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.