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Learning How To Smile

October 9, 2009

I feel as though I’m sitting in the eye of a hurricane. All around me, ideas, and thoughts and teachers and decisions are swirling while I sit in the relative calm and try to work out what is happening. As with all good hurricanes, this one has a name: filtering.

eyechart.pngThere appears to be a real impasse with regards to the issue of filtering the internet in schools. On the one hand, we have the teachers who are finding and using a wide variety of online tools that can enhance their practice and engage their learners, while on the other, we have the poor and vilified tech support people who are trying to maintain a vital school network and so they are often required to block sites as a matter of course. The impasse comes because all too often, there are no clear guidelines, or discussion, about what value a site/tool adds, or why a particular site has been blocked. It is too easy to slip into a simplistic ‘them’ and ‘us’ mentality, but all that does is allows the rather unsatisfactory status quo to prevail. We need to think afresh, and to be more pro-active… hence this post.

I am in a position where hardly a day goes by without one of my colleagues complaining about being unable to access a particular site or resource or tool… and I should point out that by ‘colleague’, I don’t just mean the teachers in my own school, I mean the educators from across the globe that I come into daily contact with through my blog, through twitter, and through professional forums like MirandaNet or even the TES. This issue is not a parochial, single school issue. This is a truly global experience. Filtering is a pain, but it is also a necessary pain for a variety of statutory and legal reasons… though it may interest those in Britain to consider this post about duty-of-care because all too often we over-exaggerate the fears through our own ignorance.

DoOneThingToday.jpgIronically, given the nature of Web2.0 tools, I believe the heart of the problem lies in a lack of communication between the educators at the chalkface and those who are there to support them. I am as guilty as anyone when it comes to making glib comments about the problems of school filtering, but I am sure I am not alone in having never sat down and worked my way through what I want from the online world in my classroom. Just about everyone has seen the Karl Fisch “Did You Know / Shift Happens” presentation (Now up to Version 4 would you believe!), but the truth is, that when it comes to education, for many of us the Shift hasn’t happened! In fact, when version one of the presentation came out, most of us could probably still access Youtube in school… not now!

So… in an effort to get a real discussion and proposal put together, I’ve set up an etherpad document with the intention of getting people to chip in their own thoughts. What I’m trying to do is to put together a put together a policy document that can be put to the Scottish Education Department, Learning & Teaching Scotland, ADES, the HMIe, the GTCS, and/or any other body that might be able to progress the conversation. I also hope that what ever recommendations or ideas we come up with will be suitable for any educator, anywhere to take and adapt to suit their own situation. To this end, all submissions will be covered by a Creative Commons “Attribution-Non-Commercial 2.5 UK: Scotland” agreement.

I’ll let the etherpad document run for a week or so, then will be transferring it to a wiki to allow us to expand on the initial document by adding examples of good practice, links to research, and to use the forum feature of the wiki to engage in discussion of the document. This is an ambitious idea, and may come to nothing, but as there appears to be a lack of willingness from the any one body at the “top” to make a decision about how we are allowed to harness the online opportunities we have available, I thought I would take it on myself to get the ball rolling… Pretentious? Moi? 😉

These are the starter questions/discussion points on the etherpad, but I hope you’ll add more as well as taking the time to chip in. I also hope you’ll pass the link on… this attempt will be more valuable the wider the involvement… and I would dearly love to see some of the support staff and those who do make the decisions about blocking and filtering get involved as well. This is meant to be an inclusive and positive discussion, so let’s stop wingeing, and start learning how to smile!


Click this link to access the etherpad!

As I see it, there are four main things to consider here.
• Suitable tools
• Keeping kids safe online
• Bandwidth issues
• Free versus ‘Paid for’

At the moment, I have nothing but questions, I’m hoping you will start providing the answers! To get us started, here’re my initial ponderings. Feel free to add your own, in fact, I expect it!

1 – Is there an argument for allowing teachers access to a wider range of tools/sites than pupils, or is this hypocrisy?

2 – I am struck by the thought that as a teacher, I am treated the same as the pupils with regards to the internet — ie: not trustworthy. How do I persuade a school to trust me?

3 – Are there sound technical reasons for blocking some sites? (ie: bandwidth concerns for video streaming)

4 – Which tools should ALL teachers be able to access? Is it possible to have a common toolkit… or do different age groups need access to different things?

5 – Do you have a great lesson that is dependent on a particular online tool… and would you be willing to share it?

6 – Can you get a site/programme unblocked easily?

6a – (Associated question) Are you able to install necessary updates such as flash/java/etc…?

7 – Do you even know how to go about getting something unblocked in your school/authority?

8 – Does your employer/school/authority have a policy document on online tools/software, and if so, have you a) read it, and/or b) been involved in creating the policy?

9 – Are authorities right to avoid adopting ‘free’ tools? Is community support a viable model for education?

10 – How do we get our voices heard by those who have the power to make changes?

11 – Is this an issue that needs a National response rather than a local ‘authority by authority’ approach?

Click this link to access the etherpad!

and let the smiling begin…

2 Comments leave one →
  1. October 10, 2009 8:07 am

    Such a wonderful article! A great dilemma that I believe is all around the world. In New Zealand the Youtube issue is dealt with at each individual school. In Australia its been banned by the state. As a teacher who blogs regularly and extensively with my class ( it concerns me greatly that there is no code of conduct for New Zealand Schools for displaying material although there’s a few informal ones! In a sense the technology is outpacing the policies that are developed to administer it.
    Myles Webb, Melville Intermediate School, Hamilton Waikato, New Zealand.

  2. October 10, 2009 10:56 pm

    Thanks Myles!
    I agree that this is a world-wide issue. That’s why I’m keen that anyone anywhere should feel free to chip in and edit the etherpad. When we live in a world without walls and where every classroom could potentially be endless, it seems a little bit parochial to think that any way forward can only come from one small geographic area.

    I’ve been admiring some of the steps New Zealand have been taking with education for a while now, and would love the chance to visit ULearn some time!

    Thanks for stopping by!

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