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Safe mistakes

email2.jpgThe girl was very upset.

One of our sixth grade girls reported that judging from her sent mail folder on, someone else had been using her account to send messages. The principal was brought in. The guidance counselor, parents and media specialist all met. And even yours truly, the tech director, got involved.

After some discussion, the girl remembered that she had given her username and password to her "very best friend" at another school, and that they were using the e-mail program at her friend's house on the day the messages (which were innocuous) were sent.

The media specialist changed the girl's password. The counselor gave another talk on cyberbullying. The media specialist emphasized security and privacy in her next lessons. The principal learned the kids actually had e-mail accounts. The tech director was happy this turned into a "teachable moment" for all involved.

It is because of incidents like this that I am glad we have always given our students school sponsored e-mail addresses. It allows kids to make "safe mistakes." The girl and probably her classmates got a real-life lesson in protecting one's password and about identity theft without anyone getting hurt.

It's why we need to give kids as much access to Internet resources as we can while they're in school and while there are responsible adults to whom they can turn if there is a problem. How would this have been handled if the girl had only had a Yahoo account and home access? 

Oh, this sort of thing doesn't happen just to kids either. 


And a junior high maturity level too


Problem or dilemma?

...a problem is a situation in which a gap is found between what is and what ought to be. ... How a problem is framed depends on who is doing the defining.

...Dilemmas are messy, complicated, and conflict-filled situations that require undesirable choices between highly prized values that cannot be simultaneosly or fully-solved.

Larry Cuban, How Can I Fix It: Finding Solutions and Managing Dilemmas. Teachers College Press, 2001 

Dr. Cuban's definitions come back to me fairly often when educators talk about tech issues. In short, he says problems can be solved, but dilemmas only managed. Here are just a few examples:

Our media specialists want access to a management program (ARD) so that they can take control of computers in the labs during instruction (look at student screens, freeze monitors, share the instructor's screen, etc.) Our techs see this as huge drain on network bandwidth, slowing the network for the rest of the building's users.

A classroom teacher wants to video, digitize and then upload as a videocast his classes so students who are absent or want to review can download and watch the lesson. The tech director is concerned that students' privacy rights (and board policy) will be violated if students can be recognized in the videocast.

The building techs are upset because another program has been adopted by a curriculum area without any involvement by the technology department. Not having new computer applications vetted by the department for compatibility and need for maintenance has been a long-standing source of frustration, no matter how many reminders are sent to department chairs and administrators.

I would categorize each of the above scenarios as dilemmas - conditions that can only be managed, not solved because they involve conflicts in values. Because of individual priorities and "problem frames," it is impossible to deal with these issues so that everyone gets what she/he desires.

So how are these situations best dealt with? Personally, I like using my advisory committee (or a task force) comprised of all stakeholders effected to fully air the issue, suggest actions, and make a recommendation. Does everyone always like the result? No. But everyone knows why it has been made and has had a chance to have had their concerns heard. (See also, Ending the Range War handouts in .pdf.)

Sorry folks, that's about the best we can do - other than putting tranquilizers in the school's drinking water. Get Cuban's little book. You'll gain from it.