Monday, August 31, 2015

When Schools Use Tech, They Need a Plan

Two years ago, the Los Angeles Unified School District (LAUSD), the nation’s second largest school district, initiated a $1-billion plan to equip students with iPads. Within weeks, the program made headlines when hundreds of students started accessing social media sites, among other things. School official quickly recalled most of the devices and the debacle contributed to the departure of the superintendent and other top staff and led to an ongoing FBI investigation. 

We took this story to heart when designing the second year of Cyber Civics. Although, like the first year of the program, CyberCivics: Year 2 can be taught entirely without technology, many schools (like ours), use iPads for some of these “information literacy” lessons.

Therefore, the very first activity of Year 2 is the establishment of classroom agreements on the use of technology.

This is important, because today’s students spend a lot of time online, most of it away from the watchful eyes of parents and teachers. So any “rules” we set for them aren’t nearly as effective as “agreements” they make together. Kids like being the architects of the norms that rule their digital spaces.

I introduce this activity in my classes by talking to students about what happened in LAUSD; I tell them how the kids in L.A. “hacked” their iPads in only 10 days. The first question?

“What took them so long?”

Then we take a look at the Online Safety Cards offered by Good Digital Parenting. These cards set some terrific ground rules and are a great place to start. To solicit students’ input and, more importantly, their buy-in, we use these cards as a template to craft our own agreement between the students and the school. 

Working together in small groups, students suggest changes/additions to these “rules.” You'd be surprised, as I am every year, by the “what-if” scenarios students imagine. For example, my students want to know:

  • What if a device is broken or a screen is cracked? Who pays for it?
  • What about passwords? Security settings? Shouldn't the class set these up together as a learning activity?
  • Should there be rules about taking/posting photos of other students? What about privacy?
  • Should they open a class email account?
  • What about educational apps? Could there be an approval process for possible downloads?
  • What if/when a device goes home? Whose "rules" apply then?

And on and on.

The point is that while kids know an awful lot about how to get around our measures to “protect” them, they also know better than anyone else how to protect one another.

Last week an update on LAUSD’s technology “plan” ran in the L.A. Times. Here is an excerpt:
In that first year [of the iPad roll-out], students initially could have taken the iPads home; later, they couldn't. The next year, students were allowed to use the iPads only during a single class period, every other day. Last year, students didn't receive the devices until they were in the third month of school. 
Eventually, officials decided that schools need to demonstrate that they can make good use of the devices. Valley Academy was the first to get such a plan approved. As of last week, it was the only school with an approved plan, but other campuses are not far behind, said Bill Wherritt, a deputy director in the facilities division.

Hmmm, I’m thinking about lending some of our students out as consultants to LAUSD to help them with their plan. What do you think?

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