Disclaimer: This is for the purposes of generating discussion within a community of teachers. It does not reflect the views of any school districts implied within.
One of the primary complaints I hear from teachers about integrating new technologies and 21st century skills into their classroom is that while administrator say they want to see these things, District or Network policies often prevent their use. When teachers try to make changes to these limitations, they meet little real support. Frustrated, they return to their classroom bubble and break out the composition books, colored pencils, or overhead projectors.
Blogging is a perfect example of this frustration voiced by many teachers. Originally, we in the education community were given Edublogs.org as the official answer to our desire to have students blog. Signing up students with no email account was difficult, but after discovering a somewhat shady work around using gmail, teachers were able to sign up classes. Edublogs is now a pay platform with a lot of intrusive advertising if you don't pay, and the email work around no longer works. Then, we were told to try 21 classes, which turned out to be very limited, unless your district subscribes for you. Of course, that's not going to happen.
Last year, Blogger became the official platform for Team blogs and was seen as the ideal solution. For once, students didn't need an email to sign up. You could create an account and be blogging in five minutes. Then, in April of 2010, Google began requiring SMS verification for accounts, and cell phones are banned in school. Also, many students do not have one. We may get Google Apps someday, but that's not likely to happen before Spring of 2011, and it may never if our district decides to pull a “San Diego”. Meanwhile, Kidblogs has been put forth as a possible solution, but what happens when that avenue dries up? Not that it's a particularly good solution. It has that lame edu-quality to it that all "school-safe" things have. You know the quality I'm talking about... It's a bit campy, like a classroom newsletter in Comic Sans, and makes any kid over 11 years old not want to touch it with a ten-foot mouse cord. Yeah, that quality. This doesn't even take into account all of the social networking and micro-blogging services that are blocked. Now we (the edu-community at large) are trying to develop campy edu-versions of those as well.
So, here’s the question. Do you think we should have to resort to generic edu-versions of the tools we want to teach our students to use responsibly? Is it just better for the peace of mind of admin, parents, and ourselves to stay in our bubble, or is this a form of oppression? Do you think we’re missing the real power of these tools by hobbling them to exist only within our network walls? What about email? Have you ever been in the lab with a class, ready to use a great tool, only to remember that it requires email verification? Should our students have school email? Do we need to protect them from that or is it as ridiculous as denying them a pencil in today’s digital environment?