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Tuesday
Jul282009

H1N1 and cloud computing

A speaker at a meeting I attened yesterday, George Welles*, boldly predicted that there is 50% chance this year that U.S. schools will close for up to four weeks in reaction to an H1N1 (Swine flu) epidemic. He added that this is a good reason for organizations not to engage in cloud computing or using the services of application service providers outside the school network. What would happen, George asked, if an epidemic brought down a few crucial services like Google or Microsoft?

I had the opposite reaction. I was thinking of EARCOS's "Business Continuity Model" that schools in SouthEast Asia have constructed. The reasoning goes:

Should a catastrophe occur (epidemic, tsunami, political revolt, etc.) that requires the evacuation of an EARCOS member international school, the Business Continuity Model would allow schooling to continue even if students and staff can't come to the physical buildings themselves. This can only happen online and only happen if the tools, resources, training and experiences are already in place. In other words, by creating online learning environments that supplement F2F teaching now, schools will be prepared for any eventuality when ALL teaching needs to go online.

I think it's time US schools consider this as well. Has the time for online learning to become a part of disaster-preparedness for every school? If your physical school must close its doors for an extended period of time this school year, will your students keep learning? And is the cloud or in-house hosting of on-line teaching resources the more strategic option?

Inquiring minds want to know...

*I found it interesting that as a data security consultant to some high level government agencies, George does no social networking or online financial transaction. There are too many data privacy issues. Although I don't think this includes squirrels with Nikons.

Friday
Jul242009

Censorship by omission

Censorship is the suppression of speech or deletion of communicative material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient to the government or media organizations as determined by a censor. - Wikipedia

It really isn't fair. Nutcase book burners get all the attention:

A fight over books depicting sex and homosexuality has riled up a small Wisconsin city, cost some library board members their positions and prompted a call for a public book burning. ... The row even spread to this year's Fourth of July parade, which included a float featuring a washing machine and a sign that read "keep our library clean." (CNN, July 22, 2009)

But where are the headlines about the far more egregious suppression of "material which may be considered objectionable, harmful, sensitive, or inconvenient" that is an ongoing occurrence in many, if not all, public schools today?

Supporters of intellectual freedom (ahem, that's you especially there, librarians) do not give the censorship of materials in digital form as a result of poor Internet filter management the attention it deserves. If we did, I wouldn't be able to round up examples like these in about 15 minutes with just a Twitter request*:

  1. As part of my unit on WWII I wanted to demonstrate the effects of atomic testing on small Pacific islands. I found pictures I liked at wikipedia at home. However when I went to bring the wikipedia page up at school during class, it was blocked by our internet filter, BESS. The name of the islands? "Bikini Atoll." - New York
  2. From the my side of the fence I can’t count the number of calls we get about [our products] being down when in actuality it’s the schools filter – they pay for something then block it. - Commercial data base vendor
  3. Our Systems Security Manager decided to block delicious.com. When I went to his office to ask him why he blocked the site he opened his internet browser (which for some reason is not affected by our district filter) and he typed something along the lines of "group sex" into the Delicious search field. As the results poured in he said, "there you go, this site is full of pornography". When I explained to him that I could type the same query in Google, Yahoo, Bing, or any other search engine and get the same results, and after I assured him that certainly the sites that the Delicious "group sex" results linked to were blocked by our filtering software, he scratched his head in amazement. You would think the problem would be solved....no such luck! Although delicious.com is unfiltered now, the page to login is not ...he doesn't know how to unfilter https site. Good grief and pass the gravy! - Texas
  4. Until about a year and a half ago, blogger and blogspot sites were blocked in our district. Most social networking tools are still blocked now. We have access to Twitter via 3rd party apps ..., but Ning, Facebook/MySpace (not useful in classroom anyway), LinkedIn, and even the Microsoft data/doc-sharing site ... are not accessible from campus. - Alabama

Why is it that school officials interpret CIPA's requirement that "sites harmful to minors" be blocked as "sites uncomfortable to adults" be blocked?

I'll admit that Internet filtering has long been stuck in my craw:

Schools have been using filters for over 10 years now! Why are stupid filtering decisions that lead to censorial acts still happening, even getting worse?

It's because individual teachers, librarians, techs, student and parents don't speak up, take action, or ask questions. Internet censorship is a sin of ommission because too many of us are just willing to let it happen. (Whining does not count as an action.)

Intelligent people associated with schools that over filtering, here are some actions that you can and should take:

  1. Ask for your school's written policy/guidelines on Internet filtering that describes exactly what is filtered, why it is filtered, and who/how the decision is made to filter. It should also clearly explain the steps necessary to have an Internet site/resource unblocked. If not, ask why not and how one can get one established. In writing - send to the tech director with a cc to the superintendent.
  2. Look at your board-adopted selection/reconsideration policy. Does it treat materials in electronic format in the same way that it treats materials in print format? Does someone who wants a website blocked need to go through the same reconsideration process required to remove a book from a library or classroom? If not, ask why and ask how the policy can be changed. In writing - send to the tech director with a cc to the superintendent.
  3. Find out who supplies your Internet fitering software/hardware. Do a little research. Does the manufacturer have a religious or political bias? How customizable is the filter? How granular are its settings and blocking categories? Does it allow creating a white list of sites that will override the filter? Does the local tech staff know how to actually use the filter? Send question in writing - to the tech director with a cc to the superintendent.
  4. Share examples of stupid blocking examples with administrators, parents and board members like the ones above. Share examples of tools that may be blocked in your district have been used in positive ways by educators in other schools. Keep up on how the use of tools may be changing (how social networking tools are now used for political action as well as recreational use). In writing - send to the tech director with a cc to the superintendent.
  5. Object to fitering decisions in writing and as a group (high school social studies teachers, K-12 library staff, 4th grade team, the PTO, the student council, etc.) Send to the tech director with a cc to the superintendent.
  6. Work to make decisions about filtering shared decisions and not leave them to the discretion of a single individual - no matter how wonderful he/she may be. Volunteer to sit on that tech committee, advisory council, or policy-revision group. Send concerns in writing to the tech director with a cc to the superintendent.
  7. Don't give up.

Technology integration specialists, get on board on this issue. Michelle Wilson says it well:

... this reactionary "let's just block it until we can figure it out" is such a hindrance to tech integration. Teachers think there's something inappropriate when a new tool is automatically filtered, and are so much more wary to try using it with their kids because the district created negative connotations.

Thus endth the rant.

* I am still looking for stupid filtering examples. Please send them my way.


Image: http://www.flickr.com/photos/deia/42897463/
Thursday
Jul232009

My comment predictor doesn't work

 

crybaby.jpgRegular BS readers know that I appreciate and encourage comments on this blog.

But even after nearly four years of writing on a pretty regular basis, I'll be damned if I can predict which entries will result in an outpouring of reactions and which will create a resounding silence - or just a couple whimpers.

For example, I spent considerable time and thought working on the Miles's Library (1, 2, 3, 4, 5) series last week. I'd guessed there were enough things in the posts that would confuse or anger readers and that the reactions would be hot and heavy. Didn't happen. I did get one really good reaction (after complaining about the lack of reaction) from Libby Gorman who has given me persmission to post it :

...the scenario is SO different from today--and 2025 isn't that far away. Having looked at it a little more, I wonder..

  • Won't all this cost a LOT of money? Where will it come from (given how technology in schools often seems behind the times because of money)?
  • Will there be more teachers to meet the individualized student needs, or fewer, because of them serving less of a "babysitting" function, and because of tapping experts who aren't teachers? (This is somewhat tied to the first question, since teachers cost money.)
  • I notice that Miles has a "Dr." for an advisor? Will more teachers need doctorates? (On the up side, will more grad students have job opportunities?)
  • Ahhh, no physical books in the library...and also the ALA comment, although I imagine that was a well-designed jab at the problems w/ circulating the 21st century standards.
  • What about the students (and there will be some, if not many) who DON'T pass that required basic skills test? And what about pre-test education? Will all of elementary school be boring test-prep?
  • Will that "DataBank" make the digital divide into an informational divide, or will the public library make access work for everyone?
  • Will we librarians really be able to DO all that?

I have a one year old, but I haven't gotten around to imagining his high school yet (I'm just starting to imagine kindergarten). Some of the imagined changes do scare me, but some of them seem really neat. And I think your imagining is an important part of preparing for the future.

Thanks for sharing!
Libby

That one comment was worth the work it took to write the posts. Knowing that one has stimulate thinking and questioning is quite a buzz. Thank you, Libby, for writing.

On the opposite end of the spectrum, my post the short rant about how men can improve their dress was written in about 15 minutes, has so far elicited 22 comments, some sort of hostile, like thi one from Alex:

 

You're a jerk. Excuse me, but "Ask your wife's opinion..." is clearly a gendered comment.

(Which kind of confuses me. At the risk of drawing even more ire, one of my gay friends often refers to his partner as his wife. Is this non-standard practice in the gay community? It was, however, sort of refreshing to be criticized for something other than my traditional views on copyright and such by my friends Tom and Peter.)

The other recent post that drew a good deal of very thoughtful comment was about how AASL should approach copyright on its student standards. If you have not gone back and re-read the comments associated with this post, do so. They are far more insightful than the original post. I love discussions that tend to shed light, not just produce heat.

Whether it is one comment or a dozen, please know I appreciate anyone who reads this stuff.

Sincerely,

Your "heteronormative" author

Image from: http://www.teesnthings.com