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Jun 7

Written by: Dan Maas
6/7/2011  RssIcon

I received an email from an out of state colleague and started a long email... then I decided it was a better blog post.  So here it is:


I am Joseph ,Tech teacher in MT.  I was wondering if you could help me with some questions concerning Google chat and email.


I do realize that your district is not using chat at this time where we are for a limited time.  At the end of this school year, the leadership team’s plan is to close email to a domain use only and no chat.  I, am in favor of a more open policy, allowing students to continue to learn the responsibility necessary to become accomplished digital learners.  

With this in mind, the obstacles that confront me are the ‘What about?“, “What if?”, “What happens when?”. I do not have answers to these questions and I am now seeking more answers form you.

Does your district have issues with misuse and how are they handled?  

What is considered misuse?

How do you deal with students who use their email account for personal or non educational use?

How is the discussion regarding chat?

Hi Joseph

I am for an open, but prudent approach.  I was quoted in the June/July edition of the Learning and Leading with Technology magazine by ISTE by opposing the idea of students using their real names in cyberspace.  For me, the best approach is the prepare kids for the world such as it is, not how we might wish it or remember it to be.

 Global communications is real and incredibly important for success in the 21st Century.  It takes more than just simple technical skills to leverage these systems.  It takes finesse and sensibilities that cannot be taught in a matter of days.  I can teach people the technical skills of today in an afternoon… but the sensibilities needed, take an extensive array of experiences.

 Here’s my example of what I mean by sensibility vs skills.  I have an advanced education and I am considered highly proficient with technology.  Office productivity tools are something I have used since middle school with great success.  However, if I have a budget problem on my mind, my first instinct is to grab a calculator and a paper pad.  Then, after wrestling with a few mistakes in my keying in numbers, I smack my forehead telling myself I should be doing this in a spreadsheet.  I have excellent spreadsheet skills, but my first instinct was the calculator.  Then I labor away at a nice complex spreadsheet and then need to get some input.  I email it to three colleagues who each edit and email back… now I’m trying to merge three different versions and never fail to miss something.  That’s when I smack my forehead telling myself I should be doing this in a Google spreadsheet!  I have excellent skills with Google Docs, but my instinct… once I decided I needed to use a computer… was to reach for my software instead of the cloud!  We need kids to use these tools everyday and all day so they develop the sensibilities to draw upon the right tool at just the right time. 

 The reality is if you limit email to in-domain only, the students will barely use it.  They can easily setup Gmail accounts without restrictions and then their communications are untraceable by the District.  By having open email, we give our students the opportunity and coaching to interact with the world.  We have access to their messaging and can enforce filtering rules and policies.  We place a copy of the student’s login credentials in the Infinite Campus system that they access for grades which means their teachers and their parents can get those credentials and login to see everything the student can see.  This brings the parents and the teachers right into the supervision circle.

 If a student uses an email account for personal purposes… we don’t care.  Just so long as they aren’t violating the Code of Conduct by harassing someone or violating some laws.  When that happens, we handle it through normal discipline channels.  We do not scan for issues but can mine the email if an event brings the school administration into the picture.  I remind people that the Google Mail is free, so the kids aren’t wasting tax-payer dollars.  What would waste tax-payer dollars is excessive attempts at control that will accomplish nothing but push kids further away from school resources where caring adults are involved and ready to help when kids make mistakes.

 So here are some What ifs

 What if a kid sends a pornographic picture?

Kids do that through private, free email services now.  What do we do about that?  That’s what we’ll do if they use a District system… the only difference is we are much more likely to know about it.  Being more likely to know means we’re more likely to put a stop to more of it which is good.

 What if a kid threatens another kid?

Kids do that with private email… see above.  Kids also do that in the bathroom and at the water fountain.  At least in Google Mail, we have a record and can take stronger action as opposed to “he said, she said”

 How are we supposed to monitor all the email?

Don’t.  It is an unreasonable assumption that we would have the staffing to dedicate to such a task.  We don’t monitor the Internet, for example.  Instead, we react when we are alerted by a teacher or another student.  That’s a better monitoring system anyway because while we can implement a filter that searches for certain obvious key words, cyber-bullying can be accomplished with context rather than just certain objectionable words.  Technology doesn’t replace people.

 How can administrators possibly stay on top of all this?

It's impossible to know everything.  The reality is we need to be involved in the media that kids use; that their colleges will leverage; that their jobs will require; that they will choose for their adult lives.  Think of the classic book Lord of the Flies.  If we just dump kids out on an island by themselves, don’t be surprised at the culture they build up.  Better to have adults out there with them so adult wisdom can influence that culture building.

 What if a predator emails a kid?

Does telling kids “Never talk to strangers” immunize them against anything bad?  No, but we teach it as part of a sensibility.  That sensibility of being careful who you trust needs to be translated to cyber-space and many of the same rules apply.  But just telling kids about cyber-safety without getting out into cyber-space will never produce the sensibilities necessary to succeed in today’s world

 Can you tell I’m prepping for a seminar [;-)

 I hope this helps


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