Cutting Off our Noses

Show me a Roundtable Discussion and I'll show you a presenter who was too lazy to come up with a plan.

My most recent experience with this was during Towson University's High School Journalism Day.  I brought five young writers to a day of workshops and was pleased with the overall quality of the instruction.  In fact, it seemed like the only place they cut corners was with the faculty instruction, which was limited to said Roundtable.  The moderator started with a question, something like, "How has technology impacted your work with the school newspaper?"  Then, as is generally the case, one or two loudmouths monopolized the discussion while the rest of us just blinked at each other.

Sensing that this was going to be a painful hour otherwise, I suggested we each introduce ourselves and talk a little bit about our schools and the journalism programs there.  Out of about a dozen instructors, one or two others were from private schools.  I was half grieved and half relieved to see that many of our problems were universal: lack of funding, overabundance of micromanagement, difficulties in organization.

What shocked me, however, was the universality of a problem that's almost nonexistent where I teach: access to the Internet.  I would think that at a public school, students would have greater freedom to online resources, but in fact the opposite is true.  Most often, the ironclad firewalls are controlled by one or two people per county who work at another location, and getting websites un-blocked for educational use is close to impossible.  And it's not just access to web-based e-mail and blogs that's blocked.  Most schools can't get to news outlets like the Associated Press and the Wall Street Journal; some can't even get to the Maryland State Department of Education site.  They don't even think about creating a student blog, as I did last year, or of using Wordle to graphically represent thoughts and ideas.  WebQuests (about which my feelings are mixed, though I do like the one I designed to help make Billy Budd more fun) are another no-go.

This all came rushing back when I read this article (it's really more of a rant, though I think it's right to lean in that direction) about blocked technology and the headaches it creates for instructors:
We can't assess whether students are learning Internet literacy or responsibility if we don't give them access to the pool to swim in. We also can't expect students to think of school as a part of real life if we continue to create such big differences between the two.

So what we do now is say, "I know you can't go watch that award-winning speech while we’re here at school, but when you get home, go on YouTube and watch it there." Is this teaching them how to make wise decisions or protecting them? No. Is this offering one more reason why school is not applicable to real life? Yes.

Ouch.  Thank God for the two smart and helpful technology coordinators at our school, who can unblock a site in a matter of minutes, and for the administrators who trust us to make responsible decisions about Internet usage in the classroom.