May 5, 2009

Acceptable Use or Accepting Use

Bell rings.  Social Studies 30 filters out the door.  And I am confused.  Why?  Glad you asked.  I showed my students a program they can use to create their own myths and legends (thanks Donna DesRoches!).  We have been learning about sweatshops etc.. and I thought this online program would be a good way for students to demonstrate their understanding of the issue.  So, we started making an example story together (it really is a cool website, seriously, go check it out...I'll wait) and the enthusiasm level in the room was quite high.  They started making them and I have to say that I wasn't quite prepared for what happened next.  Although they didn't finish, they were doing an absolutely fantastical job!  They were exhibiting a deep, deep, understanding of the issue - and being more creative than I had anticipated.  Wow, either this was a great opportunity for them to demonstrate understanding in a fun and super engaging way or - I am the best teacher ever and their learning is all thanks to me.  Yeah, #1 is more accurate.  Anyway, cool website - tons of potential...I will put up a video analyzing it in a little while.

So I told you that story to tell you this story.  Often, and I know it's hard to believe, learning takes place beyond our control.  Meaning: no matter what we try to "teach", students might find something else to learn.  This happened to me.  Everyone was engaged in the myths and legends lesson.  They were, well you know.  Two girls at the side of the room happened to wander on to youtube while they were creating their sweatshop story. Now, here's where my confusion lies.  Students today are extreme multi-taskers...this we know. And I don't mean like I can pick my nose while driving my car multi-tasking...they can do many many different things at once (like pick their nose and do their hair).  But seriously,  I think this is a huge issue in education.  And you know who's making it an issue - you, me, us.  We have before us a generation of students that can work on several different tasks at the same time and we are not capitalizing on this amazing talent.  We squander their skills. We create policies that ban multi-tasking behavior (no youtube, no facebook, no bebo, etc...) We ban multi-layered learning (no youtube, no facebook, no...), well, we allow it - but only on our own terms.  I know that we are not doing a very good job of being relevant in our student's eyes.  We ask them to operate in ways that don't make sense to them.  When they are at home working on something, or doing learning on their own, they are free to multi-task as they please.  Yet when they come to school we tell them that they are not on task.  But what if they are?  And what if we have trouble understanding this?  Maybe we need to pay better attention to our students.  This is something I have tried to do.  

A while back we were conflicted about our acceptable use policy.  Some teachers wanted to ban social networking and video sites (what, then, is the point of having the internet?), others wanted to police it, others didn't care.  A good argument was made - we are not teaching our students anything by banning them from sites...we need to teach them how to use the internet responsibly.  And I whole heartedly agree.  For awhile I was "get off facebook", "no youtube during class time" etc...  Not because I agreed (which I didn't) but because it was the general policy of our school.  Then we decided to teach them to be responsible - and all sites were open (within reason).  I should mention that we have always allowed youtube, bebo, etc... if it is being used directly for educational reasons.  However, I wasn't quite sure what our new use policy was (and am still confused).  I think that we decided that it would be up to teachers to "police" use.  That internet management is tied in with classroom management.  I am okay with this.  A gray area does exist though. - who deems what is educational?  Next paragraph.

Back to my story, the two girls at the side of the room...remember them.  Well, they're on youtube - I know it and they know I know.  You know how they know I know - because they aren't being secretive about it.  They let me know they're on youtube.  Most of my students enjoy listening to music while working on projects - they know that if it is okay with everyone in the room, it's okay with me.  Nobody had an ipod or mp3 player so they decided to use youtube.  Okay, so right now you might be thinking that "hey, that's not educational".  And you'd be right...on the surface.  What if I told you that music provides a background noise that my students actually think boosts their productivity (seriously, we have had many conversations about how and why).  Well, maybe that's a weak argument.  And maybe there was no real educational value to the youtube music video.  And maybe I should have done what I have done many times in the past and told her to shut it off because it is not related to her assignment and is eating up bandwidth and blah blah blah.  But like I said, maybe we need to pay more attention to our students.  So I listened.  The two girls starting having a conversation about music - more specifically new music; actually, new music videos; actually, which new music videos are the best and why; actually, what makes these new music videos the best and why.  They were talking about camera techniques and all sorts of stuff.  Here they were, sitting in my class - a class that I have designed to facilitate and foster critical thinking and analytical skills, and they were using those skills in a context relevant and interesting to them, on their own!  I pulled up the myths and legends program - can we add audio...yes we can! Sweet!  I learned something too and now everyone is more excited - plus two girls at the side of the room have just exhibited some amazing critical and analytical skills.  All because of a youtube video.  Now I could have told them to get on task - or I could have listened, which I'm glad I did.  My eureka moment was short lived however, when another teacher walked into my room, saw the one girl on youtube and told her to get off because it was eating up bandwidth.  She tried using her analytical and persuasive skills but to no avail.  Plus, she gave some lip - we'll have to work on respectful arguing.  

This has been my longest post yet.  And why?  Well I guess I'm trying to work through my own thoughts - but really, I'm looking for some answers.  The teacher that came into my room was not wrong for kicking the girl off of youtube (other than that he should have realized that I was probably okay with her being on it so in my eyes, there was some learning taking place).  But there is no way he could have known that some learning had taken place - he wasn't there for the background information - which is why I believe a "left up to teacher discretion" policy might be the best policy.   However, as often happens, it became a power struggle.  Now why is this?  Why do students protest?  If they knew what they were doing was wrong or saw it as completely off task they would be less likely to argue.  They probably argue because a) what they are doing is fun and engaging, and b) we are asking them to operate in ways that do not make sense to them.  If they are more interested in something other than my class - why is that?  Is my class boring to them?  Is it not relevant?  How can I use the tools they find relevant to help them learn?  How can I do this while following acceptable use policy?  Ultimately, how do we teach students in a way that best suits them.  Maybe they work better when they are allowed to peruse brief distractions.  Maybe they work better when they have multiple things on the go - maybe this makes them feel more involved and connected (today I had a student facebook chat her friend in another school about how to survive a bear attack because this is the project she was working on for my outdoor ed class).  But here is the big problem - bandwidth.  There is not enough of it.  Especially at our school.  What's it like at your school? Realistically, this is what people use the internet for.  And we can do all the listening and tuning in we want - but if the fact remains that videos and social networking sites eats up too much of our valuable bandwidth....

If our means don't meet student needs, what do we do about it? 


  1. "respectful arguing" I love that quote! This is truly a skill we need to help our students (and for some of us, ourselves) develop!

  2. I am going to fess up - I am the YouTube Nazi you are referring to. I came in to talk to you about something (unrelated to YouTube). The situation seems a little hypocritcal on my part (seeing as how I am always screaming for more freedoms - just read my blog). I was one of the people who argued to unblock social network sites. I am not sure how to approach this issue. I didn't really care that they may have been off task (that is your classroom so it is your domain). I also always do a quick check about whether the video seems to have any educational relevance (no - I don't always get it right).

    My reasoning was that we are quite short on bandwidth here at school. I have seen the numbers on how much bandwidth is used by just a few computers streaming music or video. I guess this is just where we have to find a balance.

    I don't really like the idea of letting every teacher make their own decisions on THIS PARTICULAR ISSUE. The problem is that one classroom has the potential to affect the entire network. One classroom all on Facebook has less of an effect on all of us. We need to be consistent on an issue like this.

    For the record I had done some inquiring about actually streaming out a radio station through all of our school computers. The idea was to free up internet bandwidth and only use our local network. I wanted to give the students what they wanted (music) without tying up all of our resources. I was quickly blocked by a NO! person and haven't yet found a solution.

    Anyways - I think that the discussion needs to continue. The real answer is more bandwidth - but until then we have to find some way to cope with our students educational needs and the limitations of our system.