Jailbreak your school

There is a fervent rush in education to infuse technology in education and an equally oppositional force afraid of the dangers of cyberspace.  The compromise in many schools and divisions has been to impose rigid filtering systems to restrict access to sites which are deemed non-educational or unsavoury.  It has been my experience that these restrictions and locks are very efficient at keeping educators locked down but nothing more than a nuisance for an industrious student. There are several concerns about open access to technology, and risks inherent in opening things up. Interestingly while schools that have chosen to  restrict access to the internet have been focusing on internet safety rather than responsible use technology has advanced to a point where the majority of students have access to high-speed unfiltered access in the palms of their hands (and it’s in their schools…shhhhh). In my mind the question is not if we should open up school internet access, but how.

Recently I read a blog by George Couros who created a digital citizenship rubric to Evaluate your schools Digital Citizenship level.  The problem with being a school that restricts access on the internet is that we are not giving students the opportunity to be taught how to use technology responsibly in a controlled environment.

Corous Rubric

Following this rubric you can see where your school or division lies. If you are in the “Grade 1” Position you are potentially on the most dangerous course.  Having not taught responsible digital citizenship and having rampant access among connected students does not allow teachers to have any influence or control of their digital citizenship development. Michael Fullan said “A fool with a tool is still a fool, a fool with a dangerous tool is a dangerous fool”.

Dan Haesler’s blog that metaphorically compares Driver education to the current approach to digital citizenship speaks volumes.  He asserts that giving students the advanced tools and access to unfiltered internet access and pairing it with only warnings about what not to do is not adequate.  To extend the metaphor if we allowed students to drive after giving them a brief list of things not to do and handed them the keys and never monitored their driving again, we would have a similar situation to what is going on with teaching digital citizenship in many schools and divisions.

Our society is changing and our students have access to one of the most powerful sources of knowledge in history.  It is imperative that we change our approach.  Here in lies the dilemma,  Do we unlock everything and let them have open access? The simple answer is  “NO”.  I am still working this out myself but I believe that the first step is within school and divisional planning.  I suggest the following steps;

1. Plan for it- Examine your school and divisional plans and get all the stakeholders involved. Send out emails, newsletters, surveys and get the word out, “We are going to infuse technology in our school and to do so we need to have open access”. Use permission forms informing parents of the parameters of what you are doing and have them used frequently.

Here is an example courtesy of George Couros.

2. Educate yourself- Teachers need to learn about what digital citizenship  is.  This blog by George Couros highlights the parallels of teachers who misunderstood their roles as digital citizens.  Some of these stories are shocking and will seem sensational but a good measurement for your internet activities is, if you would not write it on the white board in front of a classroom full of students don’t put it on the internet.  Don’t develop a personal profile on-line assuming that it is private because you are only one screenshot away from your personal profile becoming public.  Assume everything you do on-line is Public.

3. Access social media for your own professional development. Gone are the days where you need to go to a conference to get a one shot wonder seminar on how to do anything.  Twitter has given education access to a professional community that is as large as you are willing to make it.  Ask questions, contribute, and learn.  I have learned so much in the last three years on twitter and have started contributing now which I had never done before.

4. Start small, focus on a few key things you think will grow in your school or classroom.  There is great temptation to be the master of all things technological.  Pick a few things (I suggest, Google Docs, Google+, and blogging) and infuse them in your school.

Recently I changed my Schools cellphone policy.  Previous to my tenure cellphones had been forbidden and the walls of the school had signs echoing that we will not allow cellphones in school.


The reality was that students had phones and were using them without permission and hiding them in their lockers and under desks.  Our decision to allow cellphones was not one that we changed easily as the divisional policy had previously forbade their use. After consultation with students, parents, teachers and our administrative team we decided to allow cellphones in school.  We met with students to discuss what responsible use looks like, published our change in policy on our website and monthly newsletter.  The result was that everyone knew what they could and could not do and there have been virtually no problems.  Students are using the technology responsibly and the few issues that have arisen are more behaviour problems than cellphone problems.

Obviously the issue of internet use and open access is a larger one but it certainly needs discussion.



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