Pushing at an open door

Don's post about a virtual advisory service has set me to pondering how far we have come in the last few years in our use of the Internet to support effective teaching and learning, and the extent to which central educational bodies can support further development.

We have reached critical mass for the live web to become an integral part of education. Over the last few weeks, I've been encouraging maths teachers to blog and to set up class blogs, and discovered that I'm pushing at an open door. Craig, Tim, Mags, Jenny, and Paul have all made a start already. I know that we still have a majority of staff for whom the whole thing is a bit of a mystery, but more and more teachers are realising that blogging is a simple, easy thing to do with classes that enriches the learning and teaching experience. My guess is that within a year or two class blogging will have become a routine activity - just another part of good practice that most people do. In the words of Darren Kuropatwa:
All my classes are hybrid classes. They have both a face-to-face component and an online component. Each class is supported by a blog.

In this context, it's important that LTS's actions nurture and support the growing blogosphere that already exists in scottish education. I think East Lothian's work on Exc-el points the way. The key feature of East Lothian's approach has been the freedom that bloggers have been given. Want a blog? - go ahead and set one up for yourself, no questions asked. No heavy corporate disclaimers and acceptable use policies to sign. No paperwork to fill in. No formal support mechanisms even! Just go for it! We trust you.

This has been a brave experiment, and the results are plain to see - usage of Exc-el is rocketing. It's being used by everyone from lowly heads of education right up to the students themselves!

So, the future's looking rosy, right? Well, not necessarily. The nightmare scenario goes something like this: every class in Scotland is given a bland, "Education Scotland" branded blog over which they have no control in terms of look-and-feel. A restrictive, risk averse blogging policy is created that forbids class blogging outwith this environment. A heavy-handed filtering system is implemented to censor access to blogs and who can post comments on them.

We've seen exactly this kind of approach taken to Web1.0 in education. Neil points this out in "Computer Say No" and goes on to examine the causes and possible solutions. Unless we actively engage with decision makers in educational IT at an authority level and try to persuade them to be less risk averse, we are bound to see these policies repeated. What is the person who believes Flickr, Blogspot and Youtube should be blocked going to think when they realise that a blog is a place where anyone in the world can write a comment? No chance. Wikis? You must be joking! We are still under the radar now. The struggle to keep the door open to Web2.0 in education has not yet begun.

I'm delighted to read that LTS are aware of the problems highlighted by Neil. All the people I know working at LTS in this field are definitely good-guys, far more forward thinking and knowledgeable than I, so I'm optimistic. My only concern is that the good guys may not be the ones that get to make the decisions.

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