It seems that some conversations that are held with/among my colleagues are somewhat cyclical. An issue arises, we discuss, disagree, agree to disagree, and then come back around to it later down the road.
One of these arguments/discussions that is going on at the moment is about student email. Many districts do not allow their students to access their personal email through the school's network, but they issue student email addresses that allow for only certain domains to get through. Others block all access and do not issue email address. Then there are some schools that allow access to personal email. Who is right? Is anyone right?
In an ideal world, all districts could just open up this access. Let the kids obtain personal email, as they may use it as a way to transfer files from a home computer to a school computer so they can work both from home and at school. It also allows for more open communication between teachers and students.
However, we do not live in an ideal world. When a district opens up personal email, they open themselves up to viruses, SPAM, spyware, etc., depending on filters and antivirus software, as well as the diligence of the teachers and tech staff. However, teachers and tech staff can only monitor so much, antivirus software needs constant updating, and students will always find ways around filters (which isn't completely a bad thing, as skills go, but I'll talk about that later).
Now, with Web2.0 (or is it Web3.0 now?) being fully encompassed my classrooms across the country, there is a high need to have access to email so students can register for many of the tools out there. True, there are many of these tools that have come up with solutions to these problems, such as wikispaces and Google allowing a teacher to contact them with student info so usernames and passwords can be generated. Then again, what happens when a student forgets a password? Does the teacher really need to have one more thing to do?
I long for the day when education drives industry, instead of the other way around. Why is it that we, as educators, often wait for something to happen in industry before utilizing the skill in our classroom? If we know there are benefits to having these technologies available for use as tools for education, why are we restricting these opportunities?
I, for one, am glad that students have found ways to get around the filter at our school numerous times. True, there are instances where I have had to deal with students who are accessing inappropriate materials in school. You will always have inappropriate uses of technology as long as it is around. There will always be games on graphing calculators. There will always be kids texting on their cells while keeping the phones in their pocket so the teacher can't see. There will always be kids who figure out how to override a filter so they can play Tetris in study hall.
My goal for next year is to try and utilize these skills in my classes to help my students achieve. My summer will be filled with researching how to use cell phones and iPods in my classroom. I want to find a grant that might help me obtain an iPod cart for use in our school. I want to continue to find new ways to include various technologies into everyday instruction and learning. And I want my students to help lead some of this. Afterall, it is their education. I am also going to run some technology sessions after school for those interested in learning more about and exploring technology and possible uses. I want kids to think about ways to beat the filter. I want to learn those ways and learn how we can use these methods to improve filtering, but also to get the students to think in ways other than how we've always thought. If we are in charge of moving these students not only into the 21st Century, but to mold them into the leaders and thinkers of tomorrow, I think we better start right here and now.