Sunday, February 21, 2010

Week #7: A Plethora of Ideas & Opinions

Where to start? Actually, I think I will rant about one topic, comment on another and add comments to other blog posts rather than repeat myself here…

Horizon Report: Just for your information, the full 2010 Horizon report is now available. Mike did a nice job and started some good conversations in his presentation. I am sure the discussion will be pursued on many a blog this week. In the report, the difficulties of assessment are discussed, but the big stumbling block mentioned was standards and standardized testing, thankfully a problem we do not have to deal with in Manitoba (our “standards tests” don’t compare with what happens in US schools). At least the direction assessment is taking in Manitoba allows using progressive practices. While feedback about the use of the technology – and perhaps even a portion of a grade in evaluation – is important to make, the assessment should be about the outcomes to be learned (of course, using the technology could be the outcome if it is a technology course). One has keep from being wowed by the glitz. The five trends & challenges listed on pages 6 & 7 of the Executive Summary are interesting as well. I won’t comment on them, but they are worth looking at.

Filtering/Blocking: This topic has been a pet peeve of mine for many years. Last year I wrote an anti-filtering ‘ article for ManACE. If you are interested and do not get the ManACE Journal, I can send a copy. I have heard concerns about the practice from practicing teachers and teacher candidates who go out student teaching with some great ideas, but… YouTube is blocked, Google Docs is blocked and so on. Protecting children is the reason… yet, kids go home or pull out their Smart phone and access whatever they want. Now, I certainly understand that there may need to be some filtering in Primary schools, however by the time a student reaches even grades 7 & 8, but especially in high schools, I see NO NEED for filtering. It allows schools to say “it isn’t our problem” … but it ties the hands of teachers and students. Sometimes there are bandwidth issues and streaming video must be cut down, but in those cases, at least teachers should be allowed access. In some schools Google docs and sites are blocked. Why? Is someone afraid kids might collaborate? Filtering software provides a false sense of security, it does let some ‘bad’ stuff through, but we are less vigilant if we have it. It also blocks many useful sites. As Roman pointed out, there are ways around filters. Just do a google search and hundreds of sites with instructions to defeat filtering come up. We should teach appropriate use and deal with the odd issue that comes up. If we think the problem is not ours because bad sites are blocked, then we are doing our students a big disservice. Today’s kids, as we have commented on many times, are comfortable with technology and are using it often. The problem is they do not often think of the consequences of their actions, so our solution – block the bad stuff ! It should be teach appropriate, effective and ethical use! I think I have mentioned this quote before (can’t remember where I heard this) … that the filters should be in the heads of our students, not on servers. My final point is to ask: who decides what gets blocked? An IT person? A division administrator (or worse, school trustee) worried about PR & liability? A software company? My opinion is that it is the teacher who knows her/his students, the teacher who is the professional at the front-lines. Lets stop deskilling and not trusting teachers and let THEM decide which software, web sites and so on to use to do their job! OK – I guess my opinion is clear. I will continue my ranting in response to my classmate’s posts. :-)

Check these out: poster 1 (I have linked to this before).

Here is a disturbing story about a huge invasion of privacy by school officials.

Sid Davis: Another pioneer. It was fun and interesting to watch the film. It is a look back at an earlier time, we might laugh, yet they could provide interesting discussion with students about life in earlier times and what messages it may hold for us today. You can find many of Sid Davis’ films (and all sorts of public domain video, audio and so on) at the Internet Archive site. This is a wonderful source of artifacts that can be used and remixed for free – and legally. The CBC show Spark uses audio from here for many podcasts, a wealth of content at our fingertips (providing it isn’t blocked!). The BMW videos also acted to show the power of video. A topic that should be included in media literacy, be it in a Media Studies class, an ICT course or an ELA class.

Speaking of Spark and media literacy. Nora Young interviewed a guy about software they are working on called the “dispute finder”. It is experimental & free. It is a way to alert people when claims on web sites are disputable. Sounds interesting!


  1. Mike, I completely agree with your comments and I had mentioned on Lana's blog, after your comment that filtering and blocking is actually a thing of control. I had mentioned that "controlling" learning may not be the best way to manage a class or learning process. There are other more effective ways, such as planning, organising, and leading (or facilitating) which could bring students into a more consensus based learning. This way, the controlling function of managing a class may not be so important afterall.

    I came home after the class and played back a couple of Sid Davis movies to my daughters. I think it had more impact on them than the morals I have been trying to pass on to them for years. Go figure!

  2. Hi Mike, I agree with your comments on filtering. Filtering is all about control, and control is very important to Board Office personnel. It is absolutely unprofessional to dictate what content is available in my classroom. Most of the time the individual filtering decisions are not made by an educator. I trust my students, and I monitor my students when we are in the computer lab. I see no need for filters. Throughout my 10 years of teaching, I never had an administrator deny my access to any books or resources that were worthwhile; however the pre-existing filters impede learning in the classroom on a continuing basis. Try researching drugs for a science project, or try using a social networking tool and you will be denied access. What disappoints me the most with divisions that control the internet is they never come out to see how you are doing in the classroom. If you want to control what I do, come out to my classroom and give me advice on how to be a better teacher.

    Secondly, the invasion of privacy story is insane! If the allegation are true, I hope they have to pay a lot of money in the settlement. There is something absolutely perverse about giving teenagers laptops and then spying on them.

  3. To gain control, we may need to give up control. Examine what has happened with operating systems since the inception of Windows 3.1 or Windows 98. How much more control do we have over the technology when we rely on the same technology to do the very tasks that give us control. Windows 7 performs many a task, both hard and easy, with the click of a button. Want to share resources on different computers in one household, click on HomeGroup. Want to connect to wireless network, no worries, it happens automatically. But what have we had to sacrifice? Most Microsoft applications require activation through an online connection between you and Microsoft. How much information about you and your computer is uploaded in that exchange? No one can say for certain.

    How does this apply to filtering? Through my experiences with IT support, many of the problems with filtering are directed at the quantity of material that needs to be filtered. The filtering of sites such as Facebook and YouTube are easy. The sites that cause problems are the ones that have a URL one day and then a slightly different one the next day - easy to find and easy to access. Which devices can handle copious amounts of data in an efficient manner – the computer. Currently, we fight what is an uphill battle in terms of filtering or not filtering. In the not to distant future, the very programs that divisions struggle to filter may perform the filtering themselves. If sites such as Facebook can collect information about an individual and retain it without user consent and search engines such as Google can keep an archive of the sites you have visited, then auto-filtering will no doubt see its day. Especially when somebody realizes that a profit can be made. Automating the filtering process may come at a very high cost. What is that cost, personal information. Of course, the ideal should always be for children to be their own filter but this seems to be a losing battle.

  4. Great conversation going here. Let me propose complete access - no filtering. What may ensue? Would we see more hate crimes perpetated in society? Would we see fishnet stockings worn to class regularly? How about a summertime thong? Is there really anything to fear? Maybe not. Perhaps student bodies and councils could have more say in the decisions about information and communication access rights. Ever hear of the school Summerhill (see There, kids actually have a say in what goes on. The debate about filtering is ethical in nature and it plays out politically. And when it comes to politics, well, where do administrators stand? Not always sure, but, I'll tell you what, Mr. Trustee... you make me superintendent and I'll make sure you win the next election. Simplistic scenario, maybe, but consider the reality. Filters... hmm... they are good in coffee makers!

  5. The school I was at did not have any filters in place. Sometime back the division tech committee was asked about this, I argued against it - I brought up problems with it etc, but the teaching kids to be responsible and filter themselves won out. As Principal I held firm, had to convince a few parents, but no big issues. Sure we had some problems now and again, we dealt with them. We gave kids responsibility and, for the most part, they responded.

    By the way, Gary - I like the idea - actually give kids a say and listen to them - how revolutionary!

  6. Paul, I love your challenge to admin to come and see what you are doing in your classroom. The thing about filtering that I find the most frustrating is that those that are in charge of setting the filters are often pushing teachers to incorporate more technology into our lessons and classrooms. It looks great on open house night and for PR if you can brag about how much technology you use, which makes admin look better. But if there are so many hoops to jump through I can see how a lot of teachers that were only slightly motivated to use technology to begin with would become completely turned off.

  7. You are so right, James. (I liked that too, Paul - how often does senior admin get into classrooms?)

  8. Thanks for the discussion about filtering, everyone! Just to throw a wrench into the whole "down with filtering" party:

    If we eliminate filtering, where does it end? The "unfiltered" internet access I get at home is actually quite filtered. When I use Google to search the internet, Google is working very hard at filtering what I see. I see Google's filtered view of the internet, not the true internet, whatever that looks like.

    In fact, most search engines will filter by recognizing my Canadian I.P. address, then limiting what I have access to. The BBC, for example, has much online content that is "filtered" out for Canadians. Hulu, NBC, Slingbox are just a few media websites that are filtered because of our geographic location.

    MTS, my internet service provider, also filters what I have access to.

    ICANN: the Internet Corporation for Assigned Names and Numbers, does a lot of filtering by deciding who gets what URL. Their ability to assign web addresses to certain companies influence the entire economics of the internet. Their filtering in at such a high level, most of us are unaware of the decisions they are making. And yet they have a profound influence on what we see on the internet.

    So, when we complain about filtering in schools, we need to realize that we're never really unfiltered. What you see on the Internet is controlled by a lot of people, so seamlessly that you think you are filter-free.

    If we took away all of these filters, including the ones we don't know about, I wonder what we would see on our screens?

  9. Way to throw water on the conversation, Roland - and a dose of reality... as someone said in recent a podcast about Google & China ... the internet looks different in different parts of the world.