Should schools allow teachers to use outside technology tools?

Miguel Guhlin invited me to be a guest blogger on the TechLearning blog. A couple of days ago I submitted my first post - I will be blogging for TechLearning the third Wednesday of every month. Below is an excerpt and a link to the full post. Thanks for the invite, Miguel!


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Should schools allow teachers to use outside technology tools?

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I'd like to kick off my guest blogging by raising again an issue I once blogged about long ago. Many educational technology advocates have been blogging about the need to enable teacher and student use of Web 2.0 tools – for example, see these recent posts by Wesley Fryer, David Warlick, Susan Brooks-Young, and Jeff Utecht. While I agree with them, I also want to highlight the essential conundrum that school administrators face: there are rarely ways in which school organizations can effectively monitor the use of many of these tools.

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As I said in my long-ago post...

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Schools and districts are required, both legally and professionally\n/ ethically / morally, to monitor employee and student use of\ntechnology tools when those tools are used for professional or\ninstructional purposes. School organizations that don't must face the\nlegal and public relations ramifications of ignoring potential employee\n/ student abuse of digital technologies. No school system wants to be\nsued and/or highlighted in the news because it wasn't effectively\nsafeguarding against sexual harassment, cyberbullying, dissemination of\ninappropriate content (e.g., pornography), etc. via electronic\ncommunication channels or online environments.

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Some schools and districts are providing rich sets of tools for\nteachers and students to use for classroom purposes. These tools\ninclude e-mail accounts, network folders, web pages, parent portals,\nonline chat, online threaded discussion areas, online whiteboards,\nonline calendars, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, podcasts, and other\nsimilar tools. No district, however, is making all of these tools\navailable to all teachers and, indeed, probably never can. The\nincredible (and burgeoning) diversity of available tools is simply too\nmuch for school systems to keep up with, more or less provide.

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Many enterprising teachers thus are using (or would like to use)\ntools provided by entities outside the school organization (such as NiceNet, Yahoo! Groups, Blogger, pbwiki, Flickr, and SchoolNotes)\nto enhance the classroom experience. These tools typically are not\nhosted by the school system, however, and there is no ability for\nadministrators to effectively exercise oversight over teachers' and\nstudents' appropriate use of these tools. In many instances, school\nleaders may not even know such tools are being used.

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So administrators are essentially in a bind. If they don't allow\nusage of these tools, they become fodder for bloggers and other\neducational technology advocates because they're failing to tap into\nthe pedagogical potential of these creative technologies and ignoring\nthe future needs of students and society. If they do allow usage of\nthese tools, they run the very real and likely risk of inappropriate\nusage, including usage that may incur legal liability and significant\nfinancial costs for the school organization and the taxpayers that it\nserves. I think it is important that we not downplay schools'\nobligations in this area. Cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and other\ninappropriate uses of technology are real and frequent occurrences by\nboth students and employees. Schools cannot abdicate their legal and\nmoral responsibility to monitor appropriate usage of technology tools.

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As an educator, I desperately want to allow students and teachers to\nuse these wonderful new tools that are external to the school\norganization. As an attorney, I'm struggling to figure out how to make\nthis happen.

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What do you think schools should do to enable student and employee\naccess to these external tools while simultaneously fulfilling their\nobligation to monitor and protect against abuses? Should administrators\njust trust that instructional uses of these tools will be okay and deal\nreactively with lawsuits / parent complaints / financial costs / media\nfeasts as they occur? Since there is no way that school leaders can\nmonitor all of the different tools that are out there on the Web,\nshould schools have a preemptive ban on all non-school-provided tools\nbecause monitoring is literally impossible? What would appropriate\nschool policy and/or guidelines look like for these types of tools?\nDoes anyone have a good example of school- or district-level policy\nlanguage that deals with these issues?

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This post is also available at the TechLearning blog.

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