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Stephanie Sandifer asks a question on Facebook that all educators need to consider, but that also connects to a question about using social media/networks and learning management tools Wes Fryer discusses in his book, Playing with Media. More on that later.


To push back a little on Stephanie’s question and expected answer–the right answer is “You do what is best for your students”–why do we always have to do what is best for our student AND hardest for us as administrators? 

Perhaps a question to ask before that is, why is it hard for school admins to do what’s best for our students using new technologies?

Seth Godin makes a point worth considering:

Why are we surprised that governments and organizations are lining up to control ideas and the way they spread?
When power resided in property, governments and corporations became focused on the ownership, regulation and control of property.
When power shifted to machines and interstate commerce, no surprise, the attention shifted as well.
Now, we see that the predictions have come true, and it’s ideas and connections and permission and data that truly matter….

Is disconnecting a cell phone or a social network any different from trashing a printing press?

At a time when there are a million tools available, doesn’t it always seem that the best tools are those that we CANNOT use in school? Consider this short list of must-have, can’t use them in school tools:

  1. Mobile devices that are unfiltered by the District
  2. Laptops, netbooks, iPads that are student-owned
  3. Social networking/media tools like Facebook, Google+, Twitter, Plurk which facilitate communication and collaboration–which students use at least half the time to discuss school work–beyond the control of school administrators
  4. Youtube
  5. Voicethread
  6. Social bookmarking
  7. Skype
  8. Blogs and wikis not controlled by school district
  9. Dropbox and other online storage (e.g. SugarSync)
  10. Evernote and/or OneNote
  11. Weebly
And assorted other tools that provide just in time communications, facilitating communications and more…essentially, anything that gives students a platform to communicate, collaborate, or publish ideas. Too restrictive? Well, I don’t disagree with you on that. To compromise with the “George’s” some educators have embraced other tools like Moodle and self-hosted wikis (e.g. Dekawiki) or web-based wikis that can be controlled organizationally (e.g. PBWorks and But as teachers grow more familiar with these, they chafe under the restrictions, often yearning for the free, open spaces that other web tools offer…and they’re likely to take their students with them, even though they may not have express permission to do so. The need to share is a human imperative, if not also a moral one.

This is true, and not just for web-based tools. One of the reasons educators love Macs in Microsoft-only shops is that you can’t lock these devices down. It’s ironic that Apple devices, which are as locked down and proprietary devices as one can imagine, are the champions for freedom in tech-controlled learning environments, a point Doug Johnson observes in his classic Becoming George post:

Our teacher Mac laptops remain free of DeepFreeze and similar programs. And no digital apocolypse has occurred – knock wood.

If we were to open up the use of tools for instructional use to all teachers, would a digital apocalypse occur? Probably not. But there are times that I feel like weeping–usually when I’m short on sleep, hungry, tired–when considering the issues arising from teachers who haven’t bothered to keep learning about technology in classrooms. There are more than you might think, blog reader. 
Sometimes, the weeping starts when I get a call from the Laggards group having just dealt with an early adopter. Just joking.
Recently, Chris Craft wrote via Twitter, I’ve abandoned moodle. Are you feeling it? Chris should be taken out in the backyard and pounded with water balloons. Seriously, so what if he’s abandoned Moodle? There are many learning tools, but what are the underlying reasons for abandoning any one tool?

And, what are the reasons for keeping one, even when it’s not popular to do so?

I ask these questions because we keep coming back to what’s useful, what’s not for use in schools. Schools have limited resources–human capital, technical expertise, servers–and they can’t support everything. Outsourcing it to the cloud seems like a great idea, and we should take advantage of the cloud when possible (e.g. GoogleApps for Education or MS LIVE are two alternatives I’ve discussed before). 

But there is still distrust of the cloud and the use of web-based tools (e.g. edmodo) in some school districts. No matter what you do, there will always be a group that says, “iPads just don’t get the job done; get netbooks instead!” Is this a bad thing? Only if you consider that we all have an inequitable playing field. Does being equitable mean that every school district should buy the exact same tools for students and teachers, then require them to use it?

  728  roblyons@crafty184 @mguhlin so what’s the solution then? I’ve been helping build an online course for Spring 12 & have no LMS

You can see from Rob Lyons’ question, there’s a need to find “the solution?” What’s the silver bullet in online learning tools? As a presentation I heard/viewed one day over the last month by Jeff Utecht points out, the cat’s out of the bag…there is no ONE tool you can standardize on. I sat in a meeting about social media where the discussion went something like this:

“Let’s keep Facebook and social media blocked.”
“Why can’t we build our own social network in-house? That would be better and kids could be required to use it.”

You can see where that conversation is going, right? Wasted days and wasted nights ahead.

For those of us who have been having this conversation for years, it’s clear the walled garden doesn’t work. Students will have conversations everywhere else but where you force them to. If you want to be relevant, hip and included, you have to use the same tools everyone has access to, not just what educators have access to or allowed to use.
In his book, Playing with Media, Wes Fryer writes:

Whether you are teaching a classroom of adults or young students, it can be challenging to digitally collect or “aggregate” ideas shared by your students during and after class. LMS’es like Moodle and Blackboard, can address this need.

But even while acknowledging the power of the course management system, Wes Fryer pauses in his discussion of collaborative class blog to say:

LMS sites are NOT public, however, and because they are on the “closed web” they should not be the exclusive spaces where we share ideas and publish information from our classrooms. Open web publishing and sharing empowers creativity and collaboration in ways closed web publishing never will.

I couldn’t agree more with Wes. In my K-12 learning situation, I encourage the use of Moodle as a course management system aligned to the teaching goals of the organization. Use of LMS sites facilitate the teachers’ job of pushing content at students, engaging them and helping scaffold their learning. However, if the focus is on sharing content with a greater audience, inviting collaboration, then use of a wiki solution is inevitable.
“Are we doing what is best for our students or what is easiest for us?” It is a question that I’ve asked as well, but of Technology Departments and their leaders. Have we adopted a system because it makes our job easier as “techies” or because it’s the right tool to use? This has led to intense debates, characterized by questions like, “If we let them [teachers] install whatever they want, then what’s the point of having management tools (e.g. Active Directory) in place?” or “If they can install whatever software they want, whether it’s aligned to the curriculum or not, then are they wasting valuable instructional time?”
No matter what your perspective, it’s clear that one thing is in short supply–the Teacher’s ability to choose what is the best tool for their particular situation. When you see one size fits all types of solutions being put into place, you must ask yourself, Who is this best for?

As a veteran technology user, it’s an obvious observation – Any technology that limits one’s ability to use other technologies to communicate with others simply to satisfy a policy or procedure will be circumvented. It is simply a matter of time.
When considering the use of Moodle, I would never attempt to set that up as a Facebook replacement (ok, I tried–once). Rather, it is but one of the possible ways to organize curricular content that we have to work through. Currently, Moodle provides the most choices–that also happen to coincide with the needs of the organization to maintain control–that facilitate learning opportunities for students, adult or K-12 learners.

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Everything posted on Miguel Guhlin’s blogs/wikis are his personal opinion and do not necessarily represent the views of his employer(s) or its clients. Read Full Disclosure