Growing Pains

It isn’t that web 2.0 technology is exactly brand new or that there aren’t oodles of social networking and 2.0 technology guidelines out there to guide adults in making responsible decisions to both allow the use of these new collaborative platforms in schools while protecting vulnerable young people from their misuse. It’s just that a system as large as Chicago Public Schools is rather like the Titanic . . . a real bear to turn around and move in the opposite direction . . . in other words, toward the future.

Plus there are all those departments, including legal, removed from the day-to-day in schools. Sometimes the right hand just doesn’t know what the left has been up to.  CPS is also a rather high profile target, its smallest mistake likely to generate a great deal of equally high profile and generally negative media coverage. Better safe than sorry. Discretion is the better part of valor. These are perfectly sensible reactions for CPS employees to have, particularly as it respects Chicago’s children and their own jobs.

So it isn’t surprising then that in July 2009, CPS adopted a new policy, 09-0722-PO3, “Acceptable use of the CPS Network and Computer Resources” that appears to ban any use of computer / digital technology by teachers and students in schools and out (i.e., after school hours but related to school work) that doesn’t reside in the CPS network itself.

The ban was reported in Alexander Russo’s District 299 blog and generated dozens of passionate responses on both sides of the debate, the majority arguing that the CPS policy was a step backwards and would put Chicago kids further behind their suburban counterparts, that the CPS network (and the technology in its schools) is a dinosaur and FirstClass (what CPS offers in lieu of access to the rest of the internet) is both a convoluted pain to use and inadequate to the needs of 21st century students (including “not usually being available on my home computer”), and that all of the hard work teachers have put into developing web 2.0 classroom applications for their students, not to mention greater student and parent engagement, will now be abandoned in order to avoid falling afoul of the law.

On the other side, with far fewer posts, were those claiming that the CPS e-mail system was adequate, that teachers themselves had abused the use of their own personal Facebook accounts by working on them instead of instructing their students during class time, that there is no real educational value to Facebook and Twitter, and that kids had to be protected.

All of this is set against the backdrop that in May 2009, Illinois became one of 13 (now 14) states to adopt the 21st Century Skills Framework, which for all practical purposes mandates the use of web 2.0 in schools.

The P21 Framework calls for developing the skills of communication and collaboration, among other skills that flourish in web 2.0 environments. Further it states:

“Information, Media and Technology Skills
Today, we live in a technology and media-driven environment, marked by access to an abundance of information, rapid changes in technology tools and the ability to collaborate and make individual contributions on an unprecedented scale. Effective citizens and workers must be able to exhibit a range of functional and critical thinking skills, such as:

Information Literacy
Media Literacy
ICT (Information, Communications and Technology) Literacy”

Illinois’ endorsement of the P21 Framework comes with a commitment on the part of the state to rewrite its standards, assessment and professional development to align with the 21st Century Skills. Federal dollars are likely to be tied to doing so. Not surprisingly, this story got little media attention and no mention in the District 299 blog.

Backtrack (literally) to CPS Policy 09-0722-PO3, and we can see a huge disconnect between the world of CPS and the world of the 21st Century, that little place our kids are supposed to be preparing to compete in successfully, just like their suburban counterparts. Like a clumsy adolescent, prone to overreaction, clumsiness, and stubbornness (hence this post’s title), CPS is having difficulty adjusting to this new body, these new times.

But help is available. Others have traveled this road before and have thought through responsible approaches to the use of collaborative and social technologies in schools by kids. YALSA, the Chicago based Young Adult Library Services Association and branch of the American Library Association, has developed a toolkit for educators to advise them on the responsible use of social networking tools by students. The toolkit is chock full of examples of good assignments using web 2.0 applications, strategies for gathering support for their use within the community and among key stakeholders, and reasons why responsible use of social networking makes sense for today’s kids and improves both their education and their possibilities for success in the future.

And, of course, you can follow YALSA on Twitter, where they recommend great resources for kids, including books and other media. You just can’t do that in a CPS school.  Yet.

~ Penny

You can learn more about Golden Apple’s Inquiry Science Institute here: http://www.goldenapple.org/inquiry-science-institute

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