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The NYSED Technology Plan’s first goal addresses digital content:

Standards-based, accessible digital content supports all curricula for all learners.

Accessible is defined as: content available anywhere, easy to retrieve using multiple technology devices, and content is universally designed. Aligning digital content to the New York State learning standards is how we will ensure quality and relevance in the PreK-12 environment.

Learners and practitioners both need access to rich digital media. Alignment with standards help make appropriate content more easily accessed by all.

New York has moved in this direction already through the auspices of state public broadcasting stations. EDVideoOnline is a portal to PowerMediaPlus which provides teachers with access to downloadable video, audio, and images for use with their students. They also include worksheets and quizzes.

Unfortunately, this is a subset of what was available in the past. When I started using this program, it included full access to the Discovery Education library. Public stations scaled back the program to the current offerings. They said too few were using it to justify the expense. I didn’t see a lot of teachers using it either, but those who did were excited about it.

Beyond PowerMediaPlus and Discovery Education, New York needs go further in digitizing and providing access to its own holdings. New York museums and libraries hold a treasure trove of material. Some institutions have done a great job digitizing materials and providing access, while others have done little.

I hope this means access to more content in the future. Access to a broader audience is also essential. While everyone can access some of the material, students are shut out of PowerMediaPlus. This repository could provided a wealth of content for independent study, exploration, and working on assignments.

Access to digital content also encompasses licensing. Let me relate my own experience. I have spent countless hours creating media rich presentations for delivering engaging social studies lessons for my class. They include historical documents, images, maps, and embedded digital video. Under fair use, there is no question that I was legally using these materials for my own classroom.

I thought it would be great to share these materials with other practitioners throughout the state (and ideally beyond), so I contacted PowerMediaPlus about doing such. In essence, they replied that there was no way I could do such legally.

We need to be able share what we create with this digital media with other learners and practitioners. They need to be able to reuse and remix that work to adapt it to their individual needs. NYSED should explore Creative Commons Licensing for content that is state owned and that of state funded institutions. They need to negotiate for means to more broadly share the content they pay for through entities such as PowerMediaPlus. Further, it needs to create a platform to facilitate such sharing.

In conclusion, there is more to digital content than availability. There needs to be access and the ability to remix it and share with others.

I will continue a discussion of New York State’s Educational Technology Plan in future posts, including a discussion of each of the six broad goals. I look forward to hearing your comments.

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Will Richardson expressed exasperation with a school leader in a recent post as he tried to blame parents for student misbehavior on FaceBook or MySpace. He proposed the schools need to play a big role:

There is a solution to this, one that we all know, but one that for some reason few seem willing to implement other than in the guise of a “parent awareness night” or some type of scary Internet predator presentation by a state policeman. For the life of me, I can’t understand what is so hard about opening up the first and second and third grade curriculum and find ways to integrate these skills and literacies in a systemic way. If you want kids to be educated about these tools and environments, then maybe we should, um, educate them.

He suggests that we not just talk to them about the dangers of the Internet and social networking, rather we integrate these tools in an age appropriate way from an early age.

As I posted earlier, using social networking is valuable for teaching Internet safety. These new literacies are the reality of our kids’ world and future. They are not going to disappear. Like the books we read, they can be used for good or evil. We need to harness these technologies for learning and promote their use as positive forces.

While parents should play a role, many simply do not understand these technologies. Congress has just passed a bill mandating instruction of social networking safety and cyberbullying. Since we must do it, we should do it in a way that is real and relevant, and in a way that teaches new literacies while harnessing their potential.

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New legislation passed unanimously by the US Senate and headed for the President’s desk mandates schools to provide instruction about safety on social networking sites. The language was appended to S.1492 bill Broadband Data Improvement. While the thrust of the bill is improving broadband Internet access to Americans, SubTitle A: Promoting a Safe Internet for Children includes :

(iii) as part of its Internet safety policy is educating minors about appropriate online behavior, including interacting with other individuals on social networking websites and in chat rooms and cyberbullying awareness and response.

What better way to teach them than to use social networking software in instruction, rather than lecture them about online perils? A closed environment monitored by teachers would give students real life practice in a safer environment. It would add relevance and authenticity to instruction. Discussion of appropriate online behavior prior to actually using social networking software would have a positive impact on student learning and is more likely to have a lasting effect on student online behavior. Mistakes would have lesser repercussions than on a site open to the world at large. They could be powerful teachable moments.

I plan to use this to bolster my case for the use of social networking software in our school. What impact do you think this may have on schools and their potential use of social software?

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Elgg 1.1 is arriving soon. The project is maturing with more plugins and themes becoming available. It’s time to plan for deployment in the K12 environment. I have been mulling over several special issues in deploying Elgg in a K12 public school setting. I invite you to join the K12 Elgg group on the Elgg Community Website. I am also considering Web publishing and educational technology issues in my Educational Technology Policy Site. Policies need to be in place for working with Elgg and other Web 2.0 applications.

The first thing we need to consider is security. In our situation we will need to have a walled garden. Our school requires anything that is open to the world on the Internet be moderated. Since we cannot moderate in the Elgg environment, all content will have to be kept in house.

The Walled Garden plugin from the Elgg developers does much of what we will need. It disables registration so that  any user accounts must be created by the admin. This prevents outsiders from registering and gaining access to student content. It falls short in a couple ways. As configured, users can choose to make content available to the public under the access controls. In addition RSS feeds could allow outsiders to view content if they obtained the appropriate urls.

In response to my concerns expressed in the K12 Elgg area of the Elgg community, Dave Tosh offered some solutions. He pointed to engine/lib/access.php as the place to eliminate the “Public” option. Students will only be able to select permissions for access to people within the site: private, logged in users, or any collections of friends. I plan on creating a plugin offering this functionality soon leaving the core intact for easy upgrading.

With RSS feeds, Dave suggested that I eliminate the options to subscribe to an RSS Feed and Syndicate OpenDD from the owner’s block menu, then delete RSS and and OpenDD views in the views directory.

Dave is looking into administrative options to toggle public access OpneDD and RSS feeds from the administrative interface. I think this is a good idea that will make it more appealing to the K12 audience out-of-the-box.

If we allow students to work in Elgg without moderation, we need a way to monitor what the students are doing so that they are accountable for their behavior on the site.

Elgg offers several tools to this end. There is the log browser with the ability to refine the results by username and by start/end dates. As admins, we can click on a user’s avatar menu and explore their log. There is also the user option to report content to the administrator.

Use of the log options require active searching and the logs have a lot of entries not related to content. Are there ways to filter out some of the non-content related noise making it easier to monitor students? Would it be possible to create plugins to make this process easier?

These are just a couple areas of concern that I will need to address with school administration and tech committee before deploying Elgg. I hope to have answers to the questions that I know I will face. I’d like to hear what others have to say about these matters. Please comment!

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Karen Fasimpaur and I have been discussing student blogging recently as we are mulling similar issues.  She just posted a request for comments on her thoughts regarding moderation and student blogging.

She posed her main question: Should all student blogging be moderated? My answer is: It depends. Let’s look at some of the issues raised:

I am really conflicted about this. I believe strongly in the benefits of student blogging. I think that if blogging is done in a closed (non-public) environment, it isn’t really blogging and doesn’t have the benefits of writing for an authentic audience.

I agree that blogging done in a closed environment isn’t nearly as beneficial as publishing to the world at large. This is a separate issue from moderation. Indeed, in many settings, the only way you could allow students to publish to the open Internet is by having the posts and comments moderated. Policy makers are more likely to object to students publishing to the world at large if they are unmoderated.

In general, I think that teaching students to be responsible is a far better approach than trying to block or filter everything that might be dangerous. We should more time talking about 21st century skills and how to act prudently in the world that is out there.

I can’t argue with any of this. Unfortunately, we face the reality of filtering. I think it is a lazy approach, but that’s way it is. We must make a case for what we know is right, yet work within our constraints.

Also when making a district-level decision about blogging policy, the feelings of the administration, board, and community need to be considered. Or do they? Is this a cop-out? This has been keeping me up nights.

When we are using school and community resources, we have an obligation go beyond the feelings of the administration, board, and community. We need to have policies formulated by stakeholders and approved by the school board which represents the community. To proceed without doing so is risky.

We also must consider that when blogging from a school website, what students post represents the school–not just the individual. This could become a source of community objections putting the whole enterprise in jeopardy.

One of the most important stakeholders are the parents. How do they feel about all this? Before we ask them to sign a document, we need to do our best to educate them about the importance and benefits of creating an on-line presence and navigating the Internet. Risks and benefits need to be put in realistic perspective and fears may need to be dispelled. We want them on side. It may mean compromise.

There are options regarding moderation and range of audience. We need to find a shade of gray that works for all. Different settings may be needed for different students for any variety of reasons.

Here is another option. Perhaps students and parents that prefer unmoderated blogs could be allowed to create their blogs in another acceptable setting. This may allay fears about student mayhem on the school’s website, yet allow those preferring more freedom another choice.

Decisions regarding moderation depends on many factors. With a wide array of options it is not a matter of black or white.

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