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Computer Says No…

December 2, 2006

As I’ve already mentioned, I was LTS‘s guest on Monday and Tuesday at a meeting to discuss how LTS should move forward on emerging technologies, aka, Web2.0. I did have to work for my keep, and so had been asked by John Connell to speak about filtering/blocking as it affects a teacher in the classroom. Ewan ( has already given an account of what I said, and it has engendered quite a few responses, so I thought I’d better flesh out what I said for anyone else who’s interested (BTW: I apologise for the length of the post!)

I was honoured to be asked, and based what I said on my own experiences, others thoughts on the subject (eg: David Warlick, Vicki Davis, etc) and also the comments left on some of my own blog posts, most notably Who Watches the Watchers?

I took as my premise, the fact that at present in Scotland there is no ‘joined up thinking’ with regards to filtering of content. The problem varies from authority to authority, and also from school to school. Whilst most inappropriate sites are blocked, this comes at a price because many really useful ones are filtered as well. As a teacher, I find this frustrating and demeaning. Only last week, Mrs Blethers said that, with regards to filtering:

I found it frustrating and demeaning to be treated as if I too were a pupil who was not trusted to know how to unlock the sacred mysteries.

This is a sentiment that is all too easily recognised by any teacher who wants to do a bit more with the internet than visit the BBC news pages…

Having established the background, I set out to identify the key problems that I feel LTS can help teachers with. What follows is an adaptation of my main points…

Fear – Ignorance – Time
As I see it, the main reasons for blocking access to Web2.0 products like blogging tools, wikis, flickr, et al can be summed up in three words: Fear, Ignorance and Time.


With regards to the internet and online tools, teachers have a fear of;

  • inappropriate content,
  • time-wasting, and
  • the unknown…

 Let’s be honest, most teachers are scared of what they might find on the internet. They know that there is inappropriate content online and so they are happier sticking their heads in the sand by blocking anything even remotely risque or distasteful, regardless of whether this means blocking perfectly acceptable/desirable resources. The flaw in this approach is that it is not addressing the problem. If we are going to teach our pupils or children to deal with inappropriate material then we should be discussing it with them. Perhaps if we approached it with a more open mindset we might be able to make it less acceptable to the pupils… at the very least, we can discuss with them WHY some material is considered inappropriate.

Teachers are also scared that time spent on the computers is seen as time-wasting… or playing… and this requires a shift of mind-set… as Derek Robertson is showing, there is a very real need for us to re-evaluate our attitudes and opinions of computer games. We need to realise that we do learn when we are having fun… and that maybe playing a game is the best way to learn about terrorism (September 12) or world events (Darfur is Dying).

The other real fear that I believe teachers suffer from is fear of the unknown. The technologies that we are discussing and considering for classroom use are not only unknown, some of them don’t even exist yet! It’s much easier as teachers to sit in our comfort zones and stick with what we know. Unfortunately, this position is no longer tenable because, whether we like it or not, the pupils are using these tools, and doing so with confidence that comes from experience. Teachers really do have to make the effort to learn about, and use blogs, wikis and so forth lest they be seen as increasingly irrelevant by the pupils.


Teachers are, on the whole, ignorant of;

  • the new tools,
  • how to use them, and
  • how they can enhance and extend learning… you are reading this, then you already know what a blog is… but do you have a blog yourself? A wiki? A flickr account? Which RSS reader do you use? Have you got a Second Life or heard about technorati? Do you use a social browser like Flock?

Teachers are highly qualified members of society… and hate being perceived as ignorant in any way shape or form, yet to all intents and purposes, most teachers are ignorant of the potential and power that the emerging technologies can bring. They may have heard of blogs (thanks to Richard and Judy!), and some have heard of Wikipedia… but in my own school, I’m the only one with a flickr account that I know of… at least amongst the teachers.

Ignorance is easy, but ignorance of the tools that are available leads to ignorance of the gains they can bring. There is a strong sense that education in Scotland is changing. Initiatives like A Curriculum for Excellence (ACE) and Assessment is for Learning are much more radical (I think) than most teachers realise. And there is a growing belief amongst the Web2.0 users that A Curriculum for Excellence is not possible without Web2.0 technology.


Teachers need time to:

  • to learn about the tools and what they can do,
  • to experiment with them, and
  • to do everything else they need to do (marking, preparation, having a life!)…

The teacher has not yet been born who thinks there is enough time in the week. The prospect of learning about new technology is a daunting one, and may be the biggest stumbling block to adoption of emerging technologies… but it is a block which I believe must be overcome. We need to realise that these are tools that can enhance what we do in the classroom, and we also need to accept that, whether we like it or not, we will need to use them.

I know that, in many ways, I’m preaching to the converted when I talk about Web2.0 tools on a blog, but I have been convinced that they are becoming an essential part of every teacher’s tool-kit. If you don’t accept that, I’d direct you to the Bass Player’s Blog where one of my pupils makes the case for learning about Web2.0 much more eloquently than I can.


And so, that is a wee synopsis of what I had to say. You can get more details and another’s view of what I said over on Ewan’s blog. I did flesh it out somewhat, and used some pretty slides, but the main points are here. Fear, ignorance and lack of time are stumbling blocks on the road to fuller adoption of emerging technologies, but no more than that. We owe it to the pupils we see day in and day out to do the best we can for them, to push them, to challenge them, to drive them, and to guide them… even if we are afraid of the path they’re choosing.

Learning about, adopting and embedding emerging technologies is not always going to be easy: it may not always be a fun journey, and it will often be very hard work… but the difference these tools can make is, I believe, immense.


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16 Comments leave one →
  1. December 2, 2006 11:58 am

    Neil that’s for this post you have made some really interesting points here. Here an interesting (well at least I think so!) story for you. I spend the first six weeks or so at Musselburgh trying to get departments to set up flickr accounts. Only one department did. But when I set up a school account departments started up-loading to it. I think some teachers just don’t feel comfortable registering for some of the web 2.0 services? Anyway perhaps you could try this idea out in your own school. As long as you can get departments to tag the photo – something teachers picked up really easily the photo are easy to sort and to send to a web site. See you soon, Ollie.

  2. December 2, 2006 12:49 pm

    I would love to be able to try this… but at the moment, flickr is blocked by the school’s filtering software. Frustration abounds!

  3. December 2, 2006 1:41 pm


    Speaking as a teacher who has just embarked on the journey of using the new technologies, I think you are right to identify FEAR, IGNORANCE and TIME as the central issues. I’ve been trying to talk to my colleagues about my experiences and many of the responses certainly do fall into those categories.

    Some responses have left me a bit disheartened. A sort of ‘you can’t teach an old dog new tricks’or similar. But a greater number of responses centred around the ‘how on earth could I add this on to what I already do?’

    So, this week I have been asking myself: What’s my motivation in starting on this steep learning curve? I’m not that technical, and still find those ‘HTML instructions for dummies’ type pages a mystery.

    My motivation is that I want to become a better teacher. I think, as you say, that we are being offered a toolkit which will equip us to do that in this modern context.

    I returned to teaching after a long gap three years ago. I trained in the 80’s when using technology (usually a tape recorder) was something that students (not real teachers) did.

    I came back to electronic registration and whiteboards. I’d used email before, and had also used the internet for research. I had also watched the technology being picked up and used by a younger generation who didn’t have the same fear of mistakes that my generation had.

    Regarding the Internet,I believe like you, that teachers should be ‘right in there’ talking about how to critique the content of websites, discussing the morality of different philosophies. Raising questions. You don’t have to visit dodgy websites to offer insight on those things – you do need to appreciate the milieu.

    I am also of the opinion that many teachers do not realise the significance of the changes taking place in Scottish education. I’m not naive – I appreciate that long serving teachers feel -justifiably – a degree of suspicion towards ‘the latest initiative’.

    I think however -that precisely because of the new technologies- things have the potential to be different. When was it possible before to dialogue on this level with so many other teachers? When could we read in depth what other schools were doing, and what their staff, parents and pupils REALLY thought about it?

    These are just a few thoughts.

  4. December 2, 2006 2:54 pm

    In the world I came from – Further Education latterly. The barriers were not teachers in terms of accessing different web sites – the fear in the system was from system admins and College Management. This it is still there to a degree – but good user groups and dialogue does usually prevail in the end.

    If it’s good at supporting learning , it works reliably and there is access to it, most teachers will make use of any resource at their disposal.

    The time thing is really the issue for teachers -and but using technology should be time saver and technology is the only way we can support much more individulised learning. The light bulbs do come on in the end.

    The technology arrived in FE pre Web2.0 and the shame is that most of the good work that is going on in Colleges is only available on their virtual learning environments and not in the blogosphere.

    When pupils roll up at FE or HE they quickly adapt to the online environments and the learning resources available – they do still tend to Google everything which does not always help them find the best sources.

  5. December 2, 2006 3:20 pm

    Liz – In general, I agree that there are teachers who have been doing the same thing year after year without change… but I was pleasantly surprised to see one of these particular teachers recently get a new lease of life and enthusiasm courtesy of signing up for an accredited course as part of her CPD. It gives me hope that perhaps you can teach an old dog new tricks… but only if:

    Joe – (‘s) point about management is addressed. While my post above is about the problems for teachers, my premise was about the problems we as teachers have accessing the tools because of filtering by people who are too scared of either a) the internet, or b) their positions, to trust teachers. I really do feel that so much of the filtering that goes on in schools is a sign of a complete lack of trust in an individual teacher’s professionalism. It is to my regret that I didn’t really make as much of that particular point when I was speaking to LTS…

  6. December 2, 2006 4:59 pm

    On the other hand Neil, maybe going at this from the positive side of what’s available will actually turn the tide. I appreciate what you are saying however. It is a little difficult to share stuff with your colleagues when you have to keep saying ‘Now you can’t access that in school…’

  7. December 2, 2006 5:11 pm

    Liz – Ain’t that the truth! I’ve just won the award for the person most likely to say: “Now, this is really cool so I’ve sent you a link so you can look at it at home!” in this year’s Yearbook!

  8. December 2, 2006 5:50 pm

    Brilliant post. I am currently trying to arrance a CPD session on the use of flickr. I will link you when I write a complementing post


  9. December 2, 2006 8:42 pm

    Tess – Thank you very much! I’d love to discuss your take on the Glow Portal (you being a pilot amd all!)… your blog is one of my ‘must reads’ so I’m overwhelmed at your comments. Thank you again!

  10. Eva Forbes permalink
    December 2, 2006 10:06 pm

    Had a flickr account for longer than I can remember but why should you know this.

  11. February 17, 2010 5:02 am

    My district started blocking flickr, but I objected. I explained how my photo students had almost 4,000 photos in our group pool, I showed how every powerpoint I had ever made for class was there, in sets, for students to review anytime, at home or at school, and how they had to post both images and responses for assignments. I stressed how it could be made totally private, both student images, and our group discussions. I also attached a lot more white papers and other documentation than they could ever want to read. I was relentless!, but polite and articulate and tried to address their fears.

    Then the flickr commons- the white house, the Smithsonian, the public and Newberry libraries, the library of congress all have flickr accounts in order to share their images freely with the public and educators. Uh, free stuff?

    I use creative commons to create my own works, i credit the original artists, I then [post the work, and the original artist comments upon it. This isn’t possible with google image search. It provides the perfect place to teach kids to respect authorship and copyright law while still getting AWESOME images for their own projects.

    If we want to teach students to not steal, giving them a searchable database of images created to be shared seems only fair.


  1. Pushing at an open door at Jonesieblog
  2. Where to start… « Mr W’s Blogging Great Thing
  3. John Connell: the blog » Blog Archive » …as insecure as we can get away with…
  4. John Connell: the blog » Blog Archive » Filtering Blues
  5. Separating Tech And Teach « If You Don't Like Change…

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