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Tuesday
Oct302007

Threat level orange

The sign just outside the Minneapolis-St Paul International Airport has read "Threat Level Orange" for as long as the sign has been up - I'm guessing about five years. I wonder if the message even registers on anyone anymore.

I thought about that sign and its message of fear after reading this great response to an early blog post, "Fear-Mongering": 

Thank you, Doug - and Nancy - for this timely post. "Fear mongering" is exactly the term I would use to describe the US Attorney's Project Safe Childhood video, which you can view or download at http://www.projectsafechildhood.gov/. Since I teach an Internet Safety workshop for my district, my boss gave me a copy to review. He attended an evening workshop the US Attorney's Office did last month at one of our high schools during which this video was shown. Fortunately, it was poorly attended or I think many students would have lost their parent permission to use the Internet while at school.

In a nutshell, the video is about Internet predators and has little to do with how to teach our students to use the Internet safely, effectively, and ethically.

I think a much better resource is the What You Need to Know video from http://ikeepsafe.org/PRC/, which introduces parents to the benefits and realities of Web 2.0.

Thanks for starting the conversation! - Gail Dresler

I watched both videos that Gail mentions. Wow, what a difference in treatment of Internet dangers. These clips are representative of the approaches taken:

from US Attorney's Project Safe Childhood video

doj.jpg

from What You Need to Know video from ikeepsafe

ikeepsafe.jpg

Just a quick disclaimer: I am of the opinion that the easiest way to tell if the current administration and its ilk are lying is to see if their lips are moving. That they use irrational fears, whether of terrorists or child molestors (everything except global warming), to keep in power. You've been warned.

The Department of Justice video lumps all pedophilia, all child porn and all predation directly to the Internet. No statistics, no recognition that there is a difference between the Internet as causation or distribution of crimes against children, no attempt to gauge the scope of the problems. Agreed, that even one pedophile or child pornographer is one too many, but watching the DOJ video gives the impression that these dangers are omnipresent. At what point, as with the "Level Orange" hyperbole of airline safety, does the public simply tune-out?

The iKeepSafe materials, take a rational, positive, and, I believe, more effective approach to keeping kids safe online. Unlike the DOJ production, there are actually ideas about what parents can do to help protect their children, and more importantly, how they can help teach their kids to be safe, indpeendent of parental supervision.

I encourage you to watch both videos. And be aware that there may be fear-mongers who may be more interested in their own importance than in children's safety working within your community.  The opportunities and skills offered by the Internet are too important to kids to have these folks scare the bejeesus out of parents and school administrators who will attempt to block instead of teach.

Monday
Oct292007

Vote no

ThumbsDown.jpgWe are one of 99 school districts in Minnesota (1 in 3) going to our local taxpayers next week asking for more money for operations. Our legislature gave schools a 1.5% increase in the basic formula for next year; inflation is running at 4-6%. Even an English major can do the math. We can't maintain programs unless we get additional revenue.

What taxpayers don't know is that many of middle level bureaucrats like me are opposed to this levy referendum passing. For some very good reasons:

  1. If the referendum passes we won't have an excuse for not adequately educating kids. The underfunding card is always an easy one to play when our test scores aren't the best.
  2. If the increase doesn't pass, it will mean staffing cuts. And it's "last-hired, first-fired" in schools. That means these young, energetic teachers whose radical new ideas about education will be gone, leaving those of us who are tired and jaded to run the show. Just the way we like it.
  3. Less money means less stuff to order, less equipment to repair, fewer people to train, and less staff to supervise. That all adds up to less work for me. So it means a little more work for teachers and fewer resources. Teachers get all summer off already, for cripes sakes.
  4. Two words: Whining Rights!
  5. Non-passage may well mean cuts in library programs which will result in fewer graduates who think for themselves and follow directions without question. We all know the non-thinkers are much easier to manage.

Oh sure, the cry-babies will say that class sizes will go up, all-day kindergarten will probably be dropped, textbooks will need to last more years between replacements, computers will be less reliable, more kids will need to walk to school, and the buildings will be grungier. But so what? MY kids are out of school and MY taxes are high enough. It's not like the attendant who changes my drool bucket in the nursing home will need a PhD for crying out loud.

Make a bureaucrat happy today. VOTE NO! 

 

Sunday
Oct282007

DIPs and home access

Not long after I took my current job in 1991, my dad came to visit. I gave him the nickel tour of my offices - the secretarial area, the printshop, the repair area, the film library, the book processing area, the mail room, the computer tech workspaces, etc. After I explained all my department was in charge of and introduced him to my staff, he turned to me and said quietly, "And they put you in charge of this?"

As I reflect on the task ahead of me this fall and winter - evaluating the need for a new student information system, potentially selecting a new one, and then implementing the change that will touch every teacher, every administrator, and every parent in the district, and potentially every student - I too wonder "should they have put me in charge of this?' The task is daunting to be sure.

We did this once before in 1997 when we replaced the stand alone OSIRIS student information system with the networked SASIxp SIS, added classroom-networked attendance and gradebooks, and started the parent portal. It wasn't pretty for a while. It's when I formulated Johnson’s Policy on Implementing Large Technology Systems: I’d rather be optimistic than right. (For a more extensive look at our district's technology planning philosophy and processes, link here.)

This is a simple diagram of our DIP (District Information Plan) in 1997:

DIP1997.jpg

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

And this is what the draft of our 2007 DIP is looking like: (Click on the image for a larger pdf version) 

DIP07.jpg

While our 1997 plan called for:

  1. No data to be entered manually more than once.
  2. Make sure all data bases allow for easy importing and exporting.
  3. Never use paper when electricity will do. (How many paper forms can you convert?)
  4. Use electronic storage for seldom used or often modified documents. (Curriculum guides, etc.)
  5. Give the end user a part in choosing the system.
  6. Balance ease of access with the need for security. How much home access is necessary?
  7. Make it impossible to do the job any other way.

the School Interoperability Framework was not available, and databases have since seemed to grow like weeds.

Two other major changes have occurred since 1997:

1. We've succeeded with our objective 7 above: Make it impossible to do the job any other way. If this stuff doesn't work, many, many people simply can't do their jobs - or do them as efficiently and effectively. Trust me, we hear about it when the network is down, even for a few mintues.

2. Parents' and students' expectations of access to school resources from home grows every year. While we've worked on this deliberately, we've not reached the level of transparency and student/parent centeredness that visionary Jeff Utecht suggests.

It could be argued that parents and students ought to have access to all data that pertain to them. If we re-color the chart above, that means that everything but the gray elements below should be readily available to homes:

DIPSD.jpg

I expect some interesting discussions to come from our review and possible selection of a new SIS, and perhaps a new model of data management in the district. I'm extremely fortunate to have an excellent tech staff and some brave user-volunteers to serve on the evaluation committee.

With help like that, even putting me in charge shouldn't be too bad.