Openly Sick of Being Digitally Resilient. . .

Cranky Blogger Warning:  This post was written after one really long day.  It's probably 70% emotion and 30% reasoned thought.  (I'll let you figure out which is which.)  I figured I'd share it with y'all because it's a look inside the mind of a teacher trying to innovate with technology. 

Excuse my French, but today was a helluva' day.  It broke bad from the minute I walked in the door, and considering that I'm still sitting here at 7:09 PM, it's safe to say that things just haven't gotten any better!

The cause of my misery:  Digital Bureaucracy. 

Here's what I mean:  I'm working up a pretty neat "virtual student teacher" experience with Cori Saas, a brilliant Canadian middle grades education student who is taking a course from Dean Shareski.  Cori's a "jump in feet first" kind-of-girl who is planning to whip up an entire website designed to teach my students about carrying capacity, limiting factors, and the impact that changing habitats have on animal species. 

Cori's plans are to pair asynchronous learning activities with real live video-conferences with my kids.  Turns out that in her neck of the woods (Moose Jaw to be exact.  Just down the Saskatchewanian roads from Elbow and Eyebrow), owls are experiencing some serious habitat destruction and Cori's pretty passionate about the topic.  She wants to share what she knows with my kids, and I'm down with that. 

So I signed out a laptop from the library this morning and dug out an old webcam, fixing to create a video-conferencing station in my classroom.  I figured I'd be able to send different groups of students to our conferencing station at different times to learn directly from Cori while others were working on related activities in my classroom. 

Talk about a neat learning opportunity, huh?

The problem:  Laptops in our building—like most schools—are on digital lockdown!

Not only was it impossible to get the drivers for my webcam installed on the machine that I'd signed out, it was impossible to download Skype.  In fact, I came to find out that while Skype isn't blocked by our district firewall yet, it's on some kind of unofficial "nope-no-way-you-can't-use-this" list. 

Now, I've never been one to surrender easily—-so I went rogue, trying every digital trick that I could think of to get beyond the bureaucratic barricade.  First, I loaded Skype on my jump drive, figuring I'd give the system the ol' end around.  That didn't work.  Not enough network drives or something. 

Then, I tried to fire up Google Video Chat.  Google, after all, is probably low on the "we-gotta-block-this-quick" radar.  Problem is, you've got to load a plugin to use Video Chat and loading plugins ain't possible unless you've got the magic admin rights—-and us teachers never get those!

Finally, I whipped out my own personal laptop and worked to connect it to the school's wireless network.  I figured that hooking up a webcam and running a free videoconferencing tool like Skype on my own machine would be an easy fix.  What I didn't know was that getting access would take something like 27 emails to every digitally savvy teacher I know in the district!

After poking around long enough, I was finally able to find someone who knew someone who had the access key to connect to our wireless network.  It was a strange, back-alley kind of experience though.  My 'supplier' was super nervous and hesitant.  "I really shouldn't be giving you this," they said.  "It's not allowed."

Excuse me for hating those three words right now.

I mean, I spent something close to four hours and 83 curse words today just trying to put the digital tools in place for my kids to learn from an expert on the other side of the world.  Working on machines without a thousand restrictions, the same task would have been done in 20 minutes max. 

Sometimes when I get into these kinds of pickles, I wonder why in the heck I even bother to try to use technology in new and interesting ways.  Wouldn't firing up the overhead that's gathering dust in the corner of my room and finding a few colored transparencies to wow the kids with be easier than trying to connect to the networks of knowledge beyond the walls of my classroom?

Don't get me wrong:  I'm digitally resilient, displaying an above average level of determination to find ways to make things happen in the face of the kinds of technical challenges that hit me square in the face today. 

But I'm also growing tired of fighting so hard to win small battles—and I'm sick of having to beg and plead for access to programs or tools every time that I innovate.  The most demeaning moments in my year are those where I have to defend teaching practices and learning opportunities to the tech guys who get to determine which of my ideas have enough instructional value to unblock a few sites or to grant a few permissions. 

It just ain't worth it.

26 comments

  1. Sue Stalewski

    I can’t believe that you blogged after such a long and frustrating day. I am a college professor and a school board member. We have a gate keeper mentality in my school district (and to a certain extent at my University!). But, I couldn’t agree more with the comments of California educator and have echoed similar ideas a number of times with my school district administration. I don’t know that we can accept the concept of incremental improvement anymore – the world is moving fast!

  2. Andrew B. Watt

    rjc1961,
    The Academic Dean, the head of school, and the tech coordinator.
    There is a meeting today on technology in the classroom. I am one of the biggest ‘pushers’ of technology at my school, and I am not invited to attend or participate.
    Hmmm.

  3. Computer Teacher

    I teacher computers for the full day, and understand more than you can imagine. At our school some new computers were issued to some teachers, and it is so locked down we cannot add software, add printers, or even update our software ourselves. We must wait for the technology person at our school to do any installations, etc. It is crippling to be told “use the technology” but not able to access it without the behest of some all knowing person, and left to the mercy of their already overburdened time parameters. totally ridiculous and insulting.

  4. rjc1961

    Who is handcuffing you – the building principal or tech coordinator? As a superintendent I would be extremely upset if our teachers had to fight battles like this to integrate technology in their teaching! Keep fighting for what is right!

  5. John Hovell

    love the post – and love that its 70% emotion 🙂 maybe its time to check our assumptions and re-think the education system? maybe its time for a vision that we can take baby steps towards? i’ve thrown together a concept that might be decent… or at least start the conversations… would love your thoughts and input! http://learningidea.blogspot.com/

  6. Rodd Lucier

    I’ve been hearing more and more about innovative projects connecting teachers from western provinces, with students and teachers elsewhere, and I love reading about novel teaching practices.
    But… barriers take all of the spotlight.
    Knowing you’re not alone doesn’t make it any better, does it? It’s an indication that many more minds need to wake up to the potential of putting permissions and responsibility into the hands of front line teachers.
    Sadly, those with the ability to provide access, are unwilling in many cases to make the tough decision to support forward-thinking educators and their students. Alas, that’s one big reason that so many classrooms and schools operate the way they have for decades and decades….

  7. Ira Socol

    Four years ago we did a survey in Michigan. Number one thing blocking technology that would help special needs students? Yes, of course, the building tech staffs and district tech departments.
    It is like those weird schools where they don’t like kids using the libraries. Amazing when fear trumps education.
    So my favorite quote has become one from William Alcott writing in 1842. He was trying to encourage schools to use slates. Paper being expensive, kids were scared of making mistakes. But he had to say, “You will say that we cannot give these expensive slates to every student, they will break them.”
    He suggests better frames to protect the stone. We need smarter techs working in education. Ones not so terrified.

  8. Pam Thompson

    I think we all have those moments when we want to throw our hands in the air and say “Enough already!”. We get it off our chests & then get back on track.
    I’m having a similar problem with Skype & with wiki sites. Teachers at my school say “If you’re frustrated and have had enough it must be bad!”.
    What worries me though is that if we, the more resilient ICT advocates, get this frustrated, imagine the frustration felt by the less confident teachers just trying to dip their toes that little bit further into the water.The throwing up of the hand would be the last act – and many of them would not go back & try again.

  9. Pat H.

    Just remember that for each of these small battles that you win, helps the rest of us when we have to face similar battles. Hopefully, each time will get easier and easier. Thanks for perservering for your students!

  10. Bob Heiny

    Kudos for trying, again and again. And, thanks, Dan Maas, for sharing your insights.
    Knotty or naughty, Bill? 🙂
    Addressing your 30 percent reasoned thought, perhaps you didn’t allow enough lead time for arranging necessary steps to activate your plan?
    Have you tried using your mobile PC with EVDO and connected to a projector? It sometimes beats relying on local WIFI and other school resources? And, yes, some school admins will assert negative consequences for such connections.

  11. Bill Ferriter

    Wow…I’m jazzed that you all stopped by to comment today. Anytime that something I write resonates with readers, it’s a reward.
    One of the messages that I’m hearing in your words is that teachers like “us” who are willing to push forward in the face of challenge do what we do because it’s right for kids and we know it.
    And I’m all down for that kind of intrinsic reward. Not sure I would have been in the classroom for 16 years if I wasn’t!
    But do you ever get to the point where the intrinsic reward doesn’t outweigh the emotional, physical or financial costs associated with trying to be a change agent in the face of the kind of barriers that the typical classroom teacher faces?
    Maybe I’m at one of my yearly “moments of truth” where I’m questioning my decision to stay in the classroom.
    If I’d made the decision to move into administration or into an instructional/technology coaching position beyond the classroom I’d have more organizational juice—and a greater chance of affecting change, wouldn’t I?
    And that ticks me off. Why should I have to leave the classroom in order to be able to influence the direction of instruction in a concrete, tangible way? Why should people who’ve already left the classroom automatically been seen as “the keepers of instructional wisdom?”
    Whew…I’m still processing this one. It’s knotty indeed.
    Bill

  12. TeachMoore

    Looks like you really hit a nerve with this one, and I feel you, too. Today, at the community college (we’re in the middle of the two-week intensive summer session), the administration arbitrarily blocked access to any webpage that contains a download button. These are ADULT students! Many of us use various websites to supplement class work. Sweet revenge, though, my students and I found a great WiFi hotspot on the end of one wing of the building where we can do whatever we want (nahnahnahnahnah)!

  13. Dan

    Bill – from the perspective of someone in professional development it’s a tough situation to advocate for tools that we know run the risk of being blocked, thus having an adverse effect on the teacher and their willingness to try digital tools again. you should be commended on your resilience and resourcefulness.

  14. California Educator

    We do such an effective job of protecting students from the potentially skanky corners of web world that there is, unfortunately, no distinction made between a 3rd grader and a HS Junior. Perhaps we should have parents sign off on the AUP’s so that less restricted use is provided to them rather than their children.
    At some point, if we are to prepare high school students for university, we must begin to increasingly approximate that environment in grades 8-12. This issue will become more apparent with the continued explosion of hand-held devices, smart phones, netbooks and other low cost products on the horizon. Let’s take some lessons from Universities and see which apply to K-12 and High School.

  15. Frustrated Administrator

    Trying to follow rules you don’t believe in is hard but having to enforce those that you don’t believe in is even harder.
    I’m faced on a daily basis with the why can’t I do this question. Some are easy to answer but the ones that truly provide innovation in the classroom I find it hard to answer.
    So many decisions have been either made without the school site or innovators in mind or the decision has not been explained adequately.

  16. Pete Caggia

    Man, I am sorry about your experience. I sometimes wonder why we have technology gatekeepers who, instead of letting people in, lock people out. Wouldn’t have happened if I was your school-based tech.

  17. Michelle Capen

    Welcome to my world. I’m absolutely unable to use the internet for any teaching at all. I even have icons on my classroom computers that I cannot use – they are only usable in the computer lab. Its so frustrating.

  18. Dan Maas

    I am sorry for your experience. In LPS, Skype is not blocked, computer coaches in each building have the admin password for installation of software, the EeePCs that are proliferating here already have Skype pre-installed, and we provide an open wifi service that has no passwords required for access (although it is filtered). Teachers can also override the Internet filter using the same password they use to log into their computers everyday to access anything except porn and other objectionable sites. I agree that technology policies should not interfere with legitimate research and other bona fide work done by educators. And Congress agrees too… read CIPA and you’ll find that it is required that you can bypass the filter.
    Just this week I watched Highland Elementary skype with an author in the Congo who was taking photos of gorillas that may lead to reclassification of sub-species. The day before, I watched a high school language arts teacher conduct her final exams… by allowing three students interview an author in England over skype.
    You know, if we can trust our teachers to chaperon trips to the zoo or even abroad, I don’t understand why teachers can’t be allowed to manage what comes up on their computer screen. They need to take full responsibility if they do override the filter, but I think that’s to be expected of a certified professional.
    All that said, I do think a good lesson is learned in preparation. Whatever the environment you have, it’s better to test out skype calls or other innovative practices somewhat in advance so you can be sure it will work right when you need it.
    For your next move, I’d suggest you get a copy of CIPA and meet with your tech leadership to help them understand what the law requires them to do.
    Dan Maas, CIO
    Littleton Public Schools
    Colorado

  19. Renee Howell

    I serve on a local school board in Colorado – going to share your post with other school board members in our state. Thanks for posting your concerns, etc. Provides for some interesting discussion points.

  20. Sam Grumont

    You sound just like those that Carol Dweck says have a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset. Keep up the good work.

  21. Paul C

    Keep fighting the good fight, Bill. And know that there are dozens of fellow foot soldiers fighting alongside you right here in this district.

  22. benjamin friesen

    Keep going. The arc of innovation is long….but it bends towards people like you! You should know that you are cited about five times in a web 2.0 course I designed for my school. Keep posting and bending the arc. 🙂

  23. Sean Beaverson

    Take heart. It’s the nature of trailblazing. You get to cut the thicket so that others can follow safely. It is a major waste of energy and time…for now, but next year when a first year teacher hopes to accomplish some cool tech innovation, there in the thick forest of “no way no how” a path will emerge. A path cut by us, the innovators. It’s never easy, but if it engages kids and connects them to the larger world in a significant way then it is certainly worth it. Keep up the good work and fight the power.

  24. George

    Greetings,
    It took me about 6 weeks to convince various tech people in my district to allow me to have Skype on my classroom computer last year. Definitely a frustrating process that took way too long. However, it’s one of those things you just have to deal with. What’s amazing is how few teachers are even attempting to get Skype in the classroom. It’s free, easy to use, and offers endless possibilities for connecting your students with the world outside your building in real time. I’m always blown away by how simple it is, and how much we all get out of it. Even when the Skype session bombs! Good luck, and keep pushing. It’s definitely worth the hassle.

  25. Michelle O

    Thank you for your post. I can’t tell you how many times I have felt the same way!!! And every time I encounter some snag like this, I think “why am I doing this!” It is not appreciated or supported in anyway. BUT we keep doing it for the same reason we do most things in teaching – for the students. It may not seem worth it but I have to believe it is making an important impact somewhere, with someone!! Thanks for the post and keep the faith!!