Monday, February 14, 2011
In a time when many are trying to advance themselves, their schools and their districts with technology, web tools, and social media, there are often obstacles to implementation that seem insurmountable. I know this frustration: in one of my last posts, I described the technology situation at South Kam.
"Five years ago when I came to South Kam, the technology that was available to our teachers was sorely lacking. We had antiquated computer labs populated by throwback "Computers for Schools" donated from local businesses who no longer wanted them. We had no common email system, and most teachers did not use email at school. Some teachers had electronic grading programs, others used pencil and paper and then entered them into our student management system. That was just five years ago. And it made me mad."
My how things have changed. Last Monday at our staff meeting, I gave a ten minute presentation about Tweetdeck and how it can open doors to a multitude of online resources and sharing. As you might guess, I had a few staff members interested in using Tweetdeck as a result. However, we are a linux-based, thin-client school that predominantly uses open source software. So, when I went to install Tweetdeck on a teacher's machine for them, it didn't work. And I found that Tweetdeck would be unstable with our network. And, I found out that Twitter was blocked for our school (which it hadn't been only three days before). ARRRRGH! Great. Sigh. Another good thought down the tube, right? Wrong.
In the past, I might have been worried about having to negotiate through a series of potholes and roadblocks to make this happen. Often times, I hear of stories from my Personal Learning Network about sites being blocked, computer images deep frozen to glacial proportions, and endless bureaucracy and red tape to even get a single program put on to the network. You can hear the frustration in people's blogs and tweets over "the back end" dictating over "the front end". When I read these posts and tweets, I realize how lucky I am.
When I talked to our district IT department, they did not throw up a roadblock, not at all. Twitter blocked? Oops, no prob, let's unblock it. Tweetdeck won't work? They gave me an explanation why Tweetdeck would struggle with our linux boxes, and they also came up with a solution. An EXCELLENT solution. Yoono is an outstanding open source application that is very similar to Tweetdeck, and even has a few bells and whistles on it (like being able to upload pictures, being able to manage multiple SM apps, etc). I loaded it up for the teacher, it is now an add-on on our browser, and any of our staff can do it. Awesome.
Last Thursday, we found that our new fiber-backbone wireless network port for our kids was only accessible by iPhones, and not by Blackberries or Android-based phones. Only a small percentage of our kids have iPhones, so that meant the other 95% of our kids who have the other ones were out of luck. ARRRRRGH. Great. Sigh. Another good thought down the tube. Right? Wrong.
Our IT department fretted about it overnight, and then called me to arrange a meeting today to figure out a work-around. At the end of the meeting, we had a solution, and by next week, we will be ready to roll with a wireless network that students will be able to access with nearly any smartphone so they can access the internet for free in our school. No problem. Awesome.
In our district, we have had a number of policies around the appropriate use of the internet and social media. Some of these policies are very good, and some of them are quite antiquated. I am really trying to push the envelope about unfettered and ubiquitous access to the internet for students at our school, and to educate students about courteous use of online technologies rather than try to "enforce the unenforceable" and ban technology and sites (never did get that one). In the past, there would have been a great deal of fear about "opening Pandora's box" (already opened, I believe), but I now sit on a very forward-thinking committee that involves the Superintendent, Trustees, the IT department, and other relevant stakeholders (including students) so we work together and policies that are proactive and honor the ever-changing landscape of learning with technology.
We are really moving, and I feel pretty lucky to work with such a great group in our district that truly wants to do what is best for students, for teachers, and for learning.
We are making strides.