How safe is too safe?

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I recently started a blogging project with the grades 4/5 class in my school and  I was intent on protecting them and keeping them safe from the outside world.  I went to a lot of work to set up the site so all of their posts and comments run through my gmail account and right now we are closed off from the rest of the world.  In talking with the classroom teacher, we decided that we would invite another class of students in our school division to join us in our blogging project.  This would give us a slightly wider audience, but allow us to remain in our safe little environment.

The problem for me is that is seems as if something is missing from our project.  As I search around the internet checking out other student and classroom blogs, I can’t help but notice that the opportunity for comments from the outside world is an important component of what blogging is all about.  I come back to the video, “42” which describes the advantage of providing our students with a much broader and more valid audience for their writing.  So how safe is too safe?

I asked one of our school division technology people what the division policy is on blog sites.  He did not seem to think that it was a problem to open up the blog as long as:

1.  We had parental permission for them to participate

2.  The students did not give away any personal, identifying information

Greg Stark commented on my blog post about my student blogging project and  suggested that I open up our site and run all the comments through my e-mail so that I could delete any inappropriate comments.  Thanks for the suggestion.

We seem to do a lot of things to try and keep our students safe and “out of trouble”, so to speak.  Are we really trying to promote the use of technology in our classrooms?  I can’t help but wonder if we are being stifled by our own fears.  I was reading a blog post today and the teacher was describing having a “hissy fit” because a site that she had picked out to use with her students had been blocked.

Yesterday, I was helping a student who was trying to find out how many hours it would take to fly to China for one of his projects.  I was trying to give him suggestions as to where he could go to find the information, but all of the sites we found were blocked.

I am often working from home on my own laptop and preparing things for use in school, only to find that when I get to school, the sites that I wanted to use are blocked.  When I tried to use my own laptop at school, I found that this met with some roadblocks as well and that it is not allowed under our “acceptable use policy”.  Interesting… I guess I should have read that more carefully before I signed it.

Now, don’t get me wrong, I understand why there have to be rules and why we have to be careful.  I also understand that if you find a site you want to be able to access and can’t,  you can request to have it unblocked.  The problem with the whole idea is often, in the mean time, teachers that are wanting to get into technology use within their classrooms get discouraged and can feel that the time invested is not worth it.

I was sitting in on a short inservice session last week with some math teachers in my division.  I was listening to one teacher describe a video project she was doing with her students.  They were enjoying it and had invested a lot of time and energy into the project.  When they came back to it the next day, she found that “Deep Freeze” had blocked their pictures and their project was at a standstill until a tech person could get there and help her out. I am sure I could come up with countless other examples.

Our school division has been very encouraging to teachers providing us with up to date technologies and support personal to help us out.  We also have a technology grant that teachers can apply for to promote technology projects within our schools. I still have to wonder, though, if our fears are holding us back.   Are we really doing everything we can to encourage teachers to move away from traditional teaching methods and try new technologies?  I wonder…

Catch you on the back channel!

Open Education, Are we ready or are we being left behind?

Once again, I walked away from my computer last Tuesday feeling full and over flowing with new ideas and information.  I can’t help but sharing my experiences with my staff at school, especially my principal.  We are in close quarters, so she gets to hear it whether she wants to or not.

I can’t say that I really even understood what open education was before enrolling in ECI 831.  I even voiced my negative thoughts about having to be on-line on Tuesday nights.  My idea of taking an on-line course was e-learning, where I could log on at any time and do my work in my little world.  Wow, was I wrong.  I look forward to our classes and the new information and ideas that I have been exposed to is both overwhelming and exciting, as it was on Tuesday when we were listening to Jon Mott, from Brigham Young University, present his thoughts on open education.

I thought that I was being cutting edge when I developed two internet courses, one when I still had to type in all the HTML…groan…and doesn’t that age me?  The other one was a couple of years ago.  I joined a division project to develop some senior level courses using Moodle.   I tried, at least, to include some components of group work and collaboration in both, but I would like to have the opportunity to go back and try it over again.

The one quote given by Jon Mott ,the other night, that jumped out at me and would not go away was, “If you can Google it, don’t teach it or test it,” said by Dave Wiley, also from Brigham Young UniversityJon went on to add that we instead need to see what students can do with it.  I wanted to put it on a neon sign and post it up in my office!  Why are we still so intent on shoving trivial information down our students throats and then being shocked when they cannot remember it sometimes only days later?  What point is there in the whole process?  We present a bunch of facts to our students, we expect them to study them and remember then so that they can spit them back on a test.  After the test we record their marks and  present those marks to students and parents at designated reporting periods.  What are we accomplishing by that whole process? What are we actually learning from this?

I look forward to participating in the process this afternoon when I have to study for a current events test with my son.  He already failed the test once and it is a rewrite.  I am not sure what learning outcome we are trying to meet with the whole activity, but I will support the teacher because I want to instill the value of respect  in my son. We can have a discussion about learning outcomes another time.  What kinds of things could these students actually be learning about current events if it were approached in a different way?  The possibilities are probably endless.

I watched the video by Dave Wiley on his ideas on open education and had another thought as I was listening to him discuss the Western Governor’s University.  This university offers the opportunity  for students to show what they already know without having to participate in classes, only to waste time learning the same things over again.  What a novel idea that needs to find its way down to public school classrooms.  Why are we expecting children to all complete the same number of learning activities and assessments, even though they are all at different stages in their learning?  Are some of the behavior problems in our classrooms because some of our students are bored stiff learning the same things over and over again?  Would 5 math problems would be enough to review and learn a concept, instead of 25?

I do sound crabby today, but I think that we need to get with the program, or according to David Warlick, who is a well-known writer, speaker and author in the educational technology community,  in response to an article entitled “If you can’t use technology, get out of teaching!” that was published in NZ Interface, a New Zealand education technology publication.  “I probably wouldn’t say, “If you can’t use technology get out of teaching!” But I’d gladly say, “If you’re not teaching within a contemporary information landscape (networked, digital, abundant information), you’d probably have a pretty hard time finding another profession that doesn’t. But the last thing you should be doing is preparing children for their future. Is this statement too harsh?  Can we really afford to ignore that fact that we are not preparing them for the future?

I think that we could learn from my 75-year-old father who is passionate about life long learning.  He has many worries about the ways of the world, but he believes strongly in the idea that you are never too old to learn new things.  I often send him links and ideas about the things I am learning and he does the same for me.  I think that he would agree with  Michael Wesch’s idea that we need to not just be knowledgable, we need to be knowledge-able! We all can be  knowledge-able with a little work !

Catch you on the back channel!