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Why Do You Ask?

From asking questions that require an answer To asking questions that require a conversation.

Sunday, April 08, 2007

Authority without Accountability - Why we Outsource School Filters

Beating dead horses, that's what I feel like I do when I approach this topic. I have called internet filtering modern-day bookburning, and I still believe this to be true. Some have said I am exaggerating. In my mind, I am not.

What is filtering? The denial of information.
Who chooses what is filtered? Someone other than me, that's for sure.
But who? Is it local Tech Departments? Possibly, until they get so many machines that it becomes too difficult or time-consuming.

What are Tech Departments to do? They outsource. Our system has chosen a company called 8e6 Technologies. The name itself means to "ignore" or "get rid of," as in "to 86 something or someone." See the In Other Fields section of the Wikipedia article. I even remember the "Morning After Pill" being called the RU486 which, like the license plate world translated to "are you for 86?" and fundamentalists referred to the 'Abortion Pill' as one which would kill the newly conceived baby.

The symbolism of 8e6 Technologies is not lost on me. They are helping kill the possibilities of teachers and students using the technology on which schools have spent millions of dollars. It has killed my passion to use online resources which may be here one day and blocked the next. The response time on unblocking sites is nearly two days. By then, I don't need the site. So what's the point of asking?

I had a conversation with Vicki Davis (the CoolCatTeacher) at the Georgia EdTech Conference about the difficulties we have due to filters. She sympathized, and said she does not face this in the private school setting. But as she has grown in her network, she is seeing what we face on a daily basis in the public education setting. She is beginning to offer the same words and thoughts as many of us have over the past two years.

But I wonder if it is too late for this generation of teachers and students. Many of us in the middle of our careers were here when the hardware was originally purchased, and the internet wiring was installed. Only a few teachers used computers for educational reasons in the mid-to-late-90s. Then as the pioneers showed success in their classrooms, others began to emulate. Then more computers were purchased. The want and need for wired computers became greater.

Then the "sell-your-soul" program came along. The e-rate promise of the Federal Government. Buy all your technology needs at a reduced price with a grant-like promise. Usually grants are given for opening new avenues to educating students. The e-rate promise suckered schools in to thinking they could get computers and internet hookup at a fraction of the cost. It sounded too good to be true...and it was (is). In effect the government regulations surrounding e-rate makes a computer slightly more useful than the IBM Selectric typewriter of the 1980s. "Here are some new LeBron James Nike shoes kids, but you can't wear them in the gym. You might trip and skin your elbow."

All e-rate schools have to have filtering software on the network. I used to call the network admin of our school when I would find an unappropriate site my students would find. As more students got home computers, we had more inappropriate sites in the search histories. So we taught ourselves HTML to create webpages. We used Filamentality pages to create Hotlists, Samplers, and WebQuests. These pages would have the links our students could use. We knew where they could go (because we did our homework), and when a page was up which was not one of the predetermined options teachers would know students might be straying.

Then fear and laziness set in. Teachers who thought using a computer would make their life easier (much like the TV makes a good babysitter) found out that students need direction. Teachers quit (or never started) making pages with predetermined links. They did not realize that the teacher still has to interact, move around, and monitor the students as they are on computers. I still see it. Teachers say, "Here's the topic kids. Go do some research."

So, in the process everyone has gotten lazier. Teachers do not plan ahead. Students are without direction. And Tech Directors read the "visited web site log" and see there is a problem. Instead of training teachers how to conduct a computer-focused lesson, they call an outsider to make decisions for them. If a bad website comes through, it's not the Tech Depts fault, it is the filtering company. No accountability required. Convenient, isn't it?

Tech Departments have the authority to tell teachers what they can and can't use online (authority), but they rid themselves of the accountability of potentially harmful websites that the little eyes might see.

We all should be ashamed of ourselves. It's not about the technology, it's what the technology will allow you to do. Now we are unable to do much of anything.

Teachers should be made accountable, but they have probably lost their opportunity for several years, perhaps even a generation. Tech Depts should be responsible for training teachers in the dynamics of teaching a computer-focused lesson. Training is what should be outsourced - since most Tech Depts consist of workers untrained in pedagogy.

I don't pretend to even have answers anymore. I have many questions though. And when the questions get you in hot water, having answers could be dangerous.

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2 Comments:

At 8:39 PM, Blogger Vicki A. Davis said...

Hello Ric!

Actually, before coming to my present position at a private school, I spent 10 years training mostly public school teachers on the effective use of the internet in the classroom and filtering was even a problem back then largely do to non-vigilant teachers who kicked back and expected computers to "babysit" their students like it would automatically relieve them of the burden of teaching.

Technology makes a good teacher better but a bad teacher is just that.. a bad teacher. period.

We never lose hope. The future has always gone to the pioneers who paved the way and right now I would equate the pioneering work that we are doing as similar to the forging of the first wagon train trails out west -- tough, difficult work. But you are a visionary. Keep plugging though it seem slow... keep speaking out for what is right.

Some misunderstand those of us who call for accountability and authority as people who want to return to a completely unfiltered state... when none of us would advocate that. We just need balance and the filter pendulum has swung way to far in the Big Brother court.

 
At 6:45 PM, Blogger Ric Murry said...

Vicki,

Good to hear from you. Thank you for the further information about your history and struggle in the "filter fight." Thanks for taking the conversation to your blog. I will have a follow-up to Scott's reply to your post.

I will keep plugging away. Keep up the good fight. God bless.

Ric

 

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