Tuesday, September 20, 2011

Missing the Clouds -- how we do a disservice to students in the name of security

Disclaimer: This is not a rant about Brebeuf Jesuit. While I can opine eloquently on why the school should loosen its death grip on social networks, the school is relatively open to cloud computing and is a Google School through its AMDG system.

 It is perhaps because of these experiences:
  • watching students collaborate on presentations across from the tables or across the city; 
  • listening to student comfortably describe uploading, downloading, and sharing documents and their associated ideas; 
  • helping student think around the corners of file storage that used to stymie users (recently in a music creation class, we discussed the four ways to store, share, and protect files) 
that today's experience was so frustrating....

Dateline: Today, Location: Sidener Academy -- The only 4-star school in Indianapolis Public Schools and home to two of my three precious (precocious?) children.

I quietly listened to an all-too-short and harried explanation of Title I services available followed by a description (marketing pitch?) of the wonderful things my girls were able to do as a result of their presence in these halls of learning. I was happy to hear the presenter describe the high-tech opportunities to which the kids were exposed (although, don't get me started on Daughter Prime's netbook -- that thing has got to go).

After the meeting, the chair of the PTA and I walked down to the library to fire up their macbooks (ooh, shiny! pretty!) access our choice of browsers (firefox or safari) and test the new PTA directory form that had been created using Google Forms (if you have not tried this simple tool for getting information quickly, it is an educator must).

 KER-BLOCK unable to access the form. odd. the link was relatively simple.

Oh well, we had embedded the form into a blog already so we could check there and test. hmmm the blog shows but there is a hauntingly familiar "Cannot access this post" message.

Google Docs KER-BLOCK
gMail KER-BLOCK

taking the time to walk through the specific error messages, the school had blocked all traffic that could possibly link to file storage (Dropbox: KER-BLOCK), communications (gVoice; gTalk: KER-BLOCKx2); and apparently every https:// site by rule (Brebeuf Jesuit's Email system: KER-wait for it-BLOCK).

 wow.

In a school that take pride in its use of technology...
in a district so desperate to save money that it cannot provide full transportation for students during its new "balanced calendar" system...
in a curriculum that focuses on creating rational thinkers who can use tools to think outside traditional boxes...

BLOCKED.

What is the most disappointing to me is not that parents will have to go home to fill out the gDocs created form, or that my daughters will have to wait until high-school or a change of district heart to begin learning about cloud computing (although they use dropbox and gDocs at home to communicate with their parents), but that these tools and the thought-processes that go with them are EXACTLY what schools should be promoting.

What is my goal?
What resources do i have available?
How can i best communicate this to others?
Do i need to work on this elsewhere?
Can i work with someone?
How do we work together?
What tool will get me toward my goal quickly and easily?

These questions are at the foundation of every adult project, of every authentic student assignment. And they are naturally asked by the presence and implementation of these tools.

When I asked the lead educator of the school about this problem I received a slightly confused look that seemed to say "well, you know, technology and such. so confusing. Who knows?" This is no longer an acceptable response for educational leaders.

It is time for educators to demand better tools from its technology staff partners. Security, safety, etc. must be balanced with educational opportunity. Resources should be spent on increased access rather than on shiny and pretty drill-and-kill boxes. Administrators need to educate themselves in order to have conversations that open tools and opportunities to students rather than close them behind walls that protect little and cost a lot.

but Poptopia and Cool Math Games were unblocked. so, you know, there's that.