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“The predominant technology determines the predominant learning task” in the classroom.”
Dr. Alan Kay as cited at Speed of Creativity
In Managing Disruption and Protecting Student Data, I outline how “tough” it can be for school district administrators to implement Board approved procedures, even as they seek to protect student confidentiality (e.g. FERPA). There are complicated, though not complex, processes in place in every school district to protect that data. Should setting them aside be the act of an employee (e.g. teacher)? Or, should it be the act of a community of stakeholders who have carefully considered the issue and acted in concert to implement the decision made?
This is the proposition that Dan Rezac challenges in his blog entry…and in so doing, he highlights the changes that are tearing at the very fabric of what it means to be an education community today. There is a sense that the destruction of K-12 education as we understand it is coming. I often wonder how much of this is pundits pandering to the hopeless masses of educators locked in classrooms, trying to pick the “school district” lock that forces them to use only what has been approved by the “curriculum illuminati” in K-12 schools. This myth of know-nothing central office types who blockade access to teaching and learning tools appears to reign supreme. And, one of the engines of deception and deceit, a way of satisfying the prisoners locked in the education prison is Moodle.
Of course, this assertion is bunk. If less clicks IS the way of the future, then so will it be. If the rising tide of empowerment will raise all ships, opening the door to free, engaging learning opportunities, then it will. Singling out a particular tool–like Moodle–is foolish, whether to promote the bunk or not. Using Moodle is a choice free educators make, like anything else. And, those educators who are ignorant will embrace it depending on what it helps them accomplish, and how it is introduced.
Yet, I tend to align more to what Durff has to say:
I disagree about the concept of working in, around, outside of the current system in order to change, improve, or save it. The current educational system needs to implode and from it’s ashes a new system of education can emerge.
We must be careful at the same time this system is imploding not to alienate the people. It is the system that must end, not the people. We all need to be re-educated to disperse strategies / skills, facilitate expertise, & engage learners in different ways. The status quo worked perfectly for educating people to work in a past era.
For some school districts, they have no clue that the world has changed around them. Or, if they do know, they are working all the more feverishly to do what worked in the past to prevent the onset of the new.
You can work–slowly since no one likes change–to model new technologies and pray they’ll find the changes you help bring about worthwhile. I’d like to think that people are smart enough to realize what you’re trying to do…and that they may appreciate easing into a change. In the end, it’s THEIR choice. I’ve made MY choice and I’ve tried to clarify the options available for school personnel.
Dan complains that Moodle is not Web 2.0, that because its not out in the cloud, it’s just short-sighted on the part of school districts who are trying to protect that status quo, and that the reasons they cite are self-serving. Ok, yes, they are…did we expect the monolithic organizations we work for to throw up their hands after hundreds of years, and say,
“Yes, you’re right, Dan. Digital media has changed the very fabric of our community and how we connect with one another. You know what? We’re going to scrap the current system and put it all out there…student confidential data, curriculum, etc. It’s going out there…some 3rd party vendor will provide the options for us. Or, better yet, every teacher can do what they darn well please. Want to use Wikispaces? Go ahead. Want to use PBwiki? Go ahead. Want to connect via your AT&T wireless card? Go ahead! It’s about freedom, dude!”
It’s naive to think this will happen. In fact, it’s no surprise that new communication technologies threaten the status quo. They connect people in new ways, short-circuiting the process established by hierarchical authority. Some sacred cows that are slain on the virtual battlefield:
- Only the Superintendent communicates with the School Board. With a blog, any employee can easily get the message out about what’s happening to the world, not to mention the School Board. No email has to be sent, only a sharing of a blog entry or podcast.
- All district communications are routed through the Communications Dept. Employees–at the risk of their jobs–can gather on electronic forums that are created by anonymous concerned citizens and share the REAL story with constituents. They can submit endless letters to the editor in the comments section of the local newspaper, creating a dynamic relationship between complete strangers…and the Communications Dept has no control, in fact, no awareness of the brewing storm until the District is challenged in the media.
- The classroom–that the School District provides in its wisdom–represents the sandbox students and teachers may learn and teach in. Teachers use whatever is available because it simply is there. Yet, even as school districts seek to constrain teachers to the tools provided to them–they are approved, they have been selected by teams of experts (usually district staff who have authority and expertise, or sometimes, just authority granted to them by the hierarchy)–teachers are finding other free tools online.
- Student data is confidential. While school districts are worrying about how to best protect confidential data, students are–in many cases, irresponsibly without guidance from parents and school personnel responsible–exposing more personal, confidential data online via YouTube, MySpace/Facebook, etc. than the occasional teacher taking advantage of a web-based CMS.
Are these reasons enough for school districts to not embrace cloud computing? Uh, no. There have to be other solutions. The question is, are cloud computing apps capable of meeting the needs of K-12 security? Here’s a quick list, and I encourage you to add more:
- A real point of contact, not just a web site.
- Confidentiality of student data guaranteed
- An easy way to sync staff and student data based on public education information management systems and the cloud…perhaps even eliminate the need to sync data because it all resides out there.
- Easy ability for the organization and individual users to backup data they own from the cloud.
- Portability in the sense that I can walk away with all my data anytime I want.
Even with that list in mind, consider the points made in this Google Public Policy blog entry:
It’s always tempting to suggest that the next new technology will be disruptive, game-changing, or revolutionary. The Internet certainly was. It remains to be seen whether cloud computing will deliver the same magnitude of changes and benefits (or more), but it unquestionably holds a lot of promise.
Cloud computing can be a great equalizer, putting powerful computing tools that were once available only to large institutions in the hands of individuals and small businesses. It can promote competition, accelerate innovation, enhance productivity, deliver cost savings, strengthen data security and maybe even help our environment.
That is a lot to live up to, but we hope that by continuing this conversation we can separate hype from reality and offer some practical suggestions aimed at getting the most out of what cloud computing has to offer.
Shouldn’t our goal as edubloggers be to separate the hype from reality by reporting accurately what’s happening in our experiences? After all, why should educators leap onto the bandwagon when the Government isn’t ready to jump either? If the Gov wants to think it over, shouldn’t we as well? “Matters of government policy need to be determined in the area of cloud computing,” shares TechBlorge Blog, “before the burgeoning new industry can come into its own in the U.S.”
Free online tools empower teachers to escape the strictures of a school district, to do whatever they please in order to satisfy the supreme mandate–provide the children with the benefit of a “21st Century” education. Bent over backwards over the public opinion altar of that mandate, school districts are, yet again, judged to be failing. If legislators and government find school educators inadequate for failing to teach core knowledge and skills, at least educators can hold governments and their own district organizations in contempt. In the end, all we have left is contempt for the choices we’ve all made.
Web 2.0 technologies allow educators to rebel against the status quo and to incite our students to do so as well. I still remember the Immigration Walkouts staged by students and some educators using MySpace and other social networking tools. “Block MySpace NOW,” said one assistant superintendent in Texas, “I don’t want to deal with high school kids walking out.”
It is a result of disruptive innovations, a slow change that empowers students and teachers to publish at will, connecting how and wheresoever they please, in spite of the roadblocks that authorities set in place. Freedom, openness, and transparency are the ideals of the present and challenge the idea that schools should require teachers to work with “walled garden” applications. Dan writes:
Some districts that are adopting Moodle to create “walled gardens” have me curious. If you ask the developers, they’ll tell you they’re doing it because of security, because you can’t trust Web 2.0, and you can’t trust The Cloud. These educational systems are attempting to build invisible walls around their schools. Districts, fearing losing data, losing ownership over their data- are trying to make the world round again!
In his blog entry, Dan equates “Moodle” with a weapon of the establishment, a way of silencing the fierce independence possible through Web 2.0 tools. In fact, he asserts that Districts believe that they can’t trust Web 2.0 and the Cloud. And, he’s right–organizations and educational institutions cannot. They have a responsibility to protect those who cannot protect themselves, and to support learning environments that benefit the majority. There is more to this choice, though, than is represented. The benefit of conversation is a need to tease out…why Moodle?
Moodle can be used in a variety of ways. I enjoyed watching Tomaz Lasic’s Moodle Lego Video. Essentially, Moodle makes course management easier for newbies. Would other tools do as well? Yes, but you’d have to depend on someone else in the cloud…and while the jury is still out on the cloud, it’s easier to set up moodle and circumvent those objections to cloud computing. But the conversations will have to take place eventually. The wave is here and the water is lapping at our ankles and knees.
It’s not the technology, is it? Doesn’t the technology subvert the process? We imagine that Web 2.0 and cloud computing are a powerful force for good…but they can also be a powerful force for disruption, accelerating the decay of the social contract, the tyrant’s tool for controlling our data and what we share. While we sacrifice our “private” data for the Cloud Computing idol, the truth is, the idol has feet of clay…it is but another boondoggle in a long string of money-making business schemes.
You know the process, you’ve seen it before:
- Put your data in the cloud computing app
- The vendor that runs the app decides they need money to support it
- They start placing advertisements but then realize that just isn’t working well enough.
- They find a way to commercialize/monetize what they have and put a ring in your nose.
Why should a school district run to the Cloud and fall subject to this? Isn’t there enough money LEAVING school districts to vendors (e.g. Microsoft, vendors of drill-n-practice tutorial software, test-prep) already? Let’s keep that money in-house!
Now, Dan has confused Web 2.0 with Cloud Computing. You buy into one, you get the other. But that isn’t the case. School districts can embrace Web 2.0 tools without having to trust their data, blow their precious taxpayer funding on vendor-hosted solutions that may crash or go ad-based from one night to the next, or charge for downloads of your data. Charge for getting a copy of your data…isn’t that unbelievable? That’s the promise of cloud computing…a new business strategy.
With Web 2.0 tools–you know the apps like WordPress, Moodle, Gallery2, and others–school districts can create tools that are “good enough” to meet educational needs, to facilitate “educational networking,” and avoid the uncertainties of social networking, and the financial pitfalls of yet another vendor crashing and burning.
Dan pits Moodle against Freedom, but his argument is a straw man. The truth is, Moodle, like other Web 2.0 tools available to schools, empowers them to achieve that which cloud computing does not–freedom from commercial control of the learning space. It is the equivalent of running your own television network, managed and hosted by students, rather than Cable in the Classroom featuring commercials per given time period.
While it’s easy to ignore the questions school districts must ask in our stampede for safety amidst the Web 2.0 ebb and flow of commercial tools–here today, gone tomorrow, struggling to make a business while offering no-cost solutions laden with advertising–the school district authorities cannot…they cannot afford the irresponsibility of dilly-dallying with every technology tool that raises its head above the surface before disappearing into obscurity.
If the promise of Web 2.0 is freedom from commercial constraints, then Moodle and other tools allow districts to achieve freedom while helping a community of stakeholders build the bridge to the future.
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