I received the following comment today on my August 21, 2009 post, “Questioning the potential value of Skype and videoconferencing in the classroom?” from Ricky. He began his comment by quoting a sentence of my post with which he took issue, and then shared his views:
“we need to make sure that networks work FOR THE USERS, not the IT department.”
99% of end-users have no concept of how IT/Networking works. It is the job of the IT department to ensure that the network continues to function first and foremost for legitimate educational purposes. While being a potentially great technology tool, it should not put other online educational applications at risk for failure simply because it’s the new “super cool” technology kid on the block. I’m also certain that taxpayers would be thrilled to know that they pay the salaries for educators to use skype/youtube/facebook/etc. for things that aren’t instruction related throughout the workday!
Enabling access to Skype for all users with clients operating in “SuperNode” mode is network suicide.
Here is my response, which I also left on that original post in the discussion thread.
Interesting I’m able to use Skype on numerous commercial and residential networks and those networks do not seem to have committed “network suicide.”
Skype has numerous “legitimate educational purposes.” I use it all the time for professional work as well as providing professional development. Many in IT are unaware of the educational benefits of Skype and similar desktop videoconferencing programs. One of the largest public school districts in our state decided in the last year not to order any webcams for any laptops that were going to be used by students, because they did not consider webcams to have any valid educational use. This perception is both false and unfortunate. Like any tool, a webcam can be abused. The inappropriate uses of a tool by a small minority of users should not result it the banning of the tool for use by all users. Sadly this is what we see time and time again in educational IT circles.
Of course you are correct that “online educational applications” should not be put “at risk” by other technology tools being used on networks with limited bandwidth. That is why our school / educational networks at the K-12 level need to look more like networks at our colleges and universities: Separate VLANs for public wifi, allocated bandwidth for institutional IT purposes, student/public use, etc.
I have never advocated the use of educational networks to distractedly watch YouTube videos all day long and social network using sites like Facebook. Users should be permitted to make these choices, however, and network use should be monitored and discussed with users. If a teacher is watching YouTube all day long instead of teaching his/her class at school, that’s certainly a problem and would be an ADMINISTRATIVE problem for the principal to address, not the IT department by banning all staff and students from using the website YouTube.
The decision to prohibit these destinations by the IT department is inappropriate censorship which can be more readily understood in a closed society like China, but not in an ostensibly free society like ours in the United States which values both free expression and open access to ideas.
Most of our school districts need far more bandwidth today than they have currently. We need greater involvement by state and federal government to make high speed Internet access more accessible and affordable in many areas, especially our rural communities. The differences in access and pricing for broadband in countries like Korea and Japan is stark when compared to the United States. We didn’t wait for corporations with ROI calculations to provide electrification for our rural communities in the United States in the 1940s and 1950s. We formed co-ops which had governmental support to insure these needed services were supplied to all areas. We need to do the same thing with broadband.
Larry Lessig discusses the phenomenon we’re seeing here with IT administrators in his book, “The Future of Ideas: The Fate of the Commons in a Connected World.” Technological tools provide great latitude for censorship in our organizational networks today. The availability and possibility of such censorship does not coincide with its propriety in a free and open society. Certainly we have limits and constraints on openness in our country, I am far from an anarchist and am not saying the IT department doesn’t have an important role to play in monitoring and at times regulating bandwidth utilization on the network. I am saying that blanket prohibition of sites like YouTube, Skype, Facebook, etc, is wrong and inappropriate in our educational institutions because it amounts to censorship above the paygrade of the IT department to mandate.
A few quotations to consider, thanks to the publisher of the Flickr photo above.
“Whoever would overthrow the liberty of a nation must begin by subduing the freeness of speech.” — Benjamin Franklin
“Without Freedom of Thought, there can be no such Thing as Wisdom; and no such Thing as publick Liberty, without Freedom of Speech.” — Benjamin Franklin
“Restriction of free thought and free speech is the most dangerous of all subversions. It is the one un-American act that could most easily defeat us.” — Supreme Court Justice William O. Douglas
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