Beth Gourley left a comment on our final podcast about questions that she has about our use of Internet sites at our school. Beth works in China as well so her questions have caused me to reflect. Please know Beth (and whoever else reads this) that the following is my thoughts on the matter and not necessarily the thoughts of my school.
My question that no one seemed to want to touch was how do you deal with blocking?
How do I deal with blocking? I deal with it. Maybe it has to do with being in Saudi Arabia before here, but China and what I have access to as an educator seems like freedom compared to Saudi. When I mean I deal with it, I either can get to a site or I can’t. Is it frustrating? Yes. Do I spend time worrying about it? No. I move on to another site. Yes, there are ways around the filter, although I only go to sites that are blocked if I really need to. I would say maybe 3 times a month do I “go around” the filter. I find there is a limited number of sites that are blocked and therefore I don’t use those sites. My biggest complaints are blogger and technorati. Although information seems to go out to technorati, You can’t access it here. There are so many tools out there that if a site is blocked, then I find another one. Pbwikis is blocked but wikispaces isn’t. What happens if wikispaces becomes blocked? I’ll find another one, or break down and install a wiki program on our school server.
How do you make decisions what social software you might use?
How were decisions to use wikispaces (open) and not pbwiki (blocked) for the conference? Or was it a conscious decision?
Software decisions: Teachers want quick access. Some pages take a long time to load while others can be quick, depending on the number of “hops” between here and that website. Before deciding on a program I will take a week to do a trace route (tracert) through the run command on my computer at school. Paying close attention to the time and number of hops it takes to get to the site. I will run it over a week at different times of the day to see what the connection is like. From there I have a better idea on how the page loads here in China. I have quickly found that if a page takes a long time to load, teachers will be turned off of it very quickly. As for the conference, I had nothing to do with organizing the conference and it was pure luck that the organizers when with wikispaces over another program that might have been blocked…pure luck!
How do you make school decisions to bring other staff on board with software—but then it becomes blocked?
I live and die by the tip of the sword. Honestly, I don’t think about it. If a teacher needs a tool and I find one on the web that is unblocked then we use it. If it becomes blocked….I don’t know what I’ll do, frankly this hasn’t happened to me yet. I encourage our teachers to use wikispaces for example because our connection is really good. If one day it’s blocked, well, I’ll cross that bridge when I get there. Everyone understands that this is out of my hands, and hopefully would understand if it ever did happen. I would rather have a teacher experimenting with a tool like this then tell them we can’t use it in fear it might be blocked…after all it might never be blocked.
How do you try to lead staff and students to particular software to use and not get burnt?
Most teachers ask me for advice before venturing off into the wild web. What I try to do is listen to the teacher, try and understand what they want to accomplish and then recommend a tool, or web site based off of that. Sometimes I will have a teacher come to me and say “I want to use a blog.” but after talking with them what they really need is a wiki. Or a Moodle forum or Moodle course would be better. The key is listening and then understanding what the teacher wants the outcome to be. Only then do I recommend a tool or two. Show them examples of what other teachers have done with the tool, and then support, support, support.
For the most part I fly by the seat of my pants. Will I get burned? Probably someday, but right not it’s about building passion, about creating opportunities for others to learn and experiment with these tools. This year we have classes using: flickr, elgg (our own install), Moodle (our own install), WordPress (our own install), wikispaces.
I’m about creating opportunities to use these tools and getting teachers excited. That’s where the LAN party idea came from. I saw and opportunity to get people excited, for people to learn new skills, and think about the use of these tools in our classrooms. Hopefully that happened on some level for everyone involved.