Sunday, June 27, 2010

Fighting the Locked Net Monster

Today, during Mario Armstrong's presentation at ISTE 2010 he introduced four challenges facing teachers and their use of technology in the classroom. One of those challenges is the "Locked Net Monster." The "Locked Net Monster" refers to school administrators and IT administrators who lock down teachers' and students' access to the web and the wonderful tools it offers. In the last year I've written a couple of posts addressing the challenge of dealing with the "Locked Net Monster." You can read one of them here and the other below.

What follows is a repost of my Least Restrictive Environment for Educators post.

In my work with special education students over the last six years, I have consistently heard from special education teachers and administrators the refrain of "creating a least restrictive environment for students." The idea being that in a least restrictive environment students have the most opportunities to experience new things, explore their creativity, and grow personally and academically. I completely agree with these ideas.

The irony I see in school leadership with regards to technology in the classroom is that often, by imposing strict internet filters, school leaders don't create a least restrictive environment for their faculty. Some of the most restrictive environments that I've heard of include the blocking of wiki services, gmail, and Google image search (which recently added Creative Commons search). By restricting access to the internet, including such innocuous things as Yahoo mail, schools limit the ability of teachers to use their creativity in lesson planning.

I understand that schools are worried about lawsuits arising from student access to the internet. At the same time if school leaders are filtering the internet out of fear or misunderstanding of the law they are not helping their teachers prepare students for life after high school. (Please note that I did not say "prepare students for the 21st century." We're a decade into the 21st century we should stop saying "21st century skills" and just say "skills" or "skills for academic and professional success.") To address these fears and misunderstandings, Wes Fryer and others created Unmasking the Digital Truth. If you're a school administrator or a teacher who works in a district that doesn't create a least restrictive internet environment, please visit Unmasking the Digital Truth.

327,534 Free Wikis! 5 Questions With Wikispaces

I just had a great meeting with Adam Frey and James Byers from Wikispaces. For those that aren't familiar with Wikispaces, they've given away nearly 330,000 free, advertising-free, wikis to teachers. Here's the recap of my conversation with Adam and James (note, I'm paraphrasing their responses, these are not direct quotes):

1. Why give away so many free, advertising-free, wikis when it clearly represents a loss of revenue for them?
When they started Wikispaces they weren't sure who would use the tool. So they made the wikis free and eventually realized that a lot of teachers were using the service. Today, roughly 2/3 of wikis are education related. In the end they don't look at giving away wikis as a loss of revenue. Rather they view giving away the wikis as grassroots marketing. If teachers like using Wikispaces and want more features such as greater privacy controls, they or their schools can purchase a premium plan, but Wikispaces isn't going to give a "hard-sell" on that. A lot of teachers are content with the free education plans.

2. Do you have plans for adding real-time components to your service?
At this time they don't have immediate plans for releasing a real-time component. Their focus is simplicity of use and making the features that they do offer, the best they can possibly be. They don't want to fall into a situation where they create so many features that it becomes confusing for the first time user.

3. Yesterday, at Edubloggercon there was a session titled "Are Wikis Dead?" (I wasn't able to attend that session) how do you, Wikispaces, respond to that question?
They look at the education market as having two groups of technology using teachers. A group of advanced users such as those people who have been using wikis and other web-based technologies for a relatively long time and want more features. The other group, a larger group, that wants a simple service for getting students creating content on the web. So from their perspective wikis aren't dead.

4. Do you get a lot of calls from schools to have someone come to talk about using Wikispaces in the classroom? How do you handle that?
They don't get calls for deployment of infrastructure, but they do get some calls for someone talk about the use of the wikis themselves. They do respond to those calls, but for the most part prefer to have someone like myself and other educators work with schools about the use of wikis in the classroom. In their minds its educators who are using wikis who can best help other educators leverage wikis for classroom use.

5. Do you offer webinars for people who want to learn more about using Wikispaces?
Yes, they offer monthly webinars. The webinars are conducted using Elluminate. The webinars are recorded and are available for free at

Thanks to Adam and James for taking time out of their very busy ISTE 2010 schedules to meet with me.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
How-to Week - Day 1 - Using Wikispaces
Intro to Wikis Created by Kids
How to Embed a Map into Wikis and Blogs

Educational Change Challenge

Here's a good video that would be appropriate to share at the beginning of a workshop/ presentation/ conference about teaching with technology in the 21st Century. The video has me excited about the conversations already taking place at ISTE 2010 and the conversations still to come.

Some highlights from the video:
Who seriously believes that locking 25 students in a small room with one adult for several hours each day is the best way for them to be educated?

Moving from the one-room schoolhouse to the one-world schoolhouse is now a reality.

And my favorite line from the video, In education the use it or lose it rule may mean if you don't use tech for learning, you may lose relevance. An educator must be relevant.

Here are some related items that may be of interest to you:
15 TED Talks to Watch Before 2010
TED Talk Creativity and Play
Did You Know 4.0 (Shift Happens)