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


Going on a Shelfari April 2, 2008

I have been marginally aware of the existence of Shelfari for several months now, but have only started exploring the site and its potential use this week. So I thought I would share what I have seen and what I would like to see in terms of the use of this product in the K-12 environment.

What is Shelfari?

Shelfari is a web 2.0 tool that allows you to identify what books you have read, what you are currently reading, what you hope to someday read, what you own, and designate favorites among them.  You can rate the books, write reviews of them, and TAG them. Like many web 2.0 tools, you can add friends and compare your shelves. You can find others in shelfari who are reading the same book or ask for feedback on a book you might be interested in reading.  You can create groups and focus on specific books in the group.

Books can be added to your shelf manually through a search by title, author, or ISBN. Book lists can also be imported. The books are displayed on the shelf with their book covers shown which makes it really attractive.

How can this be used in the K-12 environment?

School Library 

My immediate thought goes to the library media center. How cool would it be for the media center to have a shelfari account in which they could create a shelf for:

  • new books that have just arrived in the library
  • book of the month themes
  • books for specific projects
  • potential new books – let students and teachers review and recommend
  • summer reading lists
  • teacher reading lists

I’ll bet you can think of may more!  All of this can be done using tags. For example, compare my entire shelf list to my Harry Potter list.  All I did, was to tag each of my Harry Potter books with “hp” and then the shelf is easily generated. You can see how creating a march2008 tag for each book you want to feature in March will let you create special lists for any need you have!


Another thought – many teachers have their own classroom library. They could create a tag for all the items in their classroom and then create another to make a wishlist. Parents could then see what teachers need – you never know, one parent might just expand your classroom library for you! Teachers could also share what they are reading and which books are their favorites. We all know that when children see adults share their love for reading, it increases the liklihood they will read more!


Let’s take this a step further, what if students created their own shelf! They could add the books they read throughout the year and watch their shelf grow. This is so potentially powerful, it gives me goosebumps (not the book sereis, the actual bumps on my skin). One word of warning – Shelfari says that it legally only allows children 13 yrs old and up to create their own account. I can understand this – there is no way to block their access to some of the more adult lit that other shelfarians are sharing. Maybe a good idea for younger users, is to create a classroom account and add books as a class through the year. You could then tag the book with each students name or pseudonym to create a shelf for each student. Might be a cool way to see which books are the most popular.

I am still learning this app and I am sure I will have lots more ideas about this.  How many of you are using Shelfari? Find me and friend me!


Why I Love Technology March 31, 2008

Tiny Baby

There is no denying that technology has become the great re-uniter of the 21st century. On a weekly basis I re-discover connections with old friends whom I have not seen in 20 years. Once I get over the fact that I am old enough to have not seen someone for 20 years, I am amazed at how connected I have become and how frequently I bump into old friends online. These are connections I would likely not have without technology. In many cases they are people I never had a telephone relationship with in high school and would certainly not strike one up now. But I am comfortable enough with the idea of being friends with them online and checking in to see what they are doing now.

What I love even more is the ability to share photos of my child and see the photos of others’ children without having to fill up their email inbox. I have become a huge fan of Photobucket, Snapfish, and Shutterfly. But most recently, I have really appreciated how hospitals are supporting families with loved ones in long term care. Last summer a friend from college had triplet boys (yikes!) born at 25 weeks. The hospital set up a blog and photo gallery for them to update daily so that loved ones could get the info on how the boys were progressing without the parents having to sit on the phone non-stop retelling the same story dozens of times a week. I am seeing this again with a friend whose son was born last month 8 weeks ahead of schedule at 1 pound, 5 ounces. He is doing great thanks to a whole other set of technology – but again I can keep up with his progress online! The picture above is of him from last week – he is wearing his father’s wedding ring as a bracelet. What a beautiful picture. I love technology.


I am thankful for… November 26, 2007

In the spirit of the recent holiday weekend, I wanted to share a few of the things I am thankful for these days: (cross posted at LeaderTalk)

  • The friends and family I have reconnected with via MySpace, Facebook, Geni, and good old fashioned email
  • Wikis that allow me to minimize the email messages I have to sort through when preparing for a meeting
  • Google groups to organize my work with others
  • Edubloggers who keep me current with new technologies and bless me with their thoughts and ideas on how to use them
  • Blogs that let me share my thoughts with the rest of the worlds
  • Digital photo sites so that I share as many photos of my child without feeling guilty about filling up their mailbox quotas
  • Unlimited mail box quotas
  • A school district that lets me be excited about new ways to use technology in the classroom and lets me lead others in how to use technology to transform teaching

Too Old? April 4, 2007

My birthday was last week. I am now 34 – mid thirties – still young by many standards (including my own) – and at the same time, there is now yet even more distance between my age and those of the students in our schools. I was asked today by one of my co-workers if he was just too old to keep up with all of the emerging technologies in use by kids today. Consider my depression when I found out we are the same age – actually he is getting ready to TURN 34!

Believe it or not, this is a common question I get from people in my age-group. Am I too old to keep up with the emerging technology? Of course, my answer is a definite NO – but I understand their struggle, because it is one I face myself.

My peers do not rely on MySpace, Facebook, or other social networks to keep up with one another. We use email, which I consistently read is considered by today’s students the way they communicate with old people. Hang on, it gets worse. We even still call each other on the PHONE! Therefore, I was motivated to join the virtual social network known as MySpace not by friends, but because I felt I needed to be a part of it in order to understand why my students use it. And guess what – it turns out a lot of my friends were ALREADY on MySpace!!! So now, with those friends I do find myself keeping in touch with them primarily through that medium rather than through email – and I have found friends in MySpace that I have not seen since high school. It is actually a lot of fun.

Now the question is, how to harness the attraction of these social networks and use them for the educational greater good. And I am convinced we can. But I know that we cannot even begin to understand how to do it, if we are not a part of it!!!!  So, if you are feeling like learning something new, create a MySpace page and friend me. Yes – friend is now a verb.


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!