Random Thoughts

Information Hippie

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OK….I admit it. I am an information hippie. I believe that information should be free and accessible to all. I believe that filters are over rated, do not protect our kids, and that education is the only way to teach responsible use of this amazing machine we call the World Wide Web.

Man….do I feel better!

As schools continue to roll out 1:1 laptop programs the same conversations keep coming up.

How much control does a school put on student and teacher computers?

Now….I’ve been in education long enough to know that there are all sorts of things people are scared of…most of all….we’re scared of the kids.

We’re scared they know more.

We’re scared they don’t know enough.

We’re scared they’ll do things we don’t want them to.

We’re scared they’ll hurt themselves.

We’re scared they will fail.

We’re scared they will succeed.

I do wish students were mature enough that we could just hand them computers and let them go at it…in fact, I do believe that…and that is exactly what I would do!


1. If you break it, you buy it.

2. If you lose it, you buy it.

3. If you crash it, I’ll try 10 minutes to fix it then it gets re-imaged.

4. The only way anyone ever learns to back-up is to lose everything, so back-up!

5. Don’t steal.

If I had a laptop school those would be my rules. No, students would not have access to school servers, everything would be done via the web. Therefore, you do not need to worry about viruses infecting the school’s system….from their computers anyway.

Every student and teacher would have admin rights! Why not? The only way you can really learn and experiment with a computer is when you have them…and trust me if you try to block them…they’ll find away around it anyway.

“I don’t want to play policeman!”

And the students honestly don’t want to have to hack their machines to put their stuff on them.

“But all the illegal software”

I think this is more of an issue here in Asia than anywhere else in the world…but really…you can tell them they can’t put illegal software on (see Rule #5) and they will. If it crashes their machine…see rule #3. But conversations….conversations about copyright and learning right from wrong is the only way to stop it.

The only true 1:1 program includes student ownership

They need to feel the machine is theirs, why not try to find a way for students to own the machines? Heck, after 4 years you’re not going to want them back anyway. Or find some way to sell them to kids after 4 years at a really cheap price. What you really need is students to feel as though they own the machines. I’ve seen 1:1 programs where the schools have locked down the machines so tight that students go and buy their own machine to bring to school. Ownership means something!

A 1:1 program where the computers stay at school will not work.

A 1:1 program where teachers are not allowed to download and learn will be frustrating.

A 1:1 program where all stakeholders feel locked down will become negative.

A 1:1 program will fail if freedom is not allowed.

I’m an Information Hippie! (my mom would be so proud!)

It’s my job you see. My job is to fight for access, I do it every day. The IT Manager…his job is to make sure that things are secure and running, and my job is to make sure education of students is not being disrupted due to the IT Managers job. Yes…it’s a love, hate, give and take relationship. One that is crucial to every school. I make my case, he makes his…and at the end we come to an agreement based on data and common sense.

We talk about information flattening our world.

We talk about a changing landscape in which knowledge is created at hyperspeeds.

We talk about information and creativity being everywhere and accessible to anyone.

Our schools need to be that….and the only way they can is if users have access to that super highway.

Is my plan fool proof? Nope!

Will people crash their machines? Yep!

Does it allow students and educators to be creative? Yes!

Does it allow teachers and students to experiment? Yes!

Does it foster a learning atmosphere of excitement and possibility? Absolutely!

Then let go….let go of the reigns of control and just see what happens.

I always hated the teacher saying: “Start off hard on them, you can always loosen up.”

Why not “Start off soft on them, you can always harden up”

Will they complain? Yep…but they do anyway.

On the Web we’re all just nodes….let us go, let us explore, don’t hold us back, let us learn the only way in which true learning happens…by making mistakes.

Ah yes….the Information Hippie syndrome….I like it in my perfect world!

I started blogging in 2005 and found it such a powerful way to reflect and share my thinking about technology, this generation, and how we prepare students for their future not our past.


  1. I couldn’t agree more. This post makes me think about Alex Lindsay talking about ‘Outliers’. He said that an expert is someone who has made 10 000 mistakes.

    Will the 21st century be a struggle between the forces of control and openness.

    • Good question! I think it could be a battle we will be facing. Especially in the current world political climate we find ourselves in where we fear each other. People are less open and want more control where they are scared. Let’s hope new world leaders can help us overcome that fear and get to a place of openness and sharing.

  2. “I believe that information should be free and accessible to all.”

    Do you consider software to be “information”? If so, what do you mean by “free” and “accessible” in regard to software?

    • Good question!

      I think of software (right or wrong) as a tool we use. That being said I do believe that as we continue moving forward in this new digital landscape that software quality software will continue to be come free and accessible. Google Docs and the host of other web based tools are already making that happen. You can edit pictures online, share, create, etc.

      Just yesterday a student walked into Ed Tech department at my school wanting to know if he can get Microsoft Office installed on his new Netbook. Our licenses doesn’t allow it and I told him he didn’t want it anyway. That he should go home and download openoffice.org. He was excited when I told him all it could do.

      “And it’s free?”


      He looked shock…..and of course has he left I had to through in:

      “Tell all your friends about it!”

      • So if Microsoft Office was available for anyone to download for no cost, would you consider that satisfactory regarding your “free” and “accessible” hopes? I ask because OpenOffice is free (as in speech) software. That is, users can not only make copies to share with others, but they can study how the software works and adapt it (or seek help from whom they choose if they are not skilled enough) to suit their needs. They can also build a business from the software as it exists in an accessible free market as opposed to a proprietary monopoly. Copies of the source code (the fundamental information) that define the functionality of a free software program are available to all. The science behind the software is public. This aspect is useful to programmers and non-programmers alike.

        With Microsoft Office, a user is restricted. Even if Microsoft gives the user a gratis copy, the user doesn’t receive a copy of the defining code and is therefore dependent upon Microsoft to fix or extend the software. That is, even gratis copies of MS Office restrict users from forming cooperating communities – communities that are free to choose their direction and lean upon each other for support. This is something any hippie would likely value…even more than saving a buck.

        (Side question: As for online Office programs like Google Docs, they’re great but what if you need privacy with your documents?)

  3. Ah, Jeffrey, you are a librarian at heart! I knew it. Can I get you interested in signing up for ALA’s Intellectual Freedom committees?

    Been thinking a long time about the relationship between freedom and filters:

    My readings on laptop programs say that loss and abuse is rarely an issue in such projects. (I’d like to adopt your set of rules for our staff laptops, however.)

    All the best,


    • My readings on laptops says the same thing…yet this is still what many schools use as an excuse.

      And you are correct about the staff. At both SAS and now here at ISB educators lost/damaged more laptops then the students did. At ISB every staff member has a laptop and every vacation it seems someone loses one. Last summer break ISB lost 5 computers….ug.

  4. THANK YOU! I’m looking forward to these fights and give and takes as I finish up school and start looking for a job. Information needs to be free!

  5. I can’t wrap my head around the kinds of limitations school districts want to put on the information students can access. I can understand if they just don’t have the resources to actively teach it, but to prevent students from learning on their own is unforgivable. I’ve heard of schools forbidding blogging and social networks. That can’t be due to anything but fear of the unknown.

  6. Jeff
    This is a debate being had everywhere.
    It has certainly struck a cord on a wiki that I have setup looking at what education should look like in the year 2020 http://education2020.wikispaces.com/Filtering.
    A huge amout of it is down to FUD – Fear, Uncertainty and Doubt.

    As for the 5 rules I wish I had seen that 2 years ago before coming to very similar conclusions myself with our 1:1 project.

  7. Thanks for adding to my ammunition stockpile. Each time I’m given the opportunity (sometimes I just TAKE it) I unload a round or two of information on my admins. about how we can change and why we must. Hippies rule.

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  14. Jeff,

    Thanks so much for this excellent rant! I was just informed that our IT department is currently constricting, um, constructing a policy that would mandate which web 2.0 applications are allowed in the classrooms…and for all the same reasons you stated above.

    So, how do Information Hippies change the world? What are the digital equivalents of Sit Ins? Protest Marches?

    “Come on people now, smile on your brother, everybody get together right now:” TheYoungbloods – http://tinyurl.com/7dt35f



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  16. I liked your post Jeff and I agree with most of what you said. I see it as a ‘don’t touch the wet paint’ sign. As soon as anyone, regardless of age, is told they can’t access something, they go about trying to access it.
    I think my students (5th grade) are so far ahead of the game and they really don’t need all these rules to slow them down.
    It is the digital immigrants who just can’t handle the pace things are moving at and keep trying to impose the same kind of restrictions on the kids that they grew up with, maybe to give them a chance to catch their breath and try and catch up with the digital natives, which of course is near impossible…but at least some of us are trying!

    • Yes, some of us are trying and I think you are correct. That we do try to slow things down for us, not because that’s that students need/want. We are the adults, we are in control, we know it all, and we want it to stay that way….and that will be our down fall.

  17. Great post! What thoughts–education instead of prevention, and exploration instead of limitation. For some reason I get the feeling students would buy into it.

  18. Information hippie or punk… either way, it sounds great to me. We’ve been talking about these issues in our school district, and it keeps coming down to ‘control.’ Adults don’t know how to relinquish control and trust kids. For that matter, most adults don’t know how to trust other adults either. We’re supposed to have a meeting at the end of the month to revise our board policies about filtering and access. Right now, we block pretty much anything and everything. We can’t even use the Creative Commons (talk about teaching kids about copyright and sharing!), because we block all the pieces of the Creative Commons.

    I am going to try my best to stay optimistic and fight for what’s best for kids.

  19. An exuberant manifesto about freedom, computing and education but what are your thoughts & feelings re: the operating systems which hardware –specifically the Mac platform that’s so dominant in the 1 to 1 school landscape these days–are still reliant upon? Despite the fact that BSD Unix is at the heart of OS X, Apple products are anything but free….

    • Honestly, I don’t care what the hardware is. It could be Unix, Linux, Mac, Windows, etc. What I care about is the access to the information. The gateway to the Internet that so many schools try to control. Every operating system has its + and -. As long as it’s running a web browser and that web browser was allowed to access the information I need to teach….then black, white, or purple, the hardware is just a gateway machine.

  20. Jeff

    I love your rules about laptops and the more we use them here at SAS the more I think we need to move towards your rules.

    The other day in team meeting we were discussing the benefits of the grade 5 team having access to laptops everyday. Right now almost all the classes are using them everyday. We actually would love to go 1-1, but find it hard to convince others that we would use them. What do you think about Grade 5’s going 1-1?

    I also laughed about the comment about staff damaging more laptops then students. It seems this year in grade 5 we have a few students that tend to drop laptops. I have had three in my class alone. Luckily they were not hurt too badly.

    • I believe you could make an argument for students being in a 1:1 classroom as low at 4th grade. I would love to see 4th and 5th grade students using laptops in a 1:1 classroom. Even if they were netbooks that only had Microsoft Word and Internet access. I believe that 4th graders are mature enough, and tech savvy enough that a 1:1 program in that grade would work wonderfully if you had the right teachers of course. 🙂

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