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Friday
Dec212018

Change driven by student expectations

In the mid '90s when the Internet was still rather new, my district took the audacious step of giving our middle school students email addresses. Student/staff communication was the goal and despite some skepticism, things worked out. Well, the tech director kept his job, anyway. The high school staff, however, could not be convinced that their students should be given accounts.

Fast forward to the beginning of the next school year when the previous year's 8th graders became freshmen. Accustomed to having email, the freshmen demanded retaining their accounts - and the upper classmen thought that if these wimpy 9th graders had email, they certainly should as well.

Student expectations led to providing all classes email addresses before the second week of school.

As an increasing number of our classroom teachers become more skilled in using technology as a part of instruction, I expect student expectations to drive change as well. The use of digital resources, especially our learning management system, in conjunction with our 1:1 program and technology-infused elementary classroom, are helping teachers do things in increasingly student-friendly ways.

I can just hear these comments...

Last year our teacher allowed us to choose the topic of our research paper, our means of communicating our findings, our means of assessing our own work.

Last year our teacher had use take some quizzes to make sure we ready for the next unit.

 

Last year our teacher created videos of lessons so we could watch and re-watch them at home.

 

Last year our teacher put links to all the class readings in Schoology so they were easy to find.

 

Last year our teacher allowed us to submit our work digitally as a shared GoogleDoc so we didn't have to print.

Last year our teacher encouraged us to practice communicating using video, photos, sound, and graphics.

Last year our teacher kept the grades and assessments up-to-date so I knew if I had any missing assignments.

Last year our teacher allowed (even encouraged) us to read e-books from our school library as well as the public library.

So what about this year, teacher?

 

I expect parental and administrative expectations will also grow when some teachers use technology well and others do not. But it will be student expectations that may prove to be the most difficult to ignore, and therefore create systemic change first.

Tuesday
Dec182018

3 ways to help give all students "information privilege"

Access to an effective school library program is one example of information privilege. The absence of access is one symptom of information poverty. Joyce Valenza, On information privilege and infomation equity, December 9, 2018
I had not heard of the concept of "information privilege" before reading Joyce's thoughtful and comprehensive post earlier this month. But it certainly seems logical. Our students come to us from a variety of situations, not just of nutritional adequacy, home stability, and family support, but also of informational access.
I believe it is a primary role of the public schools to help close the gap between those who are information privileged and those who are information impoverished. This is a critical component of a culturally proficient school system. Providing good information resources and the skill to use them is both a social goal as well as an economic imperative, with fewer and fewer jobs for those without training and skills.
As I reflect on this challenge, I see three areas where public education can focus:
  1. Keep school libraries well-staffed. While "information" can be found in staggering quantities online, the skills to find, evaluate, and use these resources need to be taught by a skilled information professional - a school librarian. Sadly, these positions are often scarce in schools serving less affluent populations and are often on the chopping block whenever budget cuts are made in all schools. I find it ironic that when all signs point to information literacy being one of the most critical skills needed by our future workforce, we do not give a high priority to funding the positions of those who help develop this literacy in both students and staff.
  2. Keep our Internet access as open as possible to all learners. Even as an ever greater number of schools implement 1:1 programs and find ways to give students home Internet access, the call for restricting what can and cannot be accessed on school networks increases in volume. While games, videos, social media, and other Internet sites of high interest and entertainment value can be challenging for teachers to compete with for attention, blocking such sites discriminates against students for whom school resources are their only source of Internet access. Netflix, YouTube, game sites, and even Instagram, all have uses that have educational benefit and increase information literacy.
  3. Connect our learners with public information resources beyond the school. Our students need to understand resources available to them as citizens after they leave our schools. Public library access should be part of all students' public school experiences. Students should know about databases, e-book collections, and other materials available through state library programs, as well as other state government resources. Students should be give practice in using free federal information collections. Not knowing about or not knowing how to use these public resources will exacerbate the chasm between those of information privilege and poverty.
Growing up in the 1950s and 1960s, I was information privileged, despite living in what now might be considered an "information desert." I had books at home and my parents subscribed to a daily newspaper and magazines. Our secondary school had a good library and a professional librarian. Our public library was a regular stop when we came into town from the farm. I had an AM transistor radio and we had a black and white TV that got in 2-3 over the air channels. My family valued education and reading. 
Today's children and young adults operate in what I call an information "jungle."  Those who enjoy information privilege today, don't just have resources, but the skills to use them well. Is your school helping make all its students information privileged?
Monday
Dec172018

Data security in schools - everyone has a role

Whose job is it in schools to make sure confidential data is kept private and secure?

If you answered, "The Tech Department," you are only partially right. 

As I work my way through the process of helping our district obtain the COSN Trusted Learning Environment (TLE) certification, what has been most eye-opening is how good data security is an organization-wide effort and responsibility - that the technology department alone cannot assure data is protected, no matter how hard it works.

There are, of course, many things for which the technology department has primary responsibility - firewalls and encryption schemes and backups and access control to databases. Those of us who work with technology every day have a responsibility for making sure others in our organization have their level of concern raised sufficiently that they see their role and responsibility in data security and data privacy.

Here are some job groupings in schools along with some data protection roles they need to play:

Administrators. Superintendents, school board members, business managers, building principals, food service directors, special education directors, operation directors all need to understand both the legal and day-to-day issues involved in securing data and protecting student privacy. Their knowledge is critical to writing good policies, and asking others under their charge to make data security a high priority in what is usually an already full workload.

Business and HR department personnel. Major responsibilities of these groups involve vetting business/finance systems privacy and security functions and helping establish policies regarding role- appropriate access to private data. HR may also have responsibilities for determining all staff required training related to safety issues - and should help make data protection one of these required training areas.

Professional development and curriculum leaders. Those in charge of professional development plans must support and help prioritize teaching staff members about both the legal issues as well as best day-to-day practices on data privacy and security. Our curriculum leaders need to help build digital citizenship teaching expectations into at all grade levels. They also need to understand the laws surrounding the use of student data by vendors and vet products' compliance with data laws.

Clerical staff. Our secretaries handle a lot of student data, provide data to individuals and organization outside the school district, and often maintain access rights to other employees. The clerical staff is too often overlooked when PD days are offered - especially in the critical are of data security. I believe these folks are also must vulnerable to phishing and other social engineering schemes.

Classroom teachers.  Digital citizenship, of which learning to protect one's privacy is a vital understanding, cannot be taught by the library media specialist, technology integration specialist, or computer teacher alone. It needs to be woven into classroom teachings whenever technology is used as a part of the instructional unit. Classroom teachers also need to understand the process for vetting new educational programs to insure COPPA compliance.

Getting nearly every employee in a school district not just trained in good data practices, but getting them to take these practices seriously. Technology departments can lead, but they cannot do it all.

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