Wednesday, September 24, 2008

Connecticut Education Network Survey

So I received a survey invitation today. It went like this:

Good afternoon:

Now that the new Connecticut Education Network (CEN) filter system, 8e6, has been in place for several months, the Commission for Educational Technology (CET) would like to seek your input on the mandatory minimum filtering level. To collect your input, there is a brief online survey that is accessible via the link below. Based on the feedback collected, the Commission will decide at a special meeting on October 23rd if/how the mandatory minimum filtering should be modified. We request that you please complete the survey by Friday, October 10th.

Thank you for taking the time to share your input.

Needless to say, I completed the survey. Here's what I said:

The new state filter imposed on Connecticut school districts is preventing educators from integrating 21st Century skills in their instruction. The policy of using filters as a strategy to “protect” children from inappropriate material demonstrates a fundamental misunderstanding of both technology and today’s youth. It is a policy born of fear and ignorance – one that is far more likely to harm children than hurt them. The best way to protect children is through education, not censorship.

We work very hard to find imaginative ways to integrate technology across the curriculum. We read professional literature, we attend conferences, we collaborate, and we brainstorm. It is with great enthusiasm that we apply new technologies to classroom content. This innovative approach engages students and helps us differentiate our instruction.

Blocking Web 2.0 resources like YouTube, FaceBook, the iTunes Music Store, and blog sites perpetuates the myth that these resources have no educational value. This is completely false, and yet it must be the assumption of our uninformed policy-makers. Unfortunately, our current filter increases the likelihood that this assumption will become a self-fulfilling prophecy. If these resources are blocked, how will we, as educators, and students ever populate them with educational materials?

Web 2.0 technology is no longer the future. It is the present. We need to come to terms with it – embrace it, even. We must learn to cope with its inherent problems, and teach students to navigate, investigate, and publish responsibly. We cannot afford to cut them off from it for 6-8 hours per day, when they are doing their most active learning, and then turn them loose, expecting them to use it appropriately when they are less supervised. We wouldn’t do that with any other new learning, why are we doing it with technology? My only guess is that it is because the technology is misunderstood.

Our students will be expected to collaborate and publish online throughout their lives. It is already an expectation in many white-collar fields. But if fail to teach children how to collaborate and publish online at school, these skills will be self-taught, often through social networking – hardly as effective as having them taught by educators, who are certified by the state, and paid by districts, to teach!

As a library media specialist, much of my work is conducted in a Web 2.0 environment. Our library has a FaceBook page. We have a blog. We podcast monthly, and we publish our recordings to the web and the iTunes Music store. We have a YouTube Channel. Our recommended reading conversations occur online, using VoiceThread and LibraryThing. We use Jott and RememberTheMilk, Sandy, WhenIsGood, and iGoogle for productivity. We use RSS feeds to stay abreast of new technologies. This is the way it should be. It is, after all, the 21st century. But when state-imposed censorship prevents us from running a 21st century program, we start to wonder if the state education department has any genuine interest in supporting technology integration at all. In fact, the new filter requires us to scale back on technology integration.

I urge the state education department to trust districts to manage their own filtering system, starting now. Meeting to evaluate the filter system in late October, when the school year is 20% over, underscores the state’s failure to see the hindrance the filter presents to Connecticut educators. Clearly, someone doesn’t get it. That’s fine, so long as that someone isn’t making decisions that impact teachers and students across the state all day, every school day. District administrators are in a better position to understand the idiosyncratic nature of their constituency and make decisions how to best protect students while adhering to the highest standards of technology integration. The state has already acknowledged administrators’ professional expertise by granting them certification. The state needs to let them do their job, rather than constrain them. After all, this is the 21st century. Educators need to be able to teach accordingly!


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