Personalisation and Choice #gooscot

Personalisation and choice is a fundamental principle of our Curriculum.  Allowing teachers and learners to access the many online available tools goes a long way to make these principles possible.  Young people live their lives online.  Using easy to use tools and websites.  We try our best to motivate and engage them in school whilst jumping through unnecessary hoops.  More and more I find myself saying ‘you’ll need to wait to you get home to access this’ or ‘does that phone in your pocket just make calls?’

Saturday’s #gooscot event has re-energised the debate surrounding LA filtering.  As far as I can see, there are 4 reasons why a website might be filtered in school:

  1. It is offensive and/or age restricted (pornography, drugs, gambling, suicide videos)
  2. It is not offensive, but there is no perceived educational argument for unblocking (often decided by non-educationalists)
  3. It uses too much bandwidth
  4. It is counter to policy concerning security of information

Starting with point 1, my own view is that school filtering should mirror parental control filtering.  And that schools should do more to raise awareness to parents of the filtering available for home computers and student phones.  The Internet, just like the real world, is a place with opportunities, excitement, challenges and dangers.  I can still remember Stranger Danger (and the Green Cross Code man, just about).  I grew up knowing how to cross the road safely, when it was safe to do so and when it wasn’t.  Would I have gotten as much out of school if I was never allowed to attend school trips as they would mean I had to cross a road?

Point 2 is a misnomer for me.  If a website doesn’t contravine point 1, and is open on a learners phone or home computer (open as in I would be happy for my daughter to see it), it should be open in school.  Schools do a good job in raising awareness of the dangers of the Internet, but demonising websites like YouTube doesn’t make our job any easier.

The bandwidth argument’s a bitch.  I believe it is the biggest block to a truly open online presence in school.  The stark reality is too many schools do not get the bandwidth they deserve (partly due to national funding, but local priorities also hinder progress).  I want to see my learners use every tool at their disposal, but my computers would fall over tomorrow if I got my wish.

[UPDATE: Neil Winton needs your help, please answer the Great School Debate Survey if you can/if your LA filtering allows]

That said, there are still many site that I could be utilising in the short term.  A straw poll with my new S3s show that 38% have Samsung Internet enabled phones, 18% of them have iPhones, 13% have Blackberries and the rest (bar 1) have phones with Internet access.  I will encourage them to use these devices more and more next session, but they should be using them because they chose to, not because the alternative is so dire and slow.

Try as I might, I don’t understand the security of information argument.  I am not allowed to access Google Docs/Drive or Dropbox in school because ‘I could use it to hold confidential pupil information’.  I could, but I wouldn’t.  I want to use it because it’s the easiest way for me to access, in school, the PowerPoint that I’m still writing at 11 o’clock on a Sunday night.  I instead email it to myself (using my ess than secure gmail account as the school email servers are always full) or I put it on a pen drive (not a password protected one, it was just the PT’s who got those free from the authority).

The sad fact is my wish list isn’t very long, but would make such a difference to learning.  It would include:

  1. Google Chrome – it’s what all the cool kids are using – look no further than ClassDoJo
  2. Google Docs – or any collaborative Speadsheet website
  3. Google Drive/Dropbox – would make file sharing of Higher Admin folders soooo much easier when pupils are wanting to revise/work from home
  4. Google Youtube – so many brilliant learning opportunities

Is there a pattern emerging here? ;-)  I have left Facebook off my wish list, because I think it is still too big a distraction for staff and pupils, but that might change over time.  I remember just a few years back the battles I had with classes who just wanted to play on the Internet whenever they got a sniff of going near a computer, I now can’t remember the last time the dreaded ‘free time’ request was mentioned in my class room.  I am fortunate that I can access Twitter and Edmodo in my school.

I should also say that I have a fabulous school technician who unblocks website when we ask for them (with the exception of the above list, as they are blocked at LA level).  Although I still think she has better things to do than have to unblock individual websites when I want my classes to use ebay as part of an enterprise topic, or car websites as part of a research task.

I have left my most important argument to last.  Personalisation and choice means using different tools for different people, groups and topics.  With the choice we have today, there shouldn’t be a one size fits all model.  I’m depressed by the thought of the powers who be thinking it has to be Google or Microsoft.  Charlie Love has beautifully shown, in Glew, that choice can mean accessing them all and choosing what is right for your learners.

In the last month I have used Glow Forums to enable P7s and S1s to collaborate, Edmodo to get to know my new S3 class, Twitter to communicate with students on exam leave and Facebook to communicate with my S4 class as they begin their Enterprise topic.  Different strokes for different folks.  I will blog about the use of all these sites in detail soon, but it has gone 11.30 and I still haven’t emailed myself the PowerPoint i’m planning to use P1 tomorrow.