The disconnect

A lot of posts among some of my online “acquaintances,” not to mention some issues at my own campus, have gotten me thinking about the disconnect between “the possible” and what’s permitted in schools.

What particularly set me off today was a twitter post from a respected colleague who was gradually having all web 2.0 tools cordoned off from her students, so that many of the projects she was trying to do or was already involved with were rapidly becoming denied to her students.   (And I could relate because although the situation is much, much better in our district, I still have been waiting for almost five weeks for approval to get Skype installed on a few teacher stations so I can use it for professional development and for virtual author visits.)

I find it upsetting because there are teachers out there who are committed and excited about education, and who really want to bridge the gap between the world many of their students live in (wired, connected, “on all the time”) and the world of education(me being one of those teachers).  These teachers are pushing the envelope, eagerly trying new things, and trying to use the best tools they can find to connect their students with a world beyond the classroom walls.

Yet too many of these teachers are met with roadblocks, and an ever mounting frustration at being unable to convince administrators or their IT department, or their district leaders..or someone in their district, that what they are doing can be done in a safe manner and is valuable, very valuable for their students.

So my fear is, naturally,  that we are going to lose some of the best teachers we have in the country.  Because you can only stand expending half your energies “convincing” people for so long.  And no one finds it rewarding to have their genuine love and enthusiasm for teaching reined in and constantly met with roadblocks. 

As schools, we have to support those who want to innovate and who want to provide this leadership.  We ask kids to trust us, and parents to trust us, and yet sometimes we aren’t endowed in our own districts with that sense of goodwill and trust.  We are professionals.  We are brought into a district to do our very best for our students.  We ask for the tools we need, that in our professional judgment are the very best for the job.  We should ask for no less.

So we know what the problem is.  My question is, what can we do to better support innovation with technology in our schools?  How can we facilitate the efforts of the best?  How can we not only support innovation but “grow it?”

Scott McLeod posted this question from a reader recently:

“What resources (contacts, advisors, print, online, etc.) do you recommend to our school leaders – and lawyers – so they can make informed decisions about student access to social networking tools?”

While he received some answers about some good social networking tools, I wish he’d gotten more answers about policies, statistics, and helpful information for sharing with districts about social networking, like the new NSBA statement on social networking that Will Richardson, David Warlick and many others have blogged about.

I have a few ideas–things that have been successful in our district, like opening up a dialogue and having a committee to discuss filtering and its ramifications.   (Our tech director assembled a team of many interested parties to enable this discussion).  It’s also helpful to have the opportunity to demonstrate what the tools can do for students.  It’s also helpful to have good policies and statistics handy.  

The fear factor is one of the primary problems, and the best way to counteract fear is with facts and examples.  (For example, Will points out that “fear” is one of the main concerns, yet the statistics don’t bear out that fear.)

So blogosphere, here’s your chance–what are some other helpful statistics, ideas, policies, and approaches for helping teachers who are facing this sort of frustration?   What tools can we give them?

6 thoughts on “The disconnect

  1. Being a Yank abroad, all I can offer is,, and other online proxy servers. Google it and you’ll find more. They get around blocks.

    This post makes me thankful I teach in a wonderfully open school. Skype, YouTube, wikis, Facebook – all allowed.

  2. I think you need to get the major corporate entities behind this. They are the ones who will benefit from the school purchases and will retain students as customers for decades to come. They need to be breathing down the necks of institutions and championing teachers. How did they get all those Apples in the classrooms back in the 80’s? Corporations should sponsor awards for teachers using their tools. Maybe then, when schools realize they have award winning teachers, institutions will do what needs to be done to get the tools to the students.
    On the flip side, maybe this isn’t already happening because many of these tools don’t have sustainable revenue models and won’t be around much longer. In that case, are we even doing a service to our students when we promote them?

  3. Those are good questions and one’s, I believe, that many of us are asking without having the benefit to many answers. At this stage, it’s hard to find any answers because of the access issue. It is hard to determine if such sites as Facebook or Youtube would provide a benefit to schools because of the lack of schools that have access. As for such tools as wikis and blogs, many of us are using them but we haven’t had to the time to see how they affect students’ knowledge and creativity. We all “know” that authentic comments are great when students are blogging but the “statistical” impact just isn’t there, from what I can see for if it was, we’d all have access because people would be sharing. My question is more about what should we be examining, what data do we need, how would we use it and what is the main goal? I know that my own teachers were a bit upset last week when we went from being able to access Youtube to being tubeless. A whole group of things had to be reworked. I find it a real problem working with communication technology that my students cannot access sound bites and various videos or documentaries because of where they are. I am thinking of creating a Ning group to share the videos and documentaries and have students share things just because it would get around some of the blocking problems we have encountered. Until they figure out what we’re doing and Ning goes down.

    Sorry, more questions than answers.

  4. Thanks all.

    Kelly, Those are some great questions. I think, as Jen mentioned, we should be enlisting the aid of outside organizations to study some of these questions–not just businesses but our professional organizations.

    Thinking of studies that the library associations have been doing on the correlation between libraries and student achievement, and how powerful those have been for librarians.

    I think we all should be collecting anecdotal information as well. For example, surveying our own faculties–or gathering “qualitative” statements about what these tools do to support instruction. It’d be interesting to see a survey with room for comments from your staff about their use of a tool like YouTube in the classroom(SurveyMonkey would be great for that.)

    It’d be great to use the collaborative power of our networks to help pull together information that teachers everywhere could use to support web 2.0 tools in the classroom!

    I’m wondering if it matters that, as Jen mentioned, some of the tools are transitory. Isn’t it the process that the tools allow that are the most important, and teaching students to adapt 😉 or ourselves to adapt? 😉

    Thanks again for the thought-provoking comments.

  5. I’ve been limited by the technology my school can provide time and again:-(
    About a year and a half ago, I got out of Plato’s cave, saw the vibrancy technology can provide in a student’s learning experience and I have been constantly thrown back into the cave to watch the technology-less shadows… A disconnect indeed!

    For me the (hardware) tools are computers, ideally wireless laptops.

    For many others, as I have been learning, the (web2.0/software) tools themselves are unimportant compared to access, opportunity, and COLLABORATION TIME. Tools are getting so much more user-friendly, but using them for learning (rather than just to teach old things in new ways), that is the trick. Case in point: I have seen a few blogs where students answer a teacher question, but don’t interact with each other in any meaningfully way.
    So for many teachers collaboration time, or training, or professional development opportunities are more important than tools (in my humble opinion).

    Put 2 or more well-intentioned teachers in a room and practice will improve. Don’t offer specific tools, offer opportunities for people to Connect & Collaborate & Creatively engage with tools of their choice.
    Oh yeah… but make sure they have the technology available to make this time useful when they get back into their classrooms!

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *