Guest post from Richard Byrne.

Every year I review thousands of free web-based resources on my own blog. Many are the times that I get emails or comments from readers telling me that they cannot use one of the resources I’ve reviewed because the resource is blocked by a filter. There’s not much that I can do about that from where I sit, but there is something that you can do about it (more on that in a minute). The other type of email or comment I get about resources I review comes from readers who can access a website, but are afraid that they might violate a policy if they have their students use it. This post is primarily for those people.

The first five seasons of the hit television series M.A.S.H. featured two characters that exemplify the two ways that teachers generally respond to school policies that don’t make good instructional sense. Captain Benjamin Franklin Pierce (from a fictitious town in Maine) known as Hawkeye is a brash surgeon who often finds himself in hot water because of his “it’s easier to beg forgiveness than ask permission” attitude.  The thing about Hawkeye is he’s good and he knows it! When he saw an Army policy that stood in the way of giving his patients the best possible care, he just ignored the policy so that he could give his patients the best possible care. The polar opposite of Hawkeye was his tent-mate Frank Burns. Burns was an Army man through and through. For Burns following Army policy was always job number one even if it meant that following policy stood in the way of giving his patients the best possible care.

Whenever I hear teachers say that they can’t do something because they’re afraid of breaking a policy, I think to myself “can’t you be just a bit more Hawkeyeish?” (Before we go any farther, I’m not advocating doing anything that will get you fired or doing anything illegal). When a policy is standing in the way of giving your students the best possible education, you just have to take a risk and go for it. Here’s an example from my own practice: Last fall my Civics class was having a discussion about a referendum question on the ballot. Just to continue the conversation, I asked the question “what do your parents think about this?” The response I got was a lot of shoulder shrugs and “I don’t know.” So I told the class to take out their cell phones and text their parents the question. Almost every parent responded to the question. The conversation grew by leaps and bounds because we had more opinions to work with. Now what I did broke the school policy of not allowing students to use cell phones during the day. Technically I could have been written-up for doing that, but I wasn’t because I went to my principal and explained what I did and how it benefited my students.

The issue of filters blocking your access to resources for teaching is not as easy to resolve as say a cell phone ban or a non-Internet problem. But there are some things you can do about it. First, don’t just sit back and accept it. Push your administrators to make a change. Show them the benefits of opening access to the web. Show them that the Internet offers more good to students than it does bad. Emphasize the point that teaching good web habits is a better long-term solution than blocking access. There are some excellent resources that can help you in this quest. The MacArthur Foundation has some reports on the benefits of the Internet to students. Unmasking Digital Truth, started by Wes Fryer, gives you many resources for addressing the questions of CIPA, COPPA, FERPA, e-discovery, bandwidth, and other “yeah but” arguments made by administrators to justify strict filtering policies. And if you’re a school administrator being told by your tech department that they can’t ease the filtering, remember they work for you. If they can’t figure out how to make it work, perhaps it’s time to look for staff that can make it work.

At the end of the day, ask yourself if following the policy standing in way of delivering the best possible learning experience to your students. If it is what are you going to do about it? Are you going to be Hawkeye or are you going to be Frank Burns?


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  • http://www.icttalk.co.uk Rob Ellis

    Ofsted, the monitoring body for schools in the UK, found that managed filtering was more effective than total, unquestioning filtering. Access their report here: http://www.ofsted.gov.uk/Ofsted-home/Publications-and-research/Browse-all-by/Documents-by-type/Thematic-reports/The-safe-use-of-new-technologies

  • http://www.resource220.com Harold Shaw

    Great post Rich, then there are many of us who are more like BJ Honeycutt or Radar, who tend to lag behind the Hawkeyes of the world, but push the status quo in our own way.

    The Hawkeyes are considered the “trouble-makers” who are the lightning rods and attract the attention of administration for what they do. Whereas the BJ’s or Radars don’t attract all that negative attention, but advocate for change in their own way. Although it might just takes them longer to affect the change.

    But I do agree that we need to continue to push other teachers, students, admins & parents to learn what is the reality of the Internet, not just the negative that many try to associate with its use. The positives in my opinion outweigh the negatives.

    I guess I will stay Radar – more my style :)

  • Brad

    Yea, but what if Frank Burns had the Hawkeye attitude? What if the not-so-good teachers (and we all know there are Frank Burnsesess in education) did whatever the heck they wanted? I agree with the point you’re making, but see the good that policy does as well. It keeps the Franks of the world from doing too much damage. Hawkeye got away with it because he was exceptionally good.

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