Tuesday, January 15, 2008

Acceptable Use

My School district is reviewing a new Acceptable Use Policy. (To read the current one, select Information and News after following this link here.) The teachers in training as Technology Learning Group Facilitators were asked to review the policy and read Chapter 7 Online Security from Web 2.0: New Tools, New Schools and provide a response.

The following is the text of my response.

The Jekyll and Hyde nature of school acceptable use policies is tolerated by many, ignored by most. We are willing to suffer the monster at the perceived benefits of the good doctor.

Fear and Loathing

I f the acceptable use is not in toto, then, there must logically follow, disuse and a line must be drawn to portion the two. Where and for what reasons that line is drawn is almost as contentious as the question by whom.

Yet, when clear thinking is set aside and decision making is clouded by fear, well, many dystopian images come to mind.

"And where once you had the freedom to object, to think and speak as you saw fit, you now have censors and systems of surveillance coercing your conformity and soliciting your submission. How did this happen? Who's to blame? Well certainly there are those more responsible than others, and they will be held accountable, but again truth be told, if you're looking for the guilty, you need only look into a mirror. I know why you did it. I know you were afraid."
V's speech to London- "V for Vendetta"

Reacting out of an irrational fear is beneficial to no one.

The statement that a highly restrictive policy is needed to protect the students is based on the faulty assumption that it can protect students .

The Australian government underwrote a national policy to provide internet porn filtering software as a free download to businesses, schools and parents. The $84 million pricetag bothered a 16 year-old computer enthusiast who reported to the Communications Ministry that he had figured a bypass for the filter in 30 minutes. The ministry upgraded the filter software which he cracked in another 40 minutes. Wasteful spending aside, the student , a victim of cyberbullying himself, feared the complacency of responsible parties once the filters were in use.

The National Research Council released a report titled Youth, Pornography, and the Internet, stated that filters "can be highly effective in reducing the exposure of minors to inappropriate content if the inability to access large amounts of appropriate material is acceptable." (italics added)

An Electronic Freedom Foundation study found that with blocking software at its least restrictive settings blocked content .5-5% of the time based on state curriculum topics. In their most restrictive settings filters blocked up to 70% of the state mandated topics. The University of Michigan Medical School found similar results but also found that at the most restrictive setting 87% of the pornography sites were blocked while at its most restrictive still only blocked 91% of such sites.

You might wonder if such highly restrictive policies might be in violation of CIPA (Children's Internet Protection Act) "good faith" requirements for the protection of minors by relying so heavily on filtering software which is knowingly undependable.

CIPA with respect to adults, only requires that it is enforcing an internet safety policy that includes the use of filtering software that denies access to material that is obscene and child pornography (note that there is no "monitoring" requirement for adult use, nor is there a requirement to deny access to material that is "harmful to minors"), and that it is enforcing the use of such filtering software.

Controls v.s Control

David Warlick (cited in the accompanying reading on Web 2.0) in his November 30th,2007 blog post titled "Are we Inside the New Iron Curtain?" recounts a conversation Alan November and states:

" the the United States runs what is probably the most represive education system on the planet, especially when compared with the access to information that learners have outside the classroom. “Students in China have e-mail,” he said. “Do your students?”

No one would argue in defense of China's human rights policy over ours, but on this one issue, maybe there is something to be illustrated by this question.

District policy states:
Access is restricted to certain web sites and certain types of Internet activities by either the District firewall or the filtering service to which the District subscribes. Educational objectives requiring exceptions to this policy can be requested through the Network Systems Analyst and appropriate Director.

When did classroom teachers abdicate approval of educational objectives to a Network Systems Analyst? In addition, CIPA has no language requiring adults to state why they are seeking unfiltered access nor what type of information they are seeking.

Vicki A. Davis (also cited in the accompanying article), as well as teachers in other districts, have the ability to block and unblock sites from their classrooms. She advocates for teachers when she writes:

"We have too much to do to keep throwing rocks at one another! Fighting over filtration causes resentment, inefficiencies, and frustration. There are valid points on both ends of the filtration discussion, however, the bottom line is this… student learning.

Student learning…

Student learning…

Not, "it needs to be easy for a technology administrator to manage."

I’m sorry, but classrooms are tough to manage too."
Walled Garden or Stockade

District Policy States:
All content must be stored on the district’s web server unless the services of an Internet- based application service provider are required and cannot be duplicated on the district’s web server. All use of Internet-based application service provider sites or enhancements must adhere to the district web site guidelines and are subject to the review and sanction of the District.

This throttles many of the collaborative and asynchronous tools presently available. Without saying social, networking sites are out, but also many professional and learning network sites as well. Voicethread, Skype, Yugma, Googledocs , all blocked. Most sites which serve educators by hosting blogs, wikis and podcasts would be banned under this stipulation.

This is probably one of the most troubling (and baffling) of the policy issues.. Teachers anxious to leverage the technologies to their greatest potential will develop these devices outside of the confines of the network. Instead of school equalizing opportunity, a new segregation arises, those with access outside the school network and those without. We might want to add this variable in our analysis of student achievement data.

Working Together

Involve all stakeholders in the planning and decision-making process in regards to developing an acceptable use policy which provides an balance between protection and access which is appropriate to the level of the user.

Educate and assess students, staff and parents on the ethical use of the internet and make them accountable. Practice and model acceptable behaviors.

Provide dedicated logins for students.

Convey a sense of trust but provide an appropriately measured response for willful and malicious violations to the policy.

Provide distributed access and distributed filtration which allows a level of control and access commensurate with the user.

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Monday, January 14, 2008

Access Denied

After 20 years, I was ready to quit teaching upon returning to school this year.

Here's the story.

On a somewhat primitive level, I was fairly successful with setting up a few technology resources during the 06-07 school year. I worked up a few blogs, experimented with wikis and incorporated the Interwrite SchoolPad into classroom use. I had developed my AP Biology curriculum as a Moodle course on the server of another school district in my state. Though the "Read-Write" scales were still stacked in favor of "Read", I was making progress.

I had worked over the summer to make some additions (and deletions) to those things I had implemented. It was going to be a great year!

I had also decided to preach the gospel of technology and signed-up to be the facilitator of a Technology Learning Community at my school. It was there, in my facilitator training sessions that I began to sense trouble in paradise. Some of the things the district level people were saying had ominous tones. Changes that the district was beginning to implement.

While we were "out" (summer break), the district's IT department had decided to enforce the Technology Acceptable Use Policy.

It wasn't until we got into preschool and I began working on the computer that I realized the extent of the changes.

A new server had been put in place over the summer. Four of the seven RSS feeds to my pageflakes page were blocked. My blogs that had been established in the previous year were blocked. I received word that because the district was going provide a server to allow our school to pilot Moodle courses this year I was not allowed to access my Moodle course on the neighboring school district's server. ( We just finished 1st semester. No sign of the Moodle server for my course yet!)

What a start!

I thought, okay, maybe if I could work with the teacher's in my Technology Learning Group (TLG), we could become a united force to shine light on this otherwise dark and dismal world in which we were operating. ( You have to understand, no one blogs, wiki really is a foreign word and aggregators and RSS feeds, I don't think so) No such luck.

I prepared a Voicethread on "Asynchronous Learning Environments" to introduce my group to Skype, Twitter, Yugma, GoogleDocs, etc. I also decided to share the presentation with my district level trainers. I guess that was a mistake. I received an email to say that "these are very interesting ideas and has caused a great deal of conversation at the District level." Two days later, all of these services were blocked. VoiceThread! GoogleDocs! I was floored. All of these were in violation of the new Acceptable Use Policy.

I was ready to throw in the towel on the TLG. If the technology department didn't support technology what hope did I have. The problem: if I quit as the facilitator of the group, then the group members don't get the hardware they were promised for signing on. I decided to move ahead.

In 2005- 2006, a technology-minded AP bought an OS X server for our school. The idea was to provide streaming content, web services, etc. I put in a request to have web services enabled in order to serve up podcasts. Well, our school has had 5 tech coordinators in the last six years. So, every year the request is resubmitted and the task goes undone. This year I place the request hoping that I could introduce my teachers to blogging (OS X server has a blogging application based on Blojsom). I received a reply from the district saying that they are no longer supporting the OS X server and because it is 3 years old it will be disposed of. The twisting of the blade occurred when I read the note further. That blogging and podcasts for teachers will only be supported within Moodle and that server was on order at this time.

Anybody need a Biology teacher?

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