Scott McLeod wrote a post on the Dangerously Irrelevant blog that I thought was kind of funny. I found myself smiling and chuckling as I read my way through it. I apologize right now to Scott because I’m sure that it wasn’t his intention to be funny. But, for those who have been around the technology block a few times and proudly wear the t-shirt, we know exactly what he’s talking about with his observations around Iowa the first few weeks of the school year.
He writes under four headings…
1. Big Brother
Does this even need to be said? It seems to imply that teacher supervision isn’t good enough and that monitoring needs to be done by someone else in charge. Don’t teachers walk around the room, looking at group work and chip in to help the inquiry and the work being done? If we’re not going to entertain the serendipity of learning, why not just print the websites that are needed for the activity and leave it at that?
Having monitoring software also begs another question – at home, we would call that spyware – and it’s the most despicable of malware. Are we explicitly stating that it has a purpose in society? If we are, then someone needs to define the line where it’s OK and where it’s not OK. I’m not prepared to do that. Are you?
2. More sign-offs than buying a house
I remember a few years ago a superintendent coming to me saying that the board of trustees wanted an acceptable use policy that would cover every possible thing that could go wrong, along with consequences. The six people I worked with at the time and I decided to turn the tables and created an Acceptable Use Policy outlining the positives that we would expect that technology would bring to the table. Everyone loved it.
In the process, we looked at a number of policies from other boards. Like those in Scott’s list, they talk about the party of the first part and the party of the second part and the binding contract between them. The problem was that we could easily spot loopholes. Principals hate loopholes! One of our favourite television shows right now is “Border Security” about the CBSA. One of the questions that they ask people wanting to enter Canada is “have you ever been convicted of a crime?”. Every now and again, the border agents don’t know the specific law and so they do their research to see if the offense equated to something in Canadian law and then respond appropriately. Don’t we already have expectations about how students are to behave in school and use things like libraries, textbooks, pens… Why does technology need a superset of rules?
Besides, nobody reads them anyway. I just downloaded something from iTunes the other day and had to agree to a 40 page set of conditions. Of course, I fully devoured all the points and considered how they would apply to me.
3. RTF or WTF?
This demeans the end user. There isn’t a hacker alive who doesn’t have a list of tools in her bookmarks for converting from one file format to another. If the student doesn’t, isn’t this a wonderful teachable moment? If you’re concerned that a student these days won’t be able to open your document with the “new” Microsoft file format, maybe you need to shake your head.
If you’re concerned that they won’t be able to open your word processed document that you saved in Sprint format, maybe it’s time YOU updated.
Besides, who emails documents these days? Plop it into your Google Drive and share it with those who need it. Problem goes away immediately.
4. Nope, and nope
So, if students are provided with a laptop, isn’t it part of the program to use it in new and innovative ways? Calculator? Pffft! I don’t even know where I could lay my hands on one. I know that there’s a number of them on my computer, on my phone, and my tablet.
As for notes on a word processor, isn’t the ability to open Google Docs Research tool or another tab for a Thesaurus important enough to reconsider the whole notion of notetaking?
Thanks, Scott, for your great post. It does need to be forwarded to those who are in charge of policy. As I reflect back on his original post and my thoughts, there’s a common thread. The rules are about the actual boxes and not about the potential that they have for education.
Perhaps policy makers need to step away and re-evaluate precisely why they’re putting technology in the hands of students. Do the rules need to be about the boxes?