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A good policy for policies

A good policy for policies
School Library Journal, March 2003

Is there any definitive answer to what should or should not be filtered to meet CIPA requirements? Our technology director has been checking more little boxes on our filter. Just yesterday he decided to block Hotmail-type e-mail that students use to contact each other and experts for projects. – Librarian

The administrators in our district have banned the use of cell phones and pagers by all students. I want my daughter to carry her cell phone. With all the school shootings, she needs to be able to call in case of an emergency! – Parent

Teachers and students are saving program files in their online storage area. Wasn’t this set up to be just for documents? Having programs on that server makes it extremely time consuming to search for viruses. I am just going to delete these kinds of files when I find them- Technician
Most library media specialists and school staff members realize that technology is double-edged sword. Almost any device can be used in ways that are disruptive, annoying, unethical and even destructive. Technology is neutral: The same hammer that builds the cathedral can be used to break its windows. Just a few examples:


For some reason, many schools have not yet figured out how to create good policies and rules about technology use and that results in complaints like the ones above. Under the worst circumstances poor or non-existent policies have created what seems like a new range war between not cattle ranchers and sheep herders, but between educators (too often librarians) and the technologists. Judging from what I hear, it sounds like the techies are winning by default since they have, as the librarian above puts it, the know-how to check “the little box.” Knowledge of what is possible and not possible with technological devices combined with a carefully selected sharing of that knowledge gives techies power and credibility, and makes rules they would like to set difficult to dispute.

I have a little mantra I often ask teachers, librarians and administrators to repeat in our district - “Technicians don’t make school policy. Technicians don’t make school policy. Technicians don’t make school policy.” It sinks in if people say it two or three times with feeling.

Please don’t think I am beating up on technicians. They do indeed have knowledge that is critical to the vital operation of technology in schools. Plus they have the responsibility for data security, network bandwidth conservation, and the reliable operations of what are usually far too many machines for a single person to maintain. My sympathies are with them when they wish to make rules that will decrease the likelihood of more technical problems than are already on a very full plate.

Yet these hard-working people often do not understand parent, teacher, librarian or student goals and concerns. They may not understand why it so important that kids have access to as wide a range of information as possible. They may not understand that teachers need some flexibility to load software for preview on their computers. They may not understand why it is important that the library catalog and online reference sources be available from the homes of students and staff. They may not understand that the librarian needs the password to desktop security program in the computer lab.

So who in a school should ultimately make the technology rules? In our district, these decisions are made by our district technology advisory committee, the same folks that make lots of technology planning and budget decisions. This committee is comprised primarily of educators - teachers, media specialists, and administrators - but also includes parents, students, businesspersons, college faculty members, and public librarians. And of course the committee includes our technical staff for their important input on security, compatibility and implementation issues. And we DO listen to everyone. Building technology committees should work in exactly the same way.

This has worked well for us. On the difficult filtering issue, the committee decided that as a result of CIPA, we would install a filter, but it would be set at its least restrictive setting. Any teacher or librarian can have a blocked site be unblocked by simply requesting it – no questions asked. Adults are required to continue to monitor student access to the Internet as if no filter were present. The technicians now know that it is the responsibility of the teaching staff to see that students do not access inappropriate materials, not theirs. This is a good policy decision that could not have been reached without a variety of voices heard during its making.

An open dialog about concerns, responsibilities and priorities related to technology is essential for its successful use in schools. Not everyone will agree with the decisions made, but at least everyone will have a better understanding of why they were made. Educational range wars aren’t healthy for anyone – especially the little lambs we serve.

Posted on Tuesday, July 10, 2007 at 11:03AM by Registered CommenterDoug Johnson in | CommentsPost a Comment

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