Sunday, January 8, 2017

The 2 Biggest Barriers To Learning in Modern Schools - Consideration 7

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It used to be that 1:1 technology access was a novelty. Today, with Chromebooks, it is less expensive to give each child a device than it is to provide all the resources that device provides (i.e. pen, paper, notebooks, ruler, calculator, reading material, drawing materials, etc.). Furthermore with companies like Neverware which can turn most any old device into a high-speed Chromebook, cost and tech support are no longer the barriers they once were. Modern school districts have noticed that the cost of providing each child a device is no longer a hurdle. They also understand that Chromebooks last as long and are as sturdy as traditional laptops and despite the myth, they realize, just like laptops, you don’t need the internet to access your core suite of tools.  

What remains are the two biggest barriers most public schools and districts struggle with and must find a way to overcome to prepare children for success:
1)  High speed internet access on any device
Starbucks has figured it out. Airlines have figured it out. Successful businesses have figured it out. But when it comes to schools there’s an endless list of reasons why they are unable to figure out how to provide sufficient internet access for learning.

Our country spends billions on education and passes acts like No Child Left Behind and the Every Student Succeeds, yet they know that modern day success requires access to the internet. They also know that success today is not measured on drill, kill, and bubble fill, yet that is how they propose measuring the success of our children and their teachers. The system is set up for failure from the start if they fail to provide the most basic access students need today.

Jason Levy, School Technology Strategist for New York City, puts it this way:

The excuses must stop and ensuring our students have access to the resource they need for high speed learning must become the issue that voters fight for if we want our children to be prepared for the modern world.  

2) The filtering divide
Schools that service children living in poverty receive e-rate funding which requires schools to filter the internet. While the requirement seems well-intended most teachers will tell you that they can’t access some of the most powerful learning resources available and students just see the school internet as a joke that looks nothing like the internet they are used to. Filtering is the easy way out, but it doesn’t leave our children prepared for their unfiltered world.

When we block social networks, can we be surprised when students don’t use them responsibly? Instead we could be teaching students to use social media to develop a powerful learning network, a positive digital image, improve writing, or develop literacy. Outside of school YouTube is the go to resource for learning anything. How to play music, build, repair, and more. Inside these schools access is typically blocked, even if teachers know better. That’s why articles like “How to UnBlock YouTube” are so popular. In many schools categories like sports are blocked even though the learning a child can attain through following their favorite sports is tremendous.

Mary Beth Hertz, tech teacher and coordinator in Philadelphia recently explained in the Atlantic that what many districts get wrong is listening too closely to lawyers without hearing the voices and meeting the needs of students and teachers. She says this:
CIPA leaves a lot of room for interpretation and some districts opt to choose a strict interpretation to protect themselves rather than engage families, parents, teachers, and students in these digital-access decisions. We should be blocking what the law requires, but unfortunately the phrase ‘harmful to minors’ to some districts means everything and anything that could offend or embarrass kids and their families.” She also reminds us that blocking content doesn’t teach kids how to “effectively, respectfully, and responsibly use the Internet.”
You can read The Atlantic’s coverage of how the filtering divide is hurting families in low income schools here.  Hertz is not alone in her thinking. When it comes to filtering and CIPA (the Children's Internet Protection Act) the American Library Association (ALA) advises that filtering won't protect our students and provides this cautionary advice:
"The use of Internet filters to block constitutionally protected speech, including content on social networking and gaming sites, compromises First Amendment freedoms and the core values of librarianship. Internet safety for children and adults is best addressed through educational programs that teach people how to find and evaluate information. 
Research demonstrates that filters consistently both over- and underblock the content they claim to filter. Filters often block adults and minors from accessing a wide range of constitutionally protected speech. Content filters are unreliable because computer code and algorithms are still unable to adequately interpret, assess, and categorize the complexities of human communication, whether expressed in text or in image. 
The negative effects of content filters on Internet access in public libraries and schools are demonstrable and documented. Consequently, consistent with previous resolutions, the American Library Association cannot recommend filtering." 
The filtering divide, or gap, as some now call it, affects our nation's poorest schools who rely on federal funding for internet access. Those who don't need this funding are empowered to free access and share information.  

If we believe in access and excellence for all children, then prioritizing high-speed learning and access to information will be the barriers we overcome in our schools. What do you think? Is this happening where you work? What successes and challenges have you encountered when trying to address this?

This is part of a series in my conversation with author and professor Liz Kolb, who is teaching a course at the University of Michigan that addresses ways technology supports modern teaching and learning. Stay tuned on The Innovative Educator blog for the additional considerations in future posts. For a recap of all ten considerations visit

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