A Policy Quandary

Do we need to protect ourselves from… ourselves?

I’ve been doing a lot of research with colleagues in the last few months in the realm of public school district policies, especially pertaining to internet, web 2.0, social media, filtering, etc.

What we’ve found is many schools who have vague language in their policies, and who rely on either a person or a committee to make decisions on a case by case basis. I can’t imagine that this protocol would be immediately responsive, as I’m sure the individuals or committees have other job responsibilities.

We’ve also found quite a few districts that insist upon the strictest control possible. In many cases, the justification is “we need to protect the students and/or staff from themselves.”

Internet safety education is federally mandated in all schools, but even those guidelines and requirements are somewhat vague.

I think it’s fairly obvious where I stand (if you’ve read any of my previous posts on the subject). I’m very much in favor of educating the masses about productive use of web tools, as well as discussing the inherent risks and learning about productive and responsible online behaviors. Personally, I think “control” is an illusion- and locking students and staff away from everything at school teaches them nothing when they leave those school boundaries.


  • where can schools draw the lines without making those lines too fuzzy?
  • how does one decide if a “tool” is truly too risky for students to use within the school setting?
  • if something “bad” happens as a result of using a specific web tool, what are the legal ramifications?

What are your thoughts?

  1. How do your schools manage these issues?
  2. Who makes those decisions?
  3. When was the last time your policies were re-written to reflect the changing nature of what kids do and learn online?
  4. Do you have an AUP that works well for staff and students? Why or why not?

I’m hoping for a lot of responses here, as I think it would be helpful to us all!

Also, if you haven’t seen this wiki started by educators in Missouri, take a look!

Balanced Connections

The term “social media” (or “social networking”) has always bothered me for some reason… but until recently, I didn’t truly understand why.

I’ve done several presentations about web 2.0, the changed nature of the internet, and what all that interaction really means to us. Often, I’ll hear from several adults, especially those who do not use web 2.0 tools, about their concerns regarding face-to-face time. Their concerns are that kids spend too much time plugged in and not enough time learning how to interact with people in person. They don’t think that ‘social networking’ actually promotes anything truly social.

Because I came to be a web 2.0 user as an adult with what I would consider fully developed social skills, I can’t really speak from my own experience. Or can I?

I don’t really have problems interacting with people in person. Although painfully shy as a child, I learned strategies to overcome my shyness so that I could interact with others. I use those strategies every day.

When I started blogging, chatting, texting, IM’ing, Tweeting (verb for using Twitter), Second Life-ing, [insert additional web 2.0 tools here], I wondered if all of that ‘plugged in’ activity would change my social interactions. I have to say… IT DID. But here’s the surprise: I honestly think it changed everything for the better. And here’s how:

  1. When I met other ed tech people online through their blogs or via Twitter, for example, those online connections made it easier meeting them eventually face-to-face at a school or conference. We already knew we had something in common. Our previous online experiences became our ice breakers. We could get past the early (sometimes awkward) small talk that inevitably occurs when you first meet someone, and move to what we really wanted to discuss. [Image credit:pengo-au]1
  2. With people I already know, it’s difficult to maintain connections in our extremely fast-paced lives. In addition to our jobs and families, there are so many other obligations. I feel like I don’t always have time to make a phone call or pay someone a visit… especially if they don’t live in the same area. Online opportunities like Facebook have provided a quick place to catch up, share photos and videos, chat, and more. Does it replace the face-to-face I wish I had with my friends and family? Not all the time. Sometimes, however, it does provide a more timely connection than I would have with those people if I waited for the face-to-face time. Plus, I know more about some of my college friends and their families now than I ever did before. In more cases, I’d lost track of some friends who eventually found me on Facebook. I can honestly say that social networking has really enriched some of those relationships.
  3. My kids use social media. There are MANY times when Facebook, texting, or IM have taken the place of the reminder note on the refrigerator. I KNOW they check those online tools daily. Our communication has definitely improved because of these tools, AND sometimes it encourages new face-to-face discussions. All of my children have endured several conversations with me that start out, “So tell me what you meant by your Facebook status/comment/post today.” They don’t always like it, but it definitely beats the worn-out “how was your day, dear?” usual fare. Our conversational topics encompass school, friends, dating, driving… you name it. If it’s on their Facebook (or glaringly omitted), it’s open season for discussion.

In my opinion, It all comes down to balance. I do not spend all my waking hours online. I set boundaries for my kids about their online time. If a conversation can happen face-to-face, that’s encouraged. If it’s an emotional issue or serious situation, we discuss that face-to-face. [Image credit: dirkjanranzijn]2

And for those people who are concerned that our kids will turn into texting, posting, chatting machines who are completely bereft of social skills… I think you need to dig a little more deeply into what kids are actually doing online. Learn more. Try it yourself. You may be surprised how much better YOUR OWN communication can be, as long as balance is a consideration.

Oh, and don’t just take my word for it. Here’s an article in Time’s online magazine that I found today before posting.

1pengo-au. “PV Connectors.” pengo-au’s photostream.6 Nov 2008. 19 Jan 2009. http://flickr.com/photos/pengo-au/3018725308/
2dirkjanranzijn. “Balance.” dirkjanranzijn’s photostream. 17 Jul 2008. 19 Jan 2009. http://flickr.com/photos/dirkscircusimages/2676182569/

Time Is What You Make Of It

December Think-About:

I’m often asked about the issue of “time”- usually during presentations/workshops about anything associated with blogging, wikis, microblogs, shared bookmarks, RSS feeds, etc.

“Who has the time to do this?”
“Why would I ever want to do any of those things? Where would I find the time?”

“All those things are great, but I have a life. There just isn’t time
to do it all!”

As a rule, I usually note during those sessions that I don’t sit behind a computer 24/7/365. BUT… I wonder if the participants really believe me? My guess is that many don’t believe me (I’m a ‘techie,’ right?), or they assume that the nature of my job affords me more time to read blogs, share on Twitter, add shared bookmarks, and post to my own blogs every single day.

The fact is… my job doesn’t really afford me more time to do any of these things. Instead, I’ve made the decision that using those tools help me to grow as a professional. I’m connected to people all around the world who are willing to share their ideas with me, collaborate with me on projects and ideas, and learn with me about preparing 21st century learners for future success. Why would I NOT make time for that?

We know that young people are also using these tools and gaining extraordinary benefits- when the tools are used appropriately. Perhaps that fact alone would be the motivating factor for making time.

I’ve always been told that you make time for those things in your life that are your priorities. So… why should this be a priority?

  1. If you’re preparing students to be successful for the future, you need to understand the learning tools they have at their disposal. We all understand best by DOING.
  2. These tools should be used in schools. Period.
  3. You will see a substantial increase in your own personal growth. I learn every single day from someone who shares with me. If you follow others in your field who are positive, strategic, and visionary, it’s nearly impossible to find these experiences unworthy of your time.

Here is a sampling of some “web 2.0” tools I use- those that I use most often:

I don’t use every tool every day, nor did I try to take on all of them at one time when I first started. In each case, I found a tool, tried it for a while, then decided if it provided me any advantage or benefit. What I found was that each one serves a different purpose, and I go to them for very different reasons. Of course, there were some that I found weren’t useful to me, so I don’t use them. In some cases, especially communication, I’ve found these tools actually save me time!

Because I’m seeking balance in my life, I’m also very deliberate about how much time I spend using these tools when home. That tends to be more difficult, but it’s important to make my family time a priority, too.

Just like we all need to findĀ  time for recreation, for exercise, for learning, for SLEEP… I think it’s also possible to find time to blog, or contribute to a wiki, or share with others in your field through some otherĀ  web 2.0 tool. Maybe it’s once a week or once a month, but the time is there if you make it.

Is it a priority for you?

Accentuate the Tech Positive

Techno-fear: a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology.*

Nearly every day, I’m bombarded by statements – in person or via some news outlet- expressing “techno-fear.” If a young person is in trouble due to something posted to a social network, there is a negative focus on the public nature of the social network. If an adult is fired due to inappropriate photos posted on the web, technology is to blame.

When I begin presentations on web 2.0, usually there is a least one person rolling his eyes or shaking her head when I start to talk about social networks and multi-user virtual environments (MUVEs). The audience assumes I’m going to talk about the dangers of these web environments.

Instead, the focus should be how these tools are used positively, how they can elevate thinking, and how they engage users. We can also discuss privacy and web permanence… but those don’t have to be scary topics.

How could we all approach these ideas positively with kids?

5 quick starts:

  1. Begin by exploring social networks and MUVEs for yourself. If you don’t understand these environments, you can’t speak the language… nor can you make any accurate judgments about their usefulness. (Darren Draper wrote a great blog post today about “immersion.”)
  2. Start genuinely talking to kids and asking them what they do online. Be open-minded and really LISTEN.
  3. Take note of all the good things that are happening online with kids; e.g., young people were more involved in the 2008 election than ever before, because of online political groups, forums, blogs, etc.
  4. Remember- technology is only a tool. We have to learn to use tools properly. When we don’t, we make mistakes. If students have no guidance about online activity, how will they know what it takes to be good digital citizens?
  5. Stay positive. Think about all the amazing things technology provides us today. Personally, I’m thankful that I don’t have to grind my own ink and write with a quill.


look again at my definition of ‘techno-fear’:

a state where humans feel they are losing control due to advances in technology

and remember “control” is an illusion.

*This is my own definition of ‘techno-fear.’ You can find Webster’s definition of technofear at dictionary.com.