At some point we’re just going to have to trust people to do what’s right when it comes to use of the Internet in schools. In my district we have spent countless hours keeping our appropriate use polices up to date, implementing the latest in filtering technology, and monitoring to the best of our ability, what people are doing while they’re on the Internet. We have had Internet connections available for students and staff since 1995. During that time we have had only a handful of appropriate use violations.
Is all the time and effort to keep the system locked down really productive? As we have provided increased technology for our staff and encouraged them to use the technology in their classroom instruction, the number of complaints over blocked sites has skyrocketed. The number of appropriate use violations has remained very low.
A typical scenario goes like this. A teacher searches the web and finds some great video resources to support a planned lesson. What better way to use the new classroom projector? After spending hours in preparation, the teacher arrives at school excited about the new infusion of technology into the instructional process. Trying to access the resources at school, up comes a message that the content is blocked for one of many reasons—none of which make sense to the disappointed teacher and students. Requesting to unblock sites is somewhat cumbersome and unpredictable. Maybe we need to lighten up a bit. Perhaps it would make more sense to have teacher computers unblocked and then take action if we find there is abuse.
For students the issue is a bit more problematic. We are required to have Internet filters on computers for student use. The trust factor is a bit more dicey with students. However, we have not had many instances of inappropriate use of the Internet by our students.
I’m sure we can strike a balance between protection and access if we really try. So in my district, that is what we are going to do. If a teacher wants access to YouTube, the teacher will get access. If the teacher chooses to visit inappropriate sites, we will deal with that teacher rather than blocking access for everyone. Students, at least for now, will have to live with the restrictions. However, when they need to visit a site to make a presentation or report, they can always use the teacher’s computer with supervision. Hopefully this will turn out to be a common sense approach that allows teacher to take advantage of some wonderful online resources. Or, it could make my last year as Superintendent very challenging.
Like most districts, we want our teachers to have access to powerful instructional technology. And, like most districts, technology purchases for us have been made with a mix of limited district funds, some grants, and site categorical funds. This has led to a situation where there are haves and have nots in terms of access to instructional technology. A recent grant allowing for most of our math classes to have access to Promethean Boards caused our teachers of other subjects and grade levels to ask about access to these powerful technology tools. When we took an inventory of the technological tools available to our teachers, we were surprised at the discrepancies across the district. Our classrooms ran the gamut from full Promethean tools with document cameras to a single overhead projector sitting in a corner. We realized we had a serious equity problem.
Our model of allowing sites to drive the educational technology available in classrooms had created a situation where student and teacher access technology varied dramatically. A student could experience a relatively rich or embarrassingly poor access to technology tools depending on the luck of what teacher he/she was assigned to. It was possible for students to spend their entire K-8 careers having only had access to teachers with an overhead projector. Or they could be the lucky ones that had teachers with state-of-the-art technology. This unacceptable situation led us to initiate our Tech Equity Project for teachers.
Utilizing a highly motivated Tech Vision Team, we developed minimum standards for technology for teachers. After much discussion, it was decided that each classroom should be equipped with a teacher laptop, sound system, smart projector and document camera. Funding for equipment would come from excess bond funds. Sites agreed to pay for maintenance, repairs and supplies with the funds they were allocating previously to purchase hardware. Our Tech Vision Team members offered to provide the necessary professional development at their sites in exchange for access to new technologies. After much planning, meeting with vendors, and individual meetings with teachers and principals, our vision will be realized when teachers return from Winter break.
The next step in our vision will be the issue of equity of student access. We have the same problem of haves and have nots with student technology. Our goal will be to have all classrooms with an internet device available for all students within the next two years. Whether that device will be a notebook, netbook, or tablet has yet to be decided.
The other big issue for us is whether our teachers will utilize all of this technology in powerful ways to improve student achievement. One thing is certain. No one will implement technology they do not have. We are looking forward to the next steps in our journey. Parent, teacher, and community support for our Tech Equity Initiative has been overwhelmingly positive.
Ouch! During these budget challenges, many schools and districts are cutting their professional development to the bone, instituting travel freezes and hunkering down to focus only on the basics. These times, tough as they are, present the perfect opportunity to try using new, free resources from the Internet.
One excellent example is video. Use quick clips to set a tone, grab the attention of a group or provide a humorous interlude during very serious presentations. Use a rich, longer video piece to spark a discussion of provocative ideas or as a virtual stand alone professional development experience. A very real side benefit of using video is the prevention of “death by PowerPoint” that is sometimes experienced by participants in home grown presentations.
It’s easy to get started. TICAL has developed a wiki containing free resources ranging from quick ice breakers to brief inspirational clips to links to major national experts. In addition to the resources listed there, if you search down the right side of the page, you will find a link to “Bob’s videos” that will take you to some additional fun links.
Don’t let these tough financial times get you down. Continue to provide professional development in your districts and at your sites by utilizing these free resources.
As a superintendent who supports the infusion of technology in education and seeks to provide 21st century skills for our students, each year finding the funding to support and expand educational technology becomes more difficult. My district is suffering from a “perfect storm” of declining enrollment, a state budget crisis, and being a part of ground zero for foreclosures. As we ponder the crisis before us, the special interests line up and begin their lobbying efforts. Balancing the competing priorities of class size, music, counseling, libraries, athletics, technology, and safety becomes an almost impossible challenge.
“Don’t forget the role of libraries in information literacy,” shout the librarians. “Oh, and while we’re at it, don’t forget the award you got for supporting libraries.”
“How can students suffering from emotional stress be expected to meet state standards?” ask the counselors.
“Music helps build reading skills,” shout the music teachers. “We took our cuts last year.”
“Many of our students will drop out if we cut sports,” moan the coaches.
“Class size reduction is what allows our student to develop basic literacy,” remind the primary teachers.
“I can’t afford printer cartridges now,” complain the teachers who also remind you that you promised them Smartboards.
What’s a superintendent to do? I strongly believe that our students need access to technological tools if they are to learn in a Web 2.0 world. We can’t continue to put tech orders on hold, cut tech support, or fail to provide the basic supplies needed by those who use the technology to support instruction. Certainly technology should suffer its fair share of the hits. But just because we can save large amounts of money by postponing or canceling tech purchases doesn’t mean we should do it.
It’s my job as the instructional leader of the district to advocate for and support the infusion of technology into the curriculum. Teachers won’t use technology that is unreliable due to lack of tech support. Students won’t gain the skills they need for the new workplace by using paper and pencil. Our very future will suffer dramatically if we are forced to use 20th century tools in a 21st century world. To my fellow superintendents I say, “Buck up, cowboys. Find the funds to support the technology. We may need to reprioritize and look at our world a little differently, but we can’t afford to cheat our students by not supporting them with the technology they need to learn 21st century skills.”