Free and Open Content

I want to consider a distinction between free open source software, and free and open content.  
Teemu Leinonen 
brings us this picture of the evolution of educational technology:    
Leinonen describes our current state as social software and free and open content. I think we confuse the issue be assuming that all social software is free open source software. The important components in our classrooms and for our learners are the availability of social software together with free and open content.

Rather than focusing on whether the “free-ness” of open source social software, I think the real attractiveness of open source lies within its roots – the collaborative social learning environment.    Let’s bring that KIND of technology and thinking into our schools, whether it be open source or not. 

And then let’s focus on sharing content – openly and freely. 

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From Parental Involvement to Engagement

I spent the evening doing online research on parental involvement in K-12 education.  There is significant research to demonstrate a link between parental involvement and student achievement (which I will document in a future post).  I wanted to write about an insightful paper by Dr. Debbie Pushor from the University of Saskatchewan.  In Parent Engagement:  Creating a Shared World she describes the difference between parental involvement (co-opted participation) and engagement (shared commitment).  The importance of parents engaging with parents (creating shared commitment) is also discussed.  The research is suggesting that involvement alone does not create achievement benefits but engagement does.  The benefits according to Dr. Pushor for parents are clear:

  • Parents have the opportunities to share their knowledge
  • Parents & families are enriched by their engagement
  • Parents benefit personally
  • Parents have a voice & place on school landscapes

Dr. Pushor’s broader research work is examining the questions, What is parent knowledge? and How is parent knowledge held and used?

I am interested in this work because it helps in my investigation of parent voice in a technology-enabled environment.  Does the presence of technology (in the home and/or school) change the involvement/engagement relationship?  Thanks to Dr. Pushor for providing a context for my investigation.

Dealing with Parents

As part of my readings about Parent Voice I just finished a book by Elaine K. McEwan on How to Deal with Parents….  The book is a mix of understanding parent needs (with sources) and how-to’s for school administrators in creating a healthy school environment by working effectively with parents.  Here’s her list of what parents want:

  • Instructional leadership
  • Effective teachers for their children
  • Student achievement
  • Communications
  • Safety and discipline
  • Involvement 
Anything you would add or subtract from this list?

Defining Safety (and security)

Under the umbrella of “do we worry too much about safety”, I’ve realized I need a framework to categorize the worry bits.  In the absence of a framework, safety covers too broad and diverse a set of topics.  There are some worry-bits that are worth worrying about, and some that can be addressed with information and education.  A framework might be similar to the UK version offered by Josie Fraser that assesses risk according to contact, content and commerce.  

But that may more one-dimensional than I’m contemplating? (I’d love more info.)  There are various perspectives or views – safety for the user, safe practice by the user, safety of the site, safety of the technology/system from intrusion.  It’s about performing a threat/risk analysis. 

So I’ve looked at the models from the ISO/IEC 27002 standard (security of information systems) that discusses a methodology using assessment of Threats, Vulnerabilities, and Controls.  (See Wikipedia or Security Risk Analysis for more information.) There may be value in a 2-dimensional model that assesses Threats, Vulnerabilities and Controls not just from the system perspective but also from the different perspectives of user, internal technology/system (eg the school district), and external website/service. And is there a third dimension that assesses maturity or experience as these relate to risk?

Is anyone aware of a framework or model that organizes these worry-bits?  Any experience with extending the traditional qualitative risk analysis methodology to other dimensions?

More on Social Networking for Kids

Thanks to all who responded to my last post.  I’d like to try to summarize the responses, which wove threads into the same fabric:  we are being over-protective:

1.  There is a difference between safety and literacy.  Children must learn to survive in this new culture they themselves are creating.  Ignorant children cannot grow up to make informed decisions. Let us promote literacy.  An informative model of e-safety in the UK covers content, contact and commerce.  Digital literacy is one key for children’s safety.  Technical safeguards provide other safety for data and transactions.

2.  There is a difference between institutional safety and child safety.  Let us be clear as to when we are concerned about lawsuits and when we believe it is unsafe for kids.  Rather than locking down the environment under the umbrella of child safety, perhaps we should be investing our energy in preparing our teachers to be good stewards of the environment.  Which leads to point #3..

3.  Modeling is essential.  Our most important work is with teachers, so that they may model appropriate behaviour in an online environment.  And let’s not stop there – our work needs to include parents as well.So thank you again for the thoughtful responses.I would like to re-visit the other dimension to the security issue I raised – that being the security of the technology environment that is provided for schools to use.   One comment suggested that firewalling between the data and student environments solved the issue.  I wish it were as simple.  I’ll discuss this further in a future post! 

Social Networking and Security for Kids

Do we worry too much about our kids in online spaces?

I work in a large school district where we invest a lot of energy in securing our technology environment.  We use strong passwords to protect data. Technical security protects the environment from multiple threats – the size of our network makes it a target.  The security of our students is paramount.  Their safety is a filter in all technology decisions.  I know our district is not unique in this approach.

How is this balanced with the goals of an open learning environment?  Can we deliver a safe and secure learning environment when we open our classrooms online to the world?  The Identity Theft Research Centre reported the education sector as responsible for 28% of the data losses in the United States in 2007.  Compare that to general businesses (remember the TJ Maxx scandal?) which held only 22%  of the losses.  And we consider that to be a heinous abuse.  So must we not also hold ourselves responsible?

News articles about loss of data such as this one from Consumer Affairs about post-secondary institutions puts the security of information squarely on the shoulders of the head of IT (that would be me).

I am constantly challenged by this notion of loose-tight control.  Keep portions of the environment very tightly controlled to meet the mandate of providing a reliable, scalable and sustainable environment.  Open up other portions of the environment so that learning may happen.  Keeping the controls tight to create reliability means the environment is not as open as all would like. 

I believe we need to provide models of appropriate use for our students.  We see and read items daily about teens becoming victims of identity theft in both the U.S. and Canada.  The Identity Theft Research Centre (ITRC) cites social networking sites as one of the ways that scams are perpetrated.  The organization’s site has materials targeted specifically to teens with support for teachers.  Worth checking out.

2008 has arrived.

Can you believe the technologies available to support and enable learning today? I’m starting this blog, rather fittingly on the first day of a new year, to chronicle my journey through my M.Ed. degree in Educational Communications and Technology. I have been working in technology for 30 years, but only the last nine in K-12 education. I cannot read or experience enough – fast enough – to quench my thirst for learning about this space.

Some questions that are foremost for me this year:
1. What is the role of parents in a technology-enabled learning environment? Has or will technology continue to change their role?
2. Do we worry too much? That is, about the security of the online environment for kids? Or the reliability of the environment for the users?

I will come back to these questions, and add others, over the course of the year.

And, snagging an idea from another, I’m going to try to complete a 2008/366 project – taking a picture on every day of the year. I’m just loading Adobe Photoshop Elements 4.0 on my Mac and I want to put it to good use!

Happy New Year!