Dec 30th, 2009 by Cathy Jo Nelson
In creating my “end of the year review” post a few days ago, I was reminded that I had not yet processed all my notes from the conferences I’d participated in. One in particular that gave me pause while reviewing the information left me with a nagging question. Martha Alewine’s session was rich with information and designed to get educators excited about 21 century learning and show us that our state department of education is developing initiatives to help our fellow colleagues implement them. Here is the title and description of the session from our SC Edtech Conference bulletin:
21st Century Teaching and Learning: What does that mean for me?
Description: Participants will learn about the new SC Internet Safety Standards and the SC K-12 ICT Scope and Sequence which scaffolds student learning from Kindergarten to 12th grade. Session participants will explore resources available and receive examples of classroom and media center activities for use in teaching information, media, and technology literacy within the classroom curriculum. (Handouts from this session are available here.)
Here is the link to the wiki that she went through with us sharing documents (some she had in hardcopy for attendees–I opted for the online version since I had my laptop.) It was a great session, and participants were encouraged to share knowledge and ask questions. I applaud the effort that went into developing a thorough document, particularly by a state department of education leader, but still in the back of my mind I had a nagging worry.
I asked this in the session back then, and I still have the same worry. Other attendees expressed the same concern that continuously raises its head in k12 schools when we talk about integrating technology in the classroom. Filtering. I understand to a degree the need for filtering and the laws or conditions that call for it (CIPA, E2T2), but more and more I am seeing many applications perfect for engaging and empowering our learners being filtered out. Some of the same shared applications and websites in this very session are not available to every school due to the varied filtering programs and implementation of filtering by individual districts.
Education leaders need to take a stand
How much longer will we have statewide vast inequalities in terms of blocked sites–some blocked here, more blocked there, few blocked in other places? Considering the creation of this document, will our state department of education let districts know which sites they deem as appropriate for schools ? Can the state department of education mandate that a created list of applications or websites be left accessible and available to public k12 schools? (After all, the sde just mandated all schools change over to PowerSchools for a student management program AND mandated that all schools use Follett’s Destiny for statewide textbook management.) These programs were formerly dictated by local control, but now are mandated by our state department of education. Cannot some part of the filtering issue also come from the state office?
Haves vs. Have Nots
Note this is not a rant about filters, but a plea for equality in filtering. It is so frustrating that friends I connect with cannot access simple programs like Google Docs when I share them with intentions for collaboration while at school. Google apps are NOT programs that will lead students astray any more than a pencil is a weapon in the hand of a kid. Basically it all boils down to properly teaching students how to use the tools. When we first hand a pencil to a student in kindergarten, we are doing so to “arm” them with learning tools and warn of the dangers. And please know the “pencil can be a weapon” argument has been around forever. Come on now and tell me I’m NOT the only one who feels this way.
A view from the other side of the desk
I personally know a district level person assigned to manage filtering in a district who always reminds me that I’m not viewing this from that (district/admin) side of the desk. I respect their views too. But at the same time, it is discouraging to many to read about others’ use of these resources here when the vast disparity in filtering means some will get to use them, but others will not. Classic haves vs. have-nots. And I’m not talking about connectivity or funding. Denied accessibility in the name of strict filtering happens in even the richest districts out there. The SDE just needs to name sites so we can use at least some tools.
What is the next step?
Do we need a task force or something to create a list and then get it mandated (is that possible?) from the SDE to say to those in charge of filtering to “lighten up.”? The purpose of the task force could be to:
- create a list of applications, websites, and perhaps even tools that should be accepted in public school instructional settings, and
- ensure that district level IT folks understand and are assured that these tools support classroom learning/teachers by integrating the use of technology, supporting multiple intelligences, accommodating student learning styles, and engaging students.
I did ask my PLN in various avenues if their states list sites deemed appropriate in public school settings, and only a few have responded (maybe because its the holidays.) Their responses are as follows:
- Tim Stahmer, a technology integration trainer in Fairfax, Virginia says, “Not in Virginia. The state leaves it up to districts to figure out the details of internet filtering.”
- Donna Bills, a Texas school librarian, says, “There is no such list in Texas.”
- Ann Marie Gordon, a school librian from Honeoye Falls, NY says, “…on NYS Dept of Ed site I see no list of sites that must be open to students …”
- Karen Burns, a high school librarian from Gig Harbor, WA says, “I don’t know of any list in WA…”
- John Woodring, a social media teacher and instructional technology coach from Bluffton, SC says, “There is such a list. Anything on Discus. Did not say it was a good list.” (Note: Discus is our state’s virtual library portal.)
- Kristin Fontichiaro, school librarian from Michaigan and blogger for School Library Monthly says, “I haven’t heard of Michigan providing a list of do-not-filter sites.”
- Kathy Schrock, the Director of Technology for the Nauset Public Schools on Cape Cod, MA says, “I don’t know about any other one, but MA does not have a list of sites. I cannot imagine any of them do.”
What do you think?