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Archive for the ‘Acceptable Use Policy’ Category

When it comes to the use of technology in education, I often say that it is not a generational gap, but a learning gap that prevents our older generations from accepting new technology tools for learning. I think I may have to amend my position. There are a few things about mobile devices that point to a generational gap that may be preventing by some an acceptance of these devices as tools for learning. I am a true believer that we consider an item as technology if it was invented in our lifetime. Therefore, I consider a cellphone technology, but my car in some form or another has always been with me since the 60’s and to me that is my car and not technology.

My younger daughter has had her own cellphone since Grammar school and full access to the Internet at home all of her life. She was Social Media involved as a toddler with Penguin World. She has always had a laptop, iPad and an iPod. We are fortunate enough and grateful to have afforded her those tools. She is now headed off to college with these experiences and tools in place. I often learn from her simply by observing how she uses things to learn.

This weekend we were spending time at the beach house that is pretty much cut off from the world. My daughter was working on a final paper and asked if she could download a book she needed from Amazon. I gave her permission and watched her download it to her Smartphone as she continued working on her laptop. In consideration of my own ailments and frailties, I asked if she would not better be able to read the book if it were on her laptop instead of her smartphone?

“No, this will be just fine,” was the answer.

That is when I got it. I would struggle with reading a book from a Smartphone, but not so much a teen’s problem. Teens are reading text on their phones 24/7. They watch full-length movies and TV shows on their Smartphones. They do not need to make adjustments from previous habits. I had to adjust from Desktop use to laptop use as an adult. That is not a problem for kids who are multi-users when it comes to the devices of technology.

The other big stumbling point when it comes to the acceptance of mobile devices used as tools for learning is the fact that the older generation perceives a cellphone as a phone, as the name would imply. Actually, the smartphone is a complex computer with phone capabilities in addition to thousands of other applications. Again, the youthful generation just uses the technology for communication, curation, entertainment, research, and photography without the oohs and aahs, while the older generation just marvels at all the bells and whistles of the new technology vicariously, through the experiences of others, often younger. While the older generation tries to figure out how to grant permission, while maintaining control over this new-fangled technology, the youth is employing it everywhere and all of the time, except in some cases in school. Adults are delusional to think that they have the power to control this technology.

If schools need to control Smartphone use, let them figure out ways to incorporate them interactively into lessons. Teaching kids responsible use is the best form of control. It is lifelong skill. Mobile devices provide a gateway to more relevant content than could ever be placed in a textbook. Why are we not preparing our kids with the skills to access, assess and utilize that content? Will they not need these skills in the technology-driven world in which they will live? They come to us trusting that we will be preparing them with what they need to thrive in their world in the future, but many of our educators are not even in the world of today. I have said this before. If we are going to educate our children for what they will need, we must educate our educators first. Technology is changing things too fast for us all to keep up without a little help from others. There is so much to know, that we have reached a point where many of us do not know what it is that we do not know.  Whether this roadblock to technology use in education is a learning thing or a generational thing, collaboration may be the map to the way out. Educators need to connect and collaborate in all of the methods we have available to us in order to learn and share.

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For years I served on the board of directors of The New York State Association for Computers and Technologies in Education, a group known to most as NYSCATE. One thing that I always had a problem with while working with NYSCATE was the name of that group. The name gave the perception to teachers that this was a group for computer teachers. It is actually a wonderful, professional group that supports technology for all educators in any subject areas. As any honest politician worth his/her salt will tell you, facts don’t matter, perception is reality. As this is a rule of politics, it is also holds true for many people in the profession of education as well. Perception is Reality!

My teaching career started before computers of any kind were in education. I remember in the very early 70’s buying a four-function calculator from Sears for $99.00 in order to do averages. (Now they come free in the mail in order to solicit donations) In my experience the earliest introduction of computers into schools came through the Math department. Math teachers stepped right up to accept technology as quickly as it would arrive. Computers were not used as learning tools, but rather stand-alone technology that required its own language, and understanding, and courses were developed to support that. The math departments across the country developed and promoted computer courses to specifically teach about Languages, programing, hardware and software.

This created a mystique about computers that continues in the minds of many even today. The perception was that in order for anyone to use a computer, a course of study would be required to understand the languages and mechanisms of the mysterious world of computers. Computer companies struggled to remove that mystique in order to have people buy into the idea of ubiquitous computing. Apple understood this early on and simplified computers enough to make big advances in the education market. It was quite a while before computers began working into the classroom. This was also slowed down by the strategy of computer labs. Teachers again were given a level of obstacles to overcome to use computers in class. Schedules had to be followed and classes had to be physically moved. Laptops and mobile devices are improving this situation. But, getting beyond the desktop computer does add more technology for teachers to learn.

There are now two directions for computers in education to take. There is the study of computers, which is most necessary for the development and evolution of technology. This is very specific to computers as a course of study. The other direction and probably larger role for computers in education would be as a tool for learning for any of the courses in education at any level. These very same skills for using these tools for learning will probably become the same skills used for the tools of whatever profession or vocation a student may enter. This is one of the many ways we prepare our students for life. We are developing technological strategies and skills that will be a basis for a real life experience.

This is what NYSCATE and similar Educational Tech groups support. They help all teachers in all areas; understand how to apply technology in not only what they teach, but also how they teach. As a director of NYSCATE, I would invite teachers to attend the NYSCATE Conference. The response that I more often than not heard in response is one that I think is still a prevalent perception today. Many would say, “Why would I go to that Conference? I am not a computer teacher.”

Now, you might say that the name of the organization may have just been misleading to teachers, and that is why people responded in that manner. I would agree that this might apply to a few, but I don’t think a majority of the respondents. I say that because of my experience in proposing courses and changes in courses over the years. A majority of times that I have proposed adding technology tools or using technology strategies in classes or lessons, those who approve such proposals would immediately point out that I was not a computer teacher. Their perception was that you needed to be a computer teacher in order to use technology in a class. This happened not only in a public school setting, but the same type of objections has recently come from Higher Education as well.

Technology is progressing so quickly that many people are finding it difficult to keep up. As a practical matter it may be impossible to keep up with every change or development in technology. We can’t however ignore the fact that technology has an impact on everything within our culture today.  As educators we must understand that Technology can not follow the same procedures as textbook adoption. Schools have no power to control the development or acceptance of technology. Educators can’t approve or disapprove of parts of technology that they think people should find acceptable, or not.  Technology provides: the tools our kids now use to learn, the tools people use to work, the tools families use to live. This will all happen with or without teacher approval.

Technology teachers are teachers who teach technology-specific courses. A teacher is one who teaches children with tools for learning that will provide them with technology skills which will translate to skills needed for work and life. As professionals we need to stop separating out technology from learning. It has become part of everything we do. It will not go away or even take a single step back. We also do not need to know how every bell and whistle available works. As teachers we need not use every form of the technology ourselves, but we need to enable our students to use it. Teachers should not always limit the use of technology by their students. For some projects teachers should allow students to select technology tools for learning to explore, collaborate, create, record, and present content. The actual use of technology in a course does not always need to fall on the teacher. In many cases the student can be the teacher and the teacher can be the student. That takes an open mind and a flexible, adaptive approach to learning and teaching. These are not bad traits for any teacher to have; be it any teacher in general, or a computer teacher specifically. Technology has become a tool of our profession, whether we use it, teach it, or study it, we need to deal with it. It is now a required part of what we do in our profession. For technology to become ubiquitous we need to stop compartmentalizing it from what we do.

 

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The genie is definitely out of the bottle when we look at Social Media. Of course there are many who fail to recognize this, and continue to believe that somehow, someone must approve the use of social Media in order for it to be acceptable in our education system. The glaring problem with that is the lack of understanding on the part of many of those education policy makers to really understand what Social Media is. Many, in their arguments against social media, talk about its limits of 140 characters and the controversy of privacy settings. They fail to recognize that they are only considering Twitter and Facebook as Social Media. They seem to suggest that, whatever perceived problems they see in Twitter or Facebook, also apply to all forms of Social Media.

Here according to Merriam-Webster is the definition of Social Media: forms of electronic communication (as Web sites for social networking and microblogging) through which users create online communities to share information, ideas, personal messages, and other content (as videos). This goes way beyond Twitter and Facebook. This lack of understanding on the part of some, may be a divide or a gap, and it is very evident with the policy-makers in education. It is not a generational gap, but a learning gap. Age has nothing to do with it, since Social Media is effectively used by young and old alike.

Whenever someone says to me that Twitter is too limited because of the 140 character limits on tweets I quite often, in my mind at least, tag them as a non-user or at best a limited user of Twitter. If they used Twitter they would understand that although the tweets are limited to 140 characters, there is no limit on the number of tweets. Therefore, we often engage in discussions without the verbosity that has long been attributed to face to face discussions of education. The result of many of the twitter discussions often result in reflective blog posts another huge component of Social Media.

The argument of privacy settings needing to be a concern in using Facebook is also an indication of a lack of understanding. Today, the digital footprint we hear so much about begins very early in life for our children. Proud parents-to-be are placing fetus-photo albums on the internet every day. Toddlers are highlighted and identified on the internet, as the actual child sits on the laps of their parents as the entry of this information is being made. That same toddler interacts on Webkinz, or Penguin World, both huge Social Media sites for kids under 10. The take away here is that adults view this as technology to be learned. Kids don’t see it as technology; it has always been there for them; It is not new technology to them.

The idea that some policy-maker in education gets to decide whether or not Social Media should be part of the arsenal of learning tools used by educators comes a little late. Kids use Social Media in their everyday lives. Of course without the guidance of educators to use it critically, responsibly, collaboratively and creatively, kids might just be knowledgeable about sexting. That is our fault. Bad things can happen on the internet. It is a powerful tool. It is better to educate kids and use this tool for learning than to leave kids to their own devices to explore these tools on their own without guidance from those who should know better.

Of course the divide between those who are not Social Media aware and those who live in the world of Social Media continues to widen. There are some arrogant educational policy-makers who believe that they have the power to determine what is, and what is not used as a tool for learning. They think that they should take whatever time is needed to research and collect data before they can approve Social Media for educational consumption. The arguments continue today. No doubt one or two of those people may comment here, since I think only a few read education blogs.  Hoping that I will not be sent to Cliché’ Rehab (it has been suggested) That Train Has Left The Station. It is now time for educators to do the tough thing and play catch-up. Whether or not Social Media is an educator’s thing or not, it does not matter; Educators exist to teach. Social Media is what kids today are using to socially learn regardless of whether or not schools ban it. If kids are using it despite adult educators who oppose it, don’t we as educators have a responsibility to teach them how to use it responsibly and intelligently?

Social Media has had a huge impact on the world. It is part of the new technology to the older generations. It is not technology to our children; it is what they consider part of their world. They don’t have to learn it because they live it. We as educators need to make it part of our lives as well, if we want our children to learn how best to use it. The genie jumped out of the bottle, and onto a horse that left the barn, and went to the station, boarded a train that travelled to the dock, to board the boat that left the dock. No way is that genie going back in the bottle.

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As an educational blogger I would love to think, that once I reflected on an issue in education, and addressed it in my blog, everyone would clearly understand the error of their ways and fall in line according to my sage advice. Of course the reform movement would move forward, and I would expect a small plaque would be placed on a bench in front of the lobby of some school commemorating my great contribution to the system that we call education.

That being said, the reality is that many educational bloggers have to continue to reflect and continue to revisit subjects that are like festering sores on the body of education. As we move forward in time, we are confronted with new technologies and new ideas that force us to make changes in our lives. If we make no change, we are destined to live in a place that will no longer exist for the majority. The culture moves on leaving some behind. This may be okay for some adults, but it is not okay for the children we are educating for the purpose of not only living in the future, but hopefully thriving. It is always frustrating when answers to problems are so obvious to some, but a large number still don’t get it.

With that in mind, I am again writing about a subject that continually pops up in media, wherever media may be these days. I was prompted to write this post when I saw yet another blogger writing on this very same subject, forcing me to again comment, again reflect, and start my own post, again. The post was “When Should We Introduce Social Media?” by Brian Bennet.

As parents and educators, one thing that becomes immediately apparent dealing with kids, is that you cannot control, limit, or stop kids from growing up. It happens, and we must accept it as a fact of life. Along with that growing up, kids adapt to the culture to which they are exposed, and make it their own. There is nothing adults can do about that either. The best adults can do, is to try to prepare kids to make the right decisions and to be critical thinkers in arriving at those decisions. That will prepare their generation for moving forward without the adults’ generation which in reality will be left behind.

Unless we are Luddites,we have no chance of stopping the future development of Technology and all that it affects. Technology is a given in the future of our children. Social Media is one such effect of technology. It is here and it is being embraced by young and old. It is accepted and will continue in the future to be with us. We can debate its effect on society, its merits, its pitfalls, and its relevance, but we can’t ignore it, hoping that it will go away. The same can be said of most technology. If we can’t control it, we must certainly learn and teach how to deal with it. Blinders may work well on horses, but they look silly on people.

What individuals do on the internet, stays on the internet for the entire world to see. This is referred to as a digital footprint. Everyone should Google themselves to determine their footprint. Most people began leaving their footprints as they became involved with social media. They made that choice as adults. In this post however, I am talking about kids. Kids today begin leaving their Digital footprints on the internet at birth. Let that sink in, AT BIRTH! “You are crazy, how can that be?” you may ask. The proud parents of any new-born will predictably announce, for all to see, by the essential announcement tool at hand today, Social Media. They continue their storytelling of their never-ending adventure with their children with every new milestone or vacation recorded on Facebook, Twitter or personal Blog.

Of course, you say, but the kid is not involved with Social Media! Not so fast. The toy manufacturers were in this, and saw where it was going, and recognized its potential way before parents and teachers. Webkinz World has over 5 million members and Penguin Club has over 12 million. Surprise! They are Social Media Sites for toddlers and kids under 10. Chances are if your toddler is not a member, he or she knows someone who is, and that someone is telling your toddler all about it. Now here is a ridiculous question: When should we introduce kids to Social Media? A better question must be: When will we begin to teach kids to use Social Media responsibly? If they are social Media aware as toddlers, and they are watching their parents and siblings modeling the use of Social Media at home, the age of introduction is a moot point.

Now that that question has been asked and answered, we need to ask another more important one, so that we may address our responsibility. Social Media is here to stay. It is now, and will continue to be, in the lives of our children. When will we begin to deal with that? Blocking and filtering are just stupid. We will look back at those policies some day and ask; What the hell were we thinking? We need our kids to learn how to be safe, collaborate, interact, critically analyze content and most importantly create content. In order to learn that it must be taught. We do not teach by blocking and filtering. Leave the blinders to the horses.

I live on Long Island, New York. We are fortunate to own a second house on Fire Island. I know what that means to the future of my daughters. I made sure that they could swim before they could walk. I was responsible for their safety and ability to thrive in the environment in which they were to live. I also taught them about Social Media and the internet. They now teach me. When will this senseless debate end?

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With a premiere Technology-in-Education Conference, ISTE11, coming in a matter of days, I find myself comparing the Education conferences of old to the social media-influenced Education conferences of today. There is a world of differences, but, unfortunately, many of these differences have yet to be discovered by educators who have failed to recognize the juggernaut of social media. For many years I was a board member of NYSCATE, an educational technology group for New York educators. A primary purpose of this group is to conduct an annual conference that draws thousands of educators in order to discuss technology in education. In addition to my participation in this conference, I have over the years presented in many others, both large and small.

A huge difference about today’s conferences is the connectedness of the participants. Educators through social media have been able to connect with other educators without regard to geographical boundaries. Many productive online relationships have continued over a period of time without actual face to face meetings. These conferences are an opportunity for face to face connections. That translates to more time for socialization for the participants. Plans and discussions have taken place weeks before the conference about who to see and what to do. The conference provides a place for people, who have never met face to face, to meet as long-lost best friends would meet after a long separation. Places for social gatherings need to at least be considered, and at most be expanded. These personal connections of connected people may be misinterpreted as cliques, but this is often a perspective of educators not yet involved with social media. The unfortunate result may be a perception of a class distinction between the connected and the disconnected (or not yet connected).

Back Channeling is another big difference between old and new. This is when participants in a workshop or presentation tweet out on Twitter, or Facebook the points that the presenter is making in real-time. Not only are the facts of the presentation, but editorial comments as well tweeted out. This may have a great effect on presentations moving forward. I remember a recent conference having a keynote speaker using a data heavy PowerPoint presentation, and not being very aware of back channeling. After a few Tweets came out about the quality of the presentation, there was an avalanche of negatives flying out from that presentation. Needless to say these tweets were global messages going public to thousands of educators. On the other hand, a great presentation has the potential for going out beyond the limited audience in the presentation. Ustreaming is being done more and more as well. Presentations limited to small audiences are broadcast globally to any educator with a connection. Local conferences have the ability to gain global recognition.

The social media hierarchy is now replacing the superstars of higher education and industry at these conferences. Keynote speakers of the past were often professors from Higher Education or Captains of industry from the world of Technology in Education. Today, social media has chosen its own superstars, people who continue to contribute and influence education through Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, online Webinars, Podcasts, and Blog Posts. Some of the best have feet in both worlds. The conference of today is an opportunity for participants to meet those whom they consider to be social media Gurus.

I think an underestimated influence on conference participants is the effect of free online Professional Development. More and more free symposiums are being offered through social Media. Webinars and online interviews are becoming daily occurrences. The conference participants are becoming more aware of trends and issues prior to attending the conference. Presenters need to at least be where their audience is in their knowledge of the subject. Relevance means more to connected educators than it ever has before.

Another influence is the effect that the growing “Unconference” movement is having. Born from Social Media, “Teachmeets”, and “Unconferences” are changing what educators expect from a conference. These are self-directed-learning format conferences. They give most, if not all, of the control for learning to the learner. The learners direct the conference from the beginning until the end forcing the conference to be flexible and adaptive.

Blogging is another Social Media-influenced activity which has a lasting touch on conferencing. On the very first day of any conference, there will be at least one blogger who will publish a post on his or her experience. First impressions last a lifetime. Bloggers will continue to post their experiences and impressions throughout and beyond the time that the conference takes place. Once it took weeks for the word to get out about the success of a conference. On the spot blog posts have changed that dynamic. Micro blogs (Twitter) and Blog posts determine and create conference “BUZZ”. It may determine whether individuals with limited funds may or may not attend a specific conference in the future.

If Education Conferences are to benefit the educators that they hope to have participate, now and in the future, all of these new influences must be considered. Just like education as a system, conferences are dealing with participants who are becoming self- learning aware. The days of content being controlled by a few and the need to seek those few out to obtain it, are gone. Free access to almost endless information and the ability to select only information which is needed by the learner is changing the game.

If you are a person who questions the need for Mobile Learning Devices in education, look around you at your next conference. Take note of the Laptops, Smart Phones, iPads, and Tablets. Watch how long it takes people to scope out an electrical outlet to power up, or recharge. See what happens if people don’t have passwords to access WiFi.

What would happen if we forced those educators to leave their mobile learning devices at the door? What would happen if we singled out and punished individuals for texting during a presentation? What would happen after you informed educators that the filtering will limit their access? What would happen if we required participants to agree to an Acceptable Use Policy before they could connect? Participants at these conferences are learners. Let us keep that in mind when we return to the learners in our own schools.

All in all, this isn’t your father’s Education Conference!

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My post today is on a topic which I have discussed before and probably will discuss more in the future. As much as we talk about reform in education, the system is very slow to change. Many of the people shouting the loudest for a need for sweeping improvements are some of the same people who are ardent supporters of the status quo. For whatever reasons they may publicly state, their preference is to keep things the way that they have been. Whether it is comfort or ease, things in a system, as large as education, are very slow to change. Even though we are educated adults, with adult experience, more often than not we hear the term “baby steps” used in conversations of education reform.

My school district for many years spent what may have been thousands of dollars each year on the first day back to school in order to provide an inspirational keynote speaker for the entire district faculty meeting to kick off the new year. It was an expense, and a practice which I always found to be a waste of time and money. There is however, one memory of one such speaker sharing an experience, which I remember lo these many years.

According to this speaker, each Christmas her family had a traditional family dinner featuring a ham for the main course. Through the decades the ham was always prepared the same way. In its preparation each end of the ham had a portion of the meat sliced away, literally inches of meat removed prior to cooking. One day, the speaker asked her mother why the removal of the ends of the ham. Her mother replied that it was always done that way, and so, it was how she learned to cook it from her mother. Since the Grandmother was still alive, although not in attendance at the dinner, a phone call was placed to inquire about the method requiring the cutting of the ham. When the question was posed, “Why do we cut the ends of the ham before we cook it?” the answer came as a shock. The grandmother explained that when they started the family dinner, decades back, they only had a small roasting pan and needed to cut the ham to fit it into the pan. Hence, the cutting of the ham continued for years without regard to origin or reason. They just did it and continued to do it, because that is how it was done.

With that as my backdrop, it is now time to get to the meat of this matter. With the beginning of the internet (sometimes attributed to Al Gore) and its incursion into education, many educators and parents were unaware and fearful of the unknown. That very fear drove the development of policies that were adopted to protect kids from the evil that was the internet. The very fears that are used as hot buttons by the media to drum up huge audiences for shows like “To Catch a Predator”. The very fears that are used as hot buttons to sell filtering software to schools to block out any site mentioning sex, drugs, or rock and roll, not to mention Facebook, and Twitter. These very same fears fostered ideas like Acceptable Use Policies limiting personal rights and academic freedom.

It would be irresponsible, as well as idiotic to say that the internet is free from any of the same dangers we encounter anywhere in the world digital or not. How we deal with these dangers is what we must consider. The subject of child predators has changed. TV and Movies would have you believe a majority of kids as victims are molested by strangers. For years we pounded into kids heads beware of strangers. We now have evidence that there is better than a 90% chance that the predator is a family member, close family friend, or even a clergyman. We have had to change or at least adjust the focus on strangers in our lecture about “don’t let ANYBODY touch you in an inappropriate way”.

It is time that we make adjustments to our internet policies in our schools as well. We need to be educated about the internet not fearful. We need to control our use of it, and not allow it to control us. We don’t need to refuse access to it, but rather educate kids how to responsibly access it in order to be responsible digital citizens. There is a big difference between signing an Acceptable Use Policy and teaching, learning and modeling an Acceptable Use Policy. Abuse of the internet is a discipline infraction and should be dealt with as such. A comprehensive code of conduct for any school must include technology abuses.

Access to, and understanding of the internet is becoming a needed skill if one is to compete in a technologically competitive society.  The sooner we educate our children to be responsible digital citizens, the sooner we can hold them responsible for their actions. Internet awareness must begin on the elementary level. We cannot hold children responsible for that which we have not taught them. Education is the key to safety. Filtering eliminates the ability to teach children to be responsible. It may allay the flamed fears of parents which are fanned by software companies and TV producers, but it does nothing for preparing kids for the technologically competitive world in which they must live, compete, survive, and thrive. The educator’s job is to prepare kids for the world in which the students will live. It is not the world in which the educators lived. It is not the world in which the kids’ parents lived. It is the world yet to come. There are many pitfalls and safety precautions kids must be aware of, and that cannot be denied. Teaching rather than blocking is a better strategy to defend against these pitfalls. Fear-mongering to parents may sell software to schools, and build big TV ratings, but in the long run it does not address the issue. We cannot educate kids about content that is filtered and blocked. Subjects like Breast Cancer or sexually transmitted diseases are often blocked to those students who need the information for school reports or personal inquiry. Teachers, who are also adults, are blocked access as well. This blocks needed relevant sources that would help lessons to teach. Is this what we need for our schools? Is this what we want for our kids? I do not want it for my Kids. I would hope most parents would opt for education as opposed to the void of banning.

Until we re-examine our policies to match them to the world in which we now live, as well as the world our kids will live in, I imagine I will write similar posts in the future. Technology isn’t going away. It will continue to flow no matter how many dams we build. It’s time to ask real questions, in order to understand what we really need, and how do we get there. A small roasting pan from days gone by should not determine the education that our kids need for the future.

As always, your comments are welcomed.

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