My 2nd grade daughter, Sarah, spent last week in Washington DC touring and learning with her grandparents, and this week is in Colonial Williamsburg. Williamsburg is celebrating it’s 400 year anniversary right now, and it has been fantastic for Sarah and her grandparents to experience the exciting activities there in person this week. This is a copy of an email I sent to Sarah’s 2nd grade teacher this evening, following discussions and communications last week and this week with her principal and our district’s technology department.

I’m sorry but we are not going to be permitted by the school district to videoconference with Sarah on Thursday when she is in Williamsburg. Shelly and I will go ahead and videoconference with her as planned at 10 am, but we’ll do so from our church, away from school, and we will not involve any Edmond PS students in the videoconference to comply with the directive from the district technology director. I did not realize the district forbids any parents or students from using any type of personal computer and outside Internet connection device (like my cell network data card) to provide an interactive learning opportunity for students. Now I know.

I’m sad and very sorry this will not work out. This would have been an exciting learning opportunity for the kids and I know it would have meant a great deal to Sarah. Thanks for your willingness to give this a try.

Wes

I’m very sad.

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On this day..

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  • http://www.randomconnections.com Tom Taylor

    As a director of technology, I find the response to the request appalling. However, I would be curious to see the district’s reasoning behind this decision. I would like to get their side.

    As a director myself, I try to be as accommodating to requests like this as possible. However, sometimes there are network incompatibilities that just won’t let things happen. Sometimes it’s an issue of opening ports that would open up security holes in the the network, especially with video conferencing. Sometimes it’s an issue of available bandwidth. I know lots of districts ban Skype outright because of the strain it could put on limited bandwidth. Even if this is the case, we always try to come up with an alternative solution, and will deny the request only when all avenues have been exhausted.

    Just keep this in mind. When a request like this is denied, often the only thing that gets reported is “the district won’t let me do it.” What’s often missing from the report are the attempts by the district to be helpful within the limits they have to work. I would HOPE that’s the case with your district.

    Regardless, it sounds like a good opportunity that was missed.

  • http://www.wesfryer.com Wesley Fryer

    Tom:

    The district’s official position is “any instructional activities that are done using technology must be done using the EPS computers and network.” I will note that last year, I spent several months and many, many hours coordinating and facilitating a series of four videoconferences for students in the district via the NASA Digital Learning Network. (One didn’t happen because the NASA instructor got sick and couldn’t come to work, we got the technology to work fine. In that case I brought my own H.323 videoconferencing unit, worked with the teachers, worked with the local campus principal, coordinated with the IT department’s network manager, and via him coordinated with the outside vendor who was (and still is I think) managing the district’s content filter and firewall. They only permitted that a videoconferencing unit be setup to dial out of the district, they would not permit dial-in, and to my knowledge these were the only cases of H.323 videoconferencing taking place in the entire district (which is fairly large and was the state “technology district of the year” in 2007) all school year.

    In the case of this videoconference, and another I offered to setup with an elementary classroom in Hong Kong (which my son’s 4th grade teacher and students have been corresponding with, with district approval, off and on since last September after I returned from Shanghai with the Hong Kong teacher’s contact info) I don’t think an H.323 videoconference over the school network is a viable option. My father-in-law and daughter in Williamsburg are on a local hotel high speed connection via DHCP and do not have a static IP address. Even if we used a H.323 software client like X Meeting (which I’ve used before but not with great success because of its lack of echo cancellation) I don’t think we would have been able to dial out to them in Williamsburg from the school district. In addition, this would have most likely required weeks and hours of prior coordination. The viable software solutions for making this connection, which we did test, are Skype and iChat, which are both blocked applications on the district’s network. Because the district does not employ tiered or differentiated content filtering for teachers, I am pretty sure an exception request to permit use of one of these applications on one or two district computers for the purposes of this videoconference would not be approved. I could be wrong, but that is my perception based on my past experiences coordinating videoconferencing and offering to provide technology integration assistance in our district.

    The bottom line is, the cards are stacked against us. It’s sad these opportunities for safe, live interaction with people my children and their classmates know is not going to happen.

  • http://www.g4classes.com/learningforward Kent Chesnut

    Wes,

    “the district forbids any parents or students from using any type of personal computer and outside Internet connection device (like my cell network data card) to provide an interactive learning opportunity for students”
    –> I hope this prohibition is limited to in-school activities!

    I suspect that this would also apply to constructive uses of cell phones for educational purposes.

    Kent

  • http://www.randomconnections.com Tom Taylor

    Wes,

    Sounds like you’ve bent over backwards to make these things happen in a reasonable fashion, but the district isn’t budging. I’m sorry to hear that.

    My counterparts from around our state tend to fall into two groups – those, like me, who have been classroom teachers, and those whose background is primarily in the IT field. The feeling I get (not backed up by any kind of research numbers, and probably a HUGE generalization) is that those with an IT background are more willing to invest in expensive systems (Tandberg, etc)but then are more restrictive in the use of those systems. Conversely, those whose background is in education tend to be more receptive to programs such as Skype.

    I wish you luck, and if you ever want to come to South Carolina to do a video conference, let me know!

    Tom

  • http://ransomtech.edublogs.org/ Steve

    Hidden or potential technical issues aside (as Tom described), my experience with IT folks (no offense, Tom), is that they enjoy the power that they wield and the control they have. I cannot count the number of times innovative learning opportunities have fallen through simply because someone said “No.”… end of discussion.

    Policies need to continually be revised based on opportunities that arise. I realize that IT staff have a huge job keeping everything running, current and secure. But, there must be channels and systems in play that work for teachers first. If not, such obstacles are all many teachers need to give up and continue on with what is easy and what has been done “successfully”…. for centuries.

    Sorry to hear your story, Wes. I fear it is one that is all too common.

  • http://noeltigers.com wmchamberlain

    Perhaps the IT department would be more responsive to an administrative request. If you could have contacted one of your superintendents and had convinced them of the value, they may have run interference for you.

    I am truly sorry this opportunity was wasted by your district.

  • http://technotuesday.edublogs.org Cathy Nelson

    Have the letter writer also write a letter to the editor of the local paper. Schools oh so love positive PR and hate negative publicity. An innocent letter to the editor might warrant the intervention form the Supt., who would strive for damage control, and perhaps give a tolerable explanation in simple language that taxpayers just might accept. As it stands now, seems an awful lot like a knee-jerk “no” without any consideration for an innovative project.

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