Friday, February 20, 2009

Reflections on Technology Coordinator Meeting

One of my duties with Heartland is to facilitate the technology coordinator group. The core group of tech coordinator from central Iowa who comprise these meetings are a fun group to be with. We had our quarterly meeting yesterday, getting a chance to look at Ames' new middle school.

A couple of interesting thoughts from yesterday's meeting:

We had a vendor present on a filtering product, which is certainly more sophisticated than the products I used several years ago. What interested me was the tone of the presentation, as the vendor emphasized the ability to allow more than the ability to block. For example, it had the ability to block only specific inappropriate images appearing in appropriate searches in Google Images, thus allowing you to open up the entire site. Similar features allow you to open up other web 2.0 content and strip objectionable content out.

On top of that, the filtering database (running on a SQL server) had the ability to merge with student information systems of all flavors. This allows parents to access the records of where their children have been by the same login they would check their online grades. Which, I'll admit, I hadn't seen before. Given the nature of filtering with blocking, and the resulting game of proxies and executable files via flash drive that students get to play (what is more fun that defeating the system, after all?), you have to wonder if this is a more effective alternative. It would give parents a new perspective on their home computer.

The last feature of the filter to grab my attention was the ability to prioritize certain sites. In effect, you wouldn't block Facebook, but you'd make it perhaps a low priority, so that if another person was trying to access a higher priority site, they'd have full bandwidth needed and Facebook access would slow down.

In our "round table" discussion at the end of the day, the issue of filtering priority came up again. It surprised me to note that a majority of the coordinators there did not block Youtube, a measuring stick of sorts. And those that did emphasized it was not the content that they objected to, it was the bandwidth consumption.

As one technology coordinator noted, the tone of the groups discussions have changed dramatically in the last couple of years, as the group used to be focused on what to block, but now are focused on what they can allow. Or in other words, how the technology can help students learn rather than how we must shelter students. Perhaps this trend is isolated to central Iowa, but perhaps is representative of a bigger shift. One that is most beneficial for schools.

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