Reflections on Instructional Technology and Media

Web Filters – A Poem April 10, 2008

We have a web filter
We are compliant with CIPA
We do not block applications
Needed by our teachers
To teach students
In the 21st century

Our filter blocks categories
Determined by a committee
Of teachers
And technology specialists
And media specialists
And district leaders

We block sites
To protect our children
Not to block instruction
When a teacher needs access
To a site that is blocked
We Unblock it

Requests to unblock sites
Are sent to an instructional leader
Not a technology hardware manager
Who is not grounded in
But is more concerned about
The network

We allow web 2.0 apps
Like blogs
And wikis
And podcasts
And video streaming
And social networks
And social bookmarks
And anything that will prepare
Our students to learn
In the 21st Century

We believe that a web filter should
Allow for creative learning
Not restrict it
We understand that students
Will sometimes encounter

Sites that are not appropriate
I would rather have students encounter
A small number of questionable sites
If that means they have access
To the tools they need to learn
Rather than having inadequate access to learning tools
In order to never encounter risky sites

I believe that students
Need to be taught
How to navigate the web
And all of its glory
And all of its dangers
If they are never exposed
How will they learn to be
Digital citizens

I am sad that there are students
In our state
In our country
Who cannot collaborate
With other students beyond their classroom
Because their school leaders
And district leaders
And teachers
And parents
Are scared

We have a web filter
We are compliant with CIPA
We do not block applications
Needed by our teachers
To teach students
In the 21st century


T + L 2007 – Nashville October 18, 2007

I am currently in Nashville, TN at the National School Boards Association’s T + L Conference. Below is an attempt to summarize each session I have attended thus far and any big ideas I was able to take away.

Global Learning Initiatives: Building 21st Century Literacy for Student Success in 21st Century Life

This was lead by a team from Broward County, FL. The big idea here is the implementation of GLIDES (Global Learning Initiatives through Digital Education for Students) in all of their schools. The concept here is that each school selects an essential question and then classes or teams of students work together to create a digital product to address one component of that question. Amazing essential questions and amazing student projects! This is one of the essential instructional strategies I need to take back to our district. Powerful learning taking place there!

Social Networking Research & Presentation: Lost Opportunities: What Happens when Districts Disallow Web 2.0 in the Classroom

This was a 2 part presentation. The first part was from NSBA on a study they commission on Kids’ Social Networking Habits. Interesting data. Glad someone is finally collecting some. Part 2 was from McREL on their experiences with going into districts to work with schools on 21st century learning only to discover that most of the tools they need are blocked by the district in the name of security and student safety. Again we see the need to educate students to be safe rather than just blocking. I am getting concerned about our own filtering practices. Time to take another look at what we are filtering. Saw an online resource I was not familiar with –

Keynote Address: Peter Diamandis – The Best Way to Predict the Future is to Create it Yourself

Inspiring, just the way a keynote should be. Peter is the CEO of X Prize and Zero Gravity. Got me thinking that we should do a scaled down version of the X Prize for our school systems to inspire them to rise to the challenge of preparing all students for the 21st century! I would love to see what we could come up with.

Personal Computing: New Solutions for the Classroom @ Web 2.0

Jim Hirsch from Plano, TX lead this session packed full of 21st century learning tools. I love going to sessions like this one because I always pick up a handful of new sites that are so cool but I knew nothing about. Here is Jim’s list. And another one.

New Literacy for 21st Century Students: Reinventing School Libraries for the Digital Age

John Canuel from Jefferson County, CO lead this session. We focused mostly on what 21st century literacies are and how they can be applied to libraries. Sounded to me like the Librarians in Jefferson County are also doubling as Tech Coordinators.


Teaching Students to Practice Online Vigilance June 22, 2006

I am in what has become a pretty common situation for school districts: mounting pressure from the community both inside and outside the schools to block social networking sites such as MySpace and Facebook. Our district pays a pretty penny for sophisticated Internet filtering software and, being in a liberal community, takes a low-key approach to filtering content. A committee met to determine what categories to block with the goal of blocking only the most harmful content (pornography, violence, etc). As the administrator of the filter, I constantly receive requests to block sites that teachers find student in, not because the content of the sites themselves is bad, but because the teachers are frustrated with the students being off task in these “other” sites rather than working on the class assignment.  Thus, keeping the students engaged in class has gone from being a classroom management issue to a technology problem.

There are a few inherent problems with this logic:

  • Simply blocking these sites without directly addressing the greater problem at hand places our students in greater danger than does allowing them access to the sites in the first place. Let’s take MySpace as an example. The rationale I have been given for blocking this site is that the content is inappropriate for a school environment and that participation in the site places students in danger from Internet predators. Stephen Downes writes: 

Is our best response, though, to kick the kids off MySpace? My first reaction seems to be that we are punishing the kids for the actions of the badly behaved adults.After all, if a grown man came to a school playground and started swearing and drinking and making lewd remarks, we would react by removing the adult, not by preventing children from accessing the park

  • Students are far more savvy and determined than we adults are. If there is a way around an obstacle, you can be sure that at least one student is going to try to find it. This is absolutely the case with our Internet filter. Part of my struggle over the past year is that by all accounts, MySpace is blocked, but students are finding ways to get there in spite of the filter. As soon as we find a solution to one of their work-arounds, they find another. Last week, it took all of 45 minutes from the time we patched one hole, only to have a middle school student find another.  My point is that blocking the site only increases the student interest in getting to the site, because now it is taboo, which makes it more exciting. This brings me back to point number 1 – we need to have the conversation with our students about online ethics and Internet best behaviour.

Bottom line: we need to equip our students with the tools to practice online vigilance by teaching them to be critical of the information they access and the information they provide online. This requires direct instruction and conversation from teachers, technology facilitators, and media specialists. It should be the job of these educators to address this problem, not the IT dept!