Will better school policy provide “traction”?

Daedalus and IcarusCross-posted at Classroom 2.0

It has been almost a month since I posted a call at ThinkTime for educators and educational technologists to share examples of progressive policies that embrace web-based tools for content sharing, creation, and collaboration.

Realizing ThinkTime is not as high-traffic as some other “super-hubs” in the edublogosphere, I also posted my question at Classroom 2.0.

And I’ve been tracking comments on other blogs, such as Think42.com where Steve Dembo issued a similar call, also in September.

To date, the response has been zero, zilch, nada. Why is that?

I’m so confused. There are threads all over the blogosphere about Internet filters, censorship, and CIPA. (See recent dust-ups at blogs by Wesley Fryer, Doug Johnson, and Kurt Paccio.) But where are the parallel discussions about the need for proactive, systemic policies that embrace, or at least acknowledge, the changing information landscape?

To extend David Warlick’s flight metaphor from the K-12 Online Preconference Keynote, is our focus on filters essentially because they equate a grounding of aircraft? Without access to web content and the web-based tools that empower sharing and creation of content, educators and students can’t take flight much less contemplate detours, lay-overs, and emergency landings.

I get the problem of filters. I really do.

I have firsthand experience with blocked web sites in the classroom context. I resented the administrative process to remove a block from an educationally valid site. But, in truth — and please don’t mistake me for an apologist here — my system was reasonably responsive. I never once lacked access to Internet content I needed for instruction (provided instruction was planned several days in advance).

Yet, that was prior to 2005 — before my interest in interactive self-publishing sites and social networks.

Now, in 2007, the best that I can gather from my teacher and librarian friends is spotty, inconsistent blockage of blogs, wikis, and networking tools persists in our county. Enough to stifle creativity and production? Maybe, but that is only part of the problem.

You see, in my community we have a layer of system-wide web publishing policy that also acts as a “blocker,” of sorts. The filter blocks access to content; current policy as stated in the procedures handbook for web pages blocks administrators, teachers, and students from creating content. I may be interpreting the procedures incorrectly, but they seem only to address teacher- and student-generated web content on officially sanctioned web pages hosted on local servers.

So, provided teachers, librarians, and administrative leaders are vigilant about requesting access to appropriate sites, it is possible to operate under the flawed filter. But who is evaluating the web publishing procedures? Who is advocating that these procedures be refined to be a more accurate reflection of the new web landscape?

There is hope. Some folks in my community are willing to consider a new approach, but they want to see models.

I am begging for some outside perspective here!

I have considered the possibility that some educational systems and institutions have acceptable use policies (AUPs) that encompass both the access and creation of web content. I actually would love for that to be the case, as I am in no way advocating adding another layer of policy upon policy.

But what I fear is more likely the case is an overall lack of intentionality or conscious policy making regarding the read/write web.

Thus, we have situations like this, described to me in an email from a librarian friend who works in a school system here in the Southeast U.S.:

We go by the official AU policy . . . . And as you noted, there is really nothing about blogs, wikis, social networks, etc. I think our district shies away from getting too detailed because they don’t want to open a can of worms. I am just speculating it, but sometimes I think they take this approach in hopes that if they don’t draw attention to it, then they don’t have to deal with it. I do know “WordPress” is the officially approved blog host by curriculum, but there is nothing in writing about this — it is just what has trickled down to us, and I truly doubt most teachers know this.

In his keynote posted on Oct. 8, Warlick describes three brand-new conditions converging on our classrooms: info-savvy students, a new information landscape, and an unpredictable future. He warns, “We’ve tried to ignore them, we’ve tried to contain them, and to even block them out. But the best thing we can do is to realize that these three converging conditions can actually become new boundaries off of which we can gain traction.”

Warlick uses the metaphor of airplanes, which travel in invisible but established flightpaths and which still need runways for take offs and landings.

I am starting to wonder how we can pilot the aircrafts without flight manifests and air traffic controllers. How long is this under-the-radar, ask-forgiveness-not-permission way of doing things going to persist?

How desirable is it, really, to Build this Plane While It’s Flying?

What do you think?

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Graphic: Photograph of Icarus and Daedalus by Charles Paul Landon, from WikiMediaCommons


6 Responses to “Will better school policy provide “traction”?”

  1. 1 Steve Dembo 12 October, 2007 at 9:17 am

    Policies aren’t sexy. And, to be honest, many people are afraid of them. I got minimal response to my shout out, but have gotten great response when I’ve gone after people individually. I’m appalled at how many are working under a “Don’t ask, don’t tell” environment. I’m putting together a presentation right now on the topic, which I’ll be happy to share once it’s finished.

    Interestingly, many seem to be afraid that policies are only put in place to restrict what people do. That clearly does NOT need to be the case. CIPA only requires that you HAVE a policy in place and that you enforce that policy. It doesn’t place much in the way of restrictions regarding what needs to be in that policy. Schools have far more freedom than many believe. They key is to have policies reflect the vision of the school. Most policies reflect the fear of lawsuits.

    I’m rambling. Thanks for a great post!

  2. 2 Jeff Bailey 12 October, 2007 at 5:55 pm

    I think you really have a point here. I have been recently examining why I feel unable to do what needs to be done online with students and I all too often blame the filter (and that’s the first barrier). However, I do think schools have to get creative in how they adapt AUPs to accept new technologies. Isn’t the key teacher discretion? Don’t we rely on this in most schools when choosing books, or lab equipment or even classroom pedagogy and even assessment practices? What would happen if a teacher “messed up” in those areas– isn’t there oversight and reprimands for those lapses in judgement? Do we really have to spell out each tool or should we be providing guidelines for general norms?

    Just some thoughts.

  3. 3 jlubke 12 October, 2007 at 9:54 pm


    I *really* like your distinction between policy driven by fear versus policy driven by vision. Please continue to share your work in this area; I’ll be listening!


    I agree. I’m simply (ha!) looking for a policy that spells out norms, expectations, guidelines. In Warlick’s K-12 Online keynote he spoke about teachers and students “looking for boundaries.” Even Warlick said we can’t educate this and future generations without boundaries, it won’t work.

    I don’t want a policy that designates specific tools. either. What kind of shelf life would that have?

  4. 4 Indya 12 October, 2007 at 11:11 pm

    As a member of a school board, I think we tend to worry about worst case scenarios, and create policies accordingly. They are based on fear more than vision. This field is so new to most of us, and so fast-changing, the idea of coming up with a progressive, adaptable, visionary policy is daunting. I look forward to guidance from people like you.

  5. 5 jblack 28 November, 2007 at 12:50 am

    Just wrote about this today in my blog in regards to online storage being blocked by my district (http://web20intheclassroom.blogspot.com/2007/11/access-to-online-storage.html). I’m in the trenches doing the work, figuring out how to use these tools to inspire learning and creativity (am teaching a new class this year on web 2.0 technologies to high school students). I do feel as if I have power to influence policy, but it takes so-o-o-o much effort and time that I can’t fight too many of these battles. Earlier this year I wrote many emails to our district administrators asking for our caching procedure on our district server to be changed. I’ve had a website for almost 10 years now, and am plenty aware of possible glitches. But our district wanted to tighten up their filter at the start of this semester, so they installed one that only allows pages to be updated based on a complicated user-request algorithm. So, here’s what happened. I go to update my pages for my classes — I can’t “see the update” for three to four more days. I go to update my site for back-to-school night — can’t see the update because the cache filter/server is not letting it refresh. I start teaching students how to blog — they can’t see a simple template change because of the same restrictions, let alone see evidence of “posting” anything to their blogs. I can’t tell you the hours it took to get something done. While I’m a seasoned veteran, this is my first semester teaching web 2.0 technologies and any good teacher knows getting a solid start is everything. Finally, the cache/filter issue was resolved, but not without a lot of effort. I just recently tried again to get our district admin let me use Skype — this time, no one responded to my email request. Have decided I’m not going to fight it right now. I’ll just wait — like I did for them to unblock teachertube.com. If I want to show a really powerful YouTube video on child slavery as an example of great visual impact in blogging, I will continue to have to download it at home, convert it to a .flv, and then send it to my own server to show the students the next day. There are work arounds, but it gets old. It’s sad,though, how we all — students and teachers alike — miss out while waiting. THe world just passes us by…

  6. 6 jlubke 28 November, 2007 at 5:40 am


    I appreciate testimonials like yours because they keep me grounded.

    I’ve enjoyed unfettered freedom as a full-time adult learner using web-based technologies to build out my learning network without a lot of institutional crap to push up against. People ask me if I will go back to the classroom when I “finish” my education. My gut response is, “I don’t know how.” I don’t think I could “go back” to the way things were. It is galling to think that the classroom situation I walked away from in spring 2005 is and will remain relatively unchanged should I decide to return now or even a year from now. In my community I just don’t see a lot of vision or leadership on these fronts, just management and staying the course.

    Pockets of teachers and students, I suppose, are making strides in the right direction. But it is exhausting, as your story proves, to work in isolation cut off by blocks, filters, policies, and the narrow-minded obsession with network stability and security. You have my deepest respect and I hope you will continue to share your stories.

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