC yet, and was certainly the biggest.  My trip began bright and early and often lasted well into the evening.  I went about my “note” taking in my typical way: tweet most everything and for the things that don’t warrant a tweet, I wrote them down in Evernote.  You can find my tweets for the day @dmourlam.

If Games are the Answer, What’s the Question? – Sylvia Martinez

Gaming is one of those areas of education that I’m interested in, but still trying to figure out.  I’ve grown some since I first was introduced to gaming in education and know the focus should be less on the game and more on the gaming, or the process students go through as they progress in the game.  It’s all about how students solve the problems they encounter in the game and the reflection that takes place during and afterwords, either alone or with others.  The first thing profound to hit me during this session was how do we define game?  This may not seem very profound, but it is and here’s why.  There are a variety of different types of games: edutainment, serious games, virtual worlds, alternative (augmented) reality, and commercial off the shelf.  Games will fall into one of these categories, providing a very different experience for the user.  When we think of gaming in schools, we often think of edutainment, which are games aligned to a set of educational standards.  Now the problem with edutainment in most cases, is that they are nothing more than worksheets with some exciting graphics.  Worksheets of any format will not transform education, which means as an educator, even if you aren’t into games, you still need to have a critical eye.  This means taking time to play the game for 15-30 minutes to see what it’s all about.  So before gaming can be part of your lessons, finding the right kind of game is important.  There needs to be a balance between fun and difficulty.  If the game’s not fun, kids won’t play it!  Playing games does not appeal to everyone, and no one game appeals to all gamers.  Sylvia gave us a great way to go about using games in our lessons: put on your skeptic hat, play it, would it be useful if it weren’t a computer game, and think about the assessment.

Keynote: Ten Things to Do with a Laptop – Learning and Powerful Ideas – Gary Stager 

The keynote was very entertaining, while still providing some things to think about.  Gary Stager talked about 10 things you can do with at laptop, or for all intents and purposes any computer.  He started out by saying we need to develop a sense of urgency in education, which I agree.  We need to let the teachers who are still doing the same activities they did 20 years ago that they need to change or move on.  What worked then won’t today.  Dr. Stager said, “Knowledge is a consequence of experiences,” so we need to make sure the experiences our students have are worthwhile and will serve them well in the future.  This means using technology in the classroom, but it’s more than the hardware.  It’s the software that matters, because that is what determines how we will learn.  I could go through all ten points he made but I’d actually like people to read this post so I’ll cherry pick the ones I liked the most.

  • Write a novel: This is spot on for me, because when I entered college, I was woefully unprepared for the type and quality of writing that was expected of me.  However, I think Dr. Stager was going a step further in that we need our students writing “more, better, and differently.”  While writing can take many forms, there needs to be a variety of writing experiences that support reflective learning.  This means having time for both reports, essays, creative writing, among other styles of writing.  If we limit our students to only research based writing, then we are creating a society that doesn’t think for themselves.  I’m comfortable saying this because if all we do is research then students will bore quickly and will  do the minimum to complete the task.  If we challenge students, they will surprise us.  The problem is, we don’t challenge them enough.
  • Share Knowledge: I liked this one a lot since we often think about who should be sharing knowledge and traditionally it has been the teacher.  However, Dr. Stager showed a video of students building robots that really challenged this idea.  In the video, the 6 year old student showed an older student (probably 9-10) how to make a robot ballerina.  All students have information to share, we just need to let them do so.  This can’t be done with teacher-centric classrooms!  We must free ourselves from the constraints of our own imagination/abilities and let our students flourish.  Until then we can only expect more of the same.
  • Change the world: The main take away I have is that if we want our students to do incredible things that can have a difference in the world, we need to let them learn through authentic experiences.  This means real projects that keep students and the teacher up at night, as well as letting students use the tools they need to be successful, whatever they may be.  Learning isn’t about what you can do in a class period, so as we create learning experiences we need to keep in mind that changing the world isn’t going to happen in 45 minutes.

Educational Uses of Facebook – Daniel Mourlam

This was my session!  I was encouraged by Leigh Zeitz to lead a session, any session and I chose an area that’s very central to my beliefs as an educator.  My session, while focused on Facebook Pages, was not so much about how to technically use a Facebook Page, but rather it was about getting educators to give Facebook a chance.  There are a number of different reasons why we should or shouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom, but in the end it really comes down to having an ethical obligation to model appropriate use.  This was my big point I wanted to make in this session.  As a teacher, we typically model appropriate behavior when we are in class with our students.  We act responsible, respectful, and so on.  However, as technology continues to advance, so does our culture.  With the emergence of social networking sites, so to has our culture expanded to included interactions using these sites.  However, in our classrooms if we fail to use these technologies, we fail to model how they should be used.  We know this to be true based on the number of cyber bullying incidents every year.  This is a problem that schools rarely do anything about beyond disciplining students.  I’m promoting a more proactive approach where teachers and schools begin using these technologies in their classrooms to support the type of teaching and learning that should be taking place.  I’m talking about the collaborative, problem solving, critical thinking projects and student-centered tasks students should be engaged in.  It is only though the use of these technologies that we will be able to help our students understand how they can use these sites in a responsible way.  If we educate our students about what is acceptable, then when incidents do happen, very few will tolerate the ignorance and bigotry that often is employed when students and others are targeted.  As a presenter, the best thing about my session was that people came and that there were students in the room who interacted with the entire group.  I couldn’t have asked for a better, or more engaged group.  However, I’d like to improve for next time, so if you were in my session let me know what you liked and what you didn’t by leaving a comment.  Thanks for coming!

TPACK & Creativity in the Classroom – Punya Mishra

This session was very fulfilling.  I have what some might call an intelectual crush on Punya Mishra and his work on TPACK.  For me TPACK just makes sense.  For those who don’t know what TPACK is, here is the quick and dirty: when we integrate technology (T) in the classroom we need to think about how the technology is going to change both the content (C) and the pedagogy (P).  Kohler and Mishra (2006) argue that effective technology integration is at the intersection of all three (T, P, C).  So getting the opportunity to listen to Punya talk about TPACK was very gratifying for my development as an educator.  A lot of what was discussed were things that I already believed, but here they are for the record:

  • For facts go to Google…for wisdom come to me (funny quote from Punya)
  • The single biggest measure of how effective we are as teachers is if our students talk about what we are doing outside the classroom.  This means they are engaged and interested.
  • Adding technology to the learning experience is going to change the dynamic of the classroom so we need to prepare for that by thinking about how the content and pedagogy are going to change.
  • There is no such thing as an educational technology.  Only technology that has been repurposed for educational uses.
  • Repurposing requires teachers to be curriculum designers instead of consumers.  No longer will following the textbook suffice as you begin using technology with your students.  The textbooks weren’t designed to be used with technology, which means we need to take what’s there and make it work for the type of experiences we want for our students.  That may mean using the textbooks or maybe another resource.
  • We know how to use technology, and we are getting good at integrating technology with the things we are already doing.  Now is the time to begin innovating with the technology to begin creating new types of experiences for our students.  This is where the future of education is.
Cell Phones: Smart, Digital, and Mobile The Next – Vinnie Vrotny/Leigh Zeitz
Last year I attended a couple of sessions facilitated by Leigh Zeitz where he used Skype to bring in experts from around the world.  Last year we had a presenter from Sydney, Australia.  This year we had Vinnie Vrotny from northern Illinois.  Vinnie talked to us about how cell phones can be used in education.  While I didn’t necessarily have a huge aha during this session, I still learned new ways of using cell phones in education.  The genius of this type of presentation is that while the video is playing in the physical room at ITEC, there is a backchannel happening with the presenter where we can ask him questions related to his presentation.  We have direct access to him, allowing us to go deeper into an area we are interested in.  For me, Vinnie and I talked more about how cell phones were being used at his school.  While cell phones are not allowed in the building, the athletic director has embraced the technology and blogs from the sidelines during school events.  The blogs are typically short and include pictures.  What an innovative way to engage the school community even if they can’t be there!  I’d likely take it a step further and have the blog connected to a Facebook Page or Twitter account to connect to a larger audience.  This session was one of my favorites not because of the content, but because of how I could interact with the presenter and other conference goers during the presentation.  A unique experience I hope continues for next year.
Facebook in First Grade?  You got it! – Devin and Erin Schoening
This was the best session of the conference hands down, and I almost missed it!   Devin and Erin talked about how they used a Facebook account with their first grade class to bring parents into the classroom during the day.  Parent involvement is crucial for success, but is becoming more and more difficult to get.  However, by inviting the parents to be friends with the class, Devin and Erin were able to let parents see what was happening throughout the day, allowing parents to further the learning at home by making connections to class.  I learned that Facebook Corp is supportive of educators using Facebook accounts for their classes, which is good to know.  In fact, when Erin was contacted by Facebook about her account, they apologized for not having more resources for education.  Talk about surprising!  Being able to see how others are using Facebook in their schools really reinforces what I believe.  Here are some more of the highlights of their session:
  • Used News Feed to see what other classrooms were doing
  • Created Facebook note of who’s friends with the class so reassure parents that only the right people could see and interact with their children through Facebook
  • Council Bluffs has not had any abuse of Facebook by students
  • Sent note home for parent permission and level of use by student
  • Facebook allowed for more immediate feedback from a variety of people, no longer confining the class to the four walls of the classroom
  • Using Facebook doesn’t mean we stopped communicating with parents in other ways
  • Students aren’t on Facebook all day, just a few minutes out of a day
  • Same rules online as face to face
  • Address the problems rather than blanket block if something happens
The Good, Bad, and Ugly.  Taking Digital Pictures Effectively – Leslie Fisher
This session was for my own development.  I am terrible at taking pictures so what better session to attend!  I wasn’t disappointed.  Here are Leslie’s tips for taking better pictures:
  • If you have to ask if it’s a good picture, it’s not
  • Frame your picture before taking and move closer if needed
  • Cropping is only good if you have a high mexapixel camera (above 10)
  • Macro setting will take better pictures when closer than 3 feet
  • The further away you are from what you are taking a picture of, the longer it will take to focus
  • Lanscape mode will focus on everything in the picture, Portrait will only focus on the middle area of the photo
  • More light = less blur
  • Stabilize the camera to reduce camera shake (use a tripod, set timer and place on firm surface before taking picture)
  • Night mode takes better pictures in low light conditions
  • Work angles to tell the story of the picture better
  • Shoot high and low angels
  • Exposure compensation will make take darker parts of picture darker or lighter parts lighter
  • Pay attention to the background to make sure it doesn’t take away from your photo
  • Move if background is distracting
  • Lower quality memory cards take slower pictures (want 8 or above)
  • Flash will reduce items beyond 8-10 feet, which can be good or bad
  • Sports mode will take faster pictures
  • Bigger lens = better zoom, more lighting
  • Digital zoom will kill the quality of the picture
That was my ITEC experience this year.  I think what made this year my favorite was the variety of sessions I attended.  I felt satisfied at the end, which is what I think we all stive to attain.  How was your experience?  Share by leaving a comment!

Why we should and shouldn’t use Facebook in the classroom

There are many reasons why we should and shouldn’t do certain things.  Take Facebook for example.  There are many reasons for and against why any school/teacher should use Facebook in the classroom.  There are a number of compelling agruments for and against, but here is one for each side of the argument:

  • We shouldn’t use Facebook, because we haven’t had enough professional development for teachers and administrators on how to best use this tool in educational settings.
  • We should use Facebook, because student behavior online is often unacceptable, which is a new literacy students need to learn: interacting online using social networking sites (if you don’t think this is a new literacy we need to be teaching, do a Google search for cyber bullying and you will have all the evidence you need).

As we look at the reasons why any given technology, like Facebook, shouldn’t be used, don’t let yourself use poor student behavior be a reason for not using them.  If you do, then you’re really just making the problem worse, because you have now become part of the problem.  Correcting student behavior is something teachers and administrators do every day in school, but for some reason we don’t think we can help students develop an internal censor (otherwise known as a conscience) when they use online tools.  I don’t know why we feel we are helpless.  Perhaps it’s because we don’t know enough about the tool and would rather be ignorant than proactive.

Enough is enough!  Take matters into your own hands and start asking questions that get at the real reasons why you aren’t using social networking sites in your school/classroom.  Is it the fear of student behavior using the tools or is it a training issue?  The former is a non issue, while the latter is something you have control over.  Stop making excuses and start tackling the real problems preventing you from creating the type of learning environment we know our students need to be successful.  Social networking sites do have value in education, we just need to unleash their power.

Why parts of the Missouri law limiting teacher-student online interactions are still a bad idea

Yesterday two of my colleagues let me know about a law in Missouri that limits teacher-student online interactions using websites like Facebook and Twitter.  When I saw this I was immediately outraged and did rant just a little bit about the law, while not really knowing the whole story.  So I did some searching and quickly came across a Huffington Post article, which led me to the actual senate bill.  All in all, the bill isn’t that terrible, but there are two small parts of the bill that limit teacher-student interaction using text messaging and online websites, which I feel unreasonably limits student-teacher interaction and creates an image of teachers that hurts the profession.  They can be found on page 15, lines 26-33 in the above linked senate bill.

Before going on, I do want to point out that there are sexual predators in our schools and that too many of the nations students are sexually assaulted by educators.  However, the number of responsible educators looking out for students by far out number the scum that prey on them.  The Associated Press found from 2001 to 2005 that 2,570 educators had their “teaching credentials revoked, denied, surrendered, or sanctioned for alleged sexual misconduct.”  However, when you put that in perspective, that’s less than one tenth of a percent of the over 3 million teachers in the nation.  Assuming that rate is consistent from state to state, Missouri lawmakers are legislating against the whole in response to the actions of a few.  And while the bill goes on to do a number of what I consider good and decent things to protect young people and to stop the “passing of the trash” from school to school, such as: providing guidelines for reporting alleged abuse or providing protection for educators who report other educators for alleged sexual abuse, restricting the interactions of educators in online spaces that might be private, seems like it goes a bit too far.

Can sexual abuse still happen through this medium?  Yes.  Will this law prevent the people who really want to abuse children from using these sites?  Probably not, which means that this part of the law will only prevent the other, non-sexual predators who also happen to be the vast majority of educators, from using social networking and text messaging to help students learn and support their growth.  Most teachers won’t be willing to use these mediums because they might do something wrong.  It isn’t worth the risk of losing your teaching license.  I get that.  I also understand that Missouri lawmakers are trying to protect young people from the sleaze of the earth, but this isn’t how you do it.  This law has a number of different ways that will actually help protect children, but limiting teacher-student interactions via text messaging and social networking sites isn’t the way to do it.  Your desired effect isn’t going to happen.  The predators will likely use these mediums, because they take calculated risks, just like they take calculated risks when they decide to sexually abuse young people.

Students, parents, educators, community members, and anyone else who cares about children, need online safety training in a 21st century context.  Students need to be taught how to responsibly use social networking sites and text messaging so we have fewer incidents with children being abused.  Thinking we can just block the issue away isn’t going to solve the underlying problem.  It’s just going to make it worse.  Students will continue to be abused and bullied by other students and adults.  We have an opportunity to make a difference, but limiting our freedom to teach young people isn’t the way to do it.

After reading the bill, I’m wondering if people will think: if teachers can’t be trusted using text messaging and social networking sites with my children, then how can they be trusted when they are physically close to them?  This law not only will be ineffective in preventing cyber sexual predators, but it hurts education as a profession.  It shows that educators aren’t people we can trust, when this is far from the truth.

Ethical uses of technology: Final thoughts

This week I have written about unblocking social networking sites so we can empower our students to learn using those sites, helping our students create and manage an online presence, and helping our students become more information literate.  These are three of many of ethical issues related to technology.  It would be impractical to provide an exhaustive list of ethical guidelines for using technology in the 21st century, simply because there are too many variables at this point in the game, and because it would be so long no one would read it.  For my purposes here, I choose three of what I consider to be hinderances for our students.  I feel if students aren’t adequately prepared in these three areas, they will be at a disadvantage once they enter the marketplace.  It will be harder for them to compete, succeed, and be successful in whatever they choose.  Hopefully this week I have sparked some thought with each of you as you look at your teaching and how others in your school are currently teaching.  What happens next is up to you and I hope you take it to the next level by having a conversation with other teachers, educators, administrators, community members, and most important, your students.  Only through this conversation will you start to make change happen and help your students become better learners and members of society.

Ethical uses of technology: Information literacy

This is the third of a series of three posts on Internet safety and ethical uses of technology in schools in the 21st century.

I’m completing a M.Ed. program through Iowa State University and I have been creating a portfolio based on five competencies.  These competencies really sum up all the work we’ve done over the last three years and has given me time to think about some of the work I’ve done, both as part of the program and during my tenure as a technology director for a K12 school.  However, one of the competencies is based around ethical use of technology and it was this standard that challenged me to think of an artifact that would meet this truly important standard.  I have done a number of things over the last few years related to Internet Safety and ethical uses of technology in education, but nothing really stood out to me as being the best I could put forward to represent my thoughts on the topic.  Where I struggled was that most of what I’ve done hasn’t had much of a 21st century perspective.  As I searched the Internet looking for some guidance, I still came up short, therefore, I’ve decided to come up with my own ethical guidelines for technology use in schools for the 21st century.  These are purely my beliefs, but I think they are important enough to share with the rest of the world.

This week I have talked about empowering our students and making sure they understand the consequences of their actions online as a way to help them create and manage their online presence. Today I am going to finish up my thoughts on the ethical uses of technology in the 21st century by briefly talking about information literacy.  Looking forward to where I think the world is going, knowing how to find and synthesize reliable information is crucial.  When I was in school, books were the standard bearer for having a reliable source.  However, times have changed and so have our students.  No longer are books or other written text the only reliable information sources and I believe we need to reflect that in how we teach and prepare our students.

Information literacy and how to tell if a site is reliable

We live in the world of Wikipedia and any number of other sites that publish information, many with questionable intentions.  Not surprisingly, most of the information on these sites is questionable and in a world and marketplace where finding and disseminating information is key, teaching our students how to find reliable and valid information is key to their success.  I know I ‘ve seen a number of “research” papers from students that use Wikipedia as their primary source of information.  While I advocate for the use of Wikipedia for general knowledge, much like I would a paper-based encyclopedia, we need to help students take their searches deeper to reach experts and primary sources.  With many schools having access to EBSCO, SIRS and other online databases, it only makes sense to teach our students how to wield the power of these sites to find the best information possible to make an informed decision.

What’s more, the level of interconnectedness we have through the use of social networking sites allows us to contact subject matter experts.  Many subject matter experts will provide a portion of their time for free, allowing teachers the opportunity to bring in an authentic source for their students.  If you’re looking for a way to motivate your class about your content, or a student finds conflicting resources about a topic, find a person who is an expert in that field.  It could be an environmental biologist, an engineer, a politician, or any number of others that are willing to come and talk to your classes, if not face to face, over the Internet through technologies like Skype or even email.  We have become a society that seems afraid of asking for assistance or input from outside entities.  Knowing to ask for help is half the battle, so part of making student more information literate is helping them get to a point when they know they need to consult with another source.

My point here is that we need to create the opportunities for our students to interact with information and research.  Students have to learn how to make informed decisions and to an extent, they need to make a few mistakes before they can truly sift through all the information the world has to offer to find what they are really researching.  Teachers who fail to make use of the Internet, or do not allow the use of Internet resources in their assignments are truly doing a diservice to their students as this will be the medium for information dissemination in the future.  No longer are we able to allow our students to learn these important skills serendipitously, if at all.

There are a number of ways you can begin to increase your students’ information literacy.  Here are just a few.:

  • Find a way to use the Internet in your classrooms to bring in authentic sources of information.  Bring authenticity to your content.  Just because you think it is important doesn’t mean your students do.
  • Let your students become researchers so they have the opportunity to have hands-on experience trying to find authentic information about the content.  Don’t accept anything you deem less than acceptable.
  • Explain why certain sites are unreliable or questionable and have that discussion with your students throughout the course of the semester or year.
  • Show students how to find the organization of a Web site by taking a URL and deleting parts of the path until all that remains is the domain name.  You will sometimes be amazed with what you find.
  • Use sites like EBSCO, SIRS, etc., with your students and model what being information literate means.
  • Teach your students how to use boolean search techniques.  These techniques work for most databases and Internet search engines.

Ethical uses of technology: Online presence

 

Managing your online presence

This is the second of a series of three posts on Internet safety and ethical uses of technology in schools in the 21st century.

I’m completing a M.Ed. program through Iowa State University and I have been creating a portfolio based on five competencies.  These competencies really sum up all the work we’ve done over the last three years and has given me time to think about some of the work I’ve done, both as part of the program and during my tenure as a technology director for a K12 school.  However, one of the competencies is based around ethical use of technology and it was this standard that challenged me to think of an artifact that would meet this truly important standard.  I have done a number of things over the last few years related to Internet Safety and ethical uses of technology in education, but nothing really stood out to me as being the best I could put forward to represent my thoughts on the topic.  Where I struggled was that most of what I’ve done hasn’t had much of a 21st century perspective.  As I searched the Internet looking for some guidance, I still came up short, therefore, I’ve decided to come up with my own ethical guidelines for technology use in schools for the 21st century.  These are purely my beliefs, but I think they are important enough to share with the rest of the world.

Yesterday I wrote about the need to unblock social networking sites and to begin empowering our students on how to responsibly use those sites.  Today I’m writing about helping our students create and manage their online presence.  As educators I feel we have a certain responsibility to prepare our students for as many situations as possible.  While many things are beyond our control or perhaps unknown,where I think we can make a difference is with preparing our students for interacting online with others, and a large part of that is helping them establish and manage an online presence.

Help students create their online identity

Nearly all Internet applications require some form of identity associated with them and while in the past most have shied away from having their students use their real name or a picture of themselves whenever those sites are used at school, I think we are missing an opportunity to prepare students as they enter the “real world.”  What I’m eluding to here are the countless young people that create profiles on social networking sites that hurt their chances of getting a job or getting into a good college.  With schools and employers looking at these sites to learn more about their candidates, it is even more important that we help our students manage their identity online to ensure they have the greatest chance of success once they leave our schools.  This seems to be over looked a lot because we are fearful of what might happen if students put out their real name or if they show a picture of themselves online.  This fear is well placed, but it is also important to think about the consequences of not teaching our students how to manage their online presence.  While we need to embrace social networking technologies, we need to also embrace the responsibility that goes with online interactions.  This will vary from school to school and community to community, but it is imperative we teach our students that what we deem as socially acceptable in face to face interactions also translates to online interactions.  Our values don’t change just because we are communicating online and the first step is to teach our students what and how they should post to their online profiles.

While I urge schools to help their students create online identities, I want to make clear that we still need practice common sense when we use the Internet.  Everyone is different, but there are some things that just make sense, such as not allowing everyone in the worlds see your contact information and where you live.  Privacy settings are a part of nearly all social networking sites, so we need to make sure our students know how to use those settings so they are not only protected from online predators, but also so they can manage their presence online.  While this won’t necessarily secure them a job, it could make a difference if they are even considered.

A few weeks back I saw a blog post over at U Tech Tips by David Carpenter that listed some of the key points from a presentation he had attended.  In that post was the following: “There is a need to increase our teaching of the concept of abstraction to help our students grasp how sitting alone in front of a computer screen typing one’s thoughts, sharing one’s real or fake persona, etc. is like being a room is filled with people.”  Many young people don’t appear to recognize the implications of what they post to social networking sites, and it’s up to educators to ensure they truly understand how exposed they are to their peers, friends, family, community, and world.

Here are some things you can do to help your students establish an online identity:

  • Discuss privacy settings: Too often young people don’t know these exist and leave themselves wide open for online predators.  Teach students how to restrict who has access to what information.
  • Discuss what is appropriate and what isn’t: Sounds simple, but young people continue to upload inappropriate pictures and posts to Web sites that could damage them for years.  Let your students know that they shouldn’t compromise their values just because they are online.  Use the grandma rule: “If you wouldn’t say it in front of your grandma, then you probably shouldn’t say it online.

Ethical uses of technology: Unblocking and empowering

Blocked social networking sites

This is the first of a series of three posts on Internet safety and ethical uses of technology in schools in the 21st century.

I’m completing a M.Ed. program through Iowa State University and I have been creating a portfolio based on five competencies.  These competencies really sum up all the work we’ve done over the last three years and has given me time to think about some of the work I’ve done, both as part of the program and during my tenure as a technology director for a K12 school.  However, one of the competencies is based around ethical use of technology and it was this standard that challenged me to think of an artifact that would meet this truly important standard.  I have done a number of things over the last few years related to Internet Safety and ethical uses of technology in education, but nothing really stood out to me as being the best I could put forward to represent my thoughts on the topic.  Where I struggled was that most of what I’ve done hasn’t had much of a 21st century perspective.  As I searched the Internet looking for some guidance, I still came up short, therefore, I’ve decided to come up with my own ethical guidelines for technology use in schools for the 21st century.  These are purely my beliefs, but I think they are important enough to share with the rest of the world.

Before going into how I think we should address Internet safety and ethical uses of technology, I think it’s pertinent to define the context that all this is taking place.  We live in a hyper-connected, hyper-media world, which will likely remain for the rest of our lifetime, not to mention the number of ways it will change during that time.  As we look at the consequences of living in an always connected, media filled world, we need to realize the way we have operated in the past no longer will suffice any longer.  Using filters and blocking the potentially harmful ways technology can be used is no longer the best way to protect our students.  Rather, we need to use our knowledge to empower our students so they can make the best possible choices.  It is from this viewpoint that I propose my thoughts on ethical uses of technology in the 21st Century.  What you won’t find here will be a strict set of rules schools and educators need to do to protect students, but rather, this will be a series of blog posts on more abstract ideas for educators to consider that get to the heart of what I consider to be one of the biggest challenges as education moves forward in the 21st century.

Unblocking and Empowering

When I think of Internet safety, I immediately think of my high school years and more recently my first few years as an educator in Cherokee.  It was during these times that I saw Internet safety as preventing students from accessing sites otherwise considered bad or undesirable.  Find a site you don’t like, block it.  No questions asked.  Essentially, we had rules or Acceptable Use Policies (AUP) that students had to follow when using the computers, the Internet, or other technology.  I still think we need to have some rules to protect our students and our investments, but they need to change a little bit to be more open and conducive to learning in the 21st century.

I understand the need to block some sites to truly protect our students, such as sites advocating for violence, hate, pornography, etc., but I think we have gone a bit too far in the name of protecting our students.  The Children’s Internet Protection Act (CIPA) states we need to ensure: “the safety and security of minors when using electronic mail, chat rooms, and other forms of direct electronic communications.”  To put this in a 21st century context, one of the most controversial Web sites that schools struggle with whether or not they should block access to is Facebook.  The arguments for blocking Facebook, as well as other similar sites, are that they are a waste of time when students could be doing homework, are a breading ground for bullying, and that it is difficult to monitor what students are doing on those sites.  While these are valid arguments, I have difficulty accepting zero tolerance blocking as the best solution.  Yes a solution, but far from the best, since many of these sites have useful tools students will need to take advantage of in their careers that lie ahead.  While it may not be Facebook, it will likely have many of the same tools and require many of the same skills.

Instead of blocking sites like Facebook, why don’t we find ways to teach our students about these sites so they make the right decisions when they use them outside the four walls of the school?  In my experiences ignoring an issue is where the problems really exist.  Students have the platform to speak their mind without the filter of synchronous communication.  Asynchronous communication empowers us to say and do whatever we wish without immediate consequence.  With the rise of this type of communication, where are we teaching our students the proper way to communicate in this new environment?  The answer is simple, we aren’t, and if we continue to block communication sites like Facebook in schools the problem will continue to worsen, because teachers don’t have the right tools, or the proper training, to prepare our students to communicate this type of platform.  We are experiencing a paradigm shift in the way we communicate and educators need to make sure we shift with that change.

This is a major hurdle for many schools and will take the entire school community to solve the bullying and other inappropriate things many students are currently doing on these sites.  I have had some experience with unblocking social networking sites and here are some suggestions for moving forward so you can be better prepared:

  • Don’t go in this alone: find others in your school or district that feel the same way you do about teaching your students how to use social networking sites.  There are going to be a number of people not happy with unblocking Facebook so make sure you have a support system.
  • Have a plan: You will likely need administrator support if you are going to change policy so make sure you have a plan for how you are going to prepare your students and more importantly, how you are going to prepare your fellow faculty members as they will be expected to participate.  Teaching students how to use technology in a responsible way takes the entire school community, not just a class student’s take and pass.  It has to be reinforced by all teachers.

Check back later this week for the rest of my thoughts on ethical uses of technology in the 21st century.