The provision of email by school districts is an “authorized use” of equipment and services paid for by eRate funds in the United States. Interestingly, however, I don’t know of a single public school district in the midwest that is currently using its eRate supported servers to provide STUDENT email accounts. Teacher accounts are provided as a general rule, but the only schools I know of that have student email accounts (and there are few) use commercial providers like ePals SchoolMail instead of local servers.
The December 8th eSchoolNews article, “Ruling: Schools must archive eMail: New rules make eMail, instant messages subject to legal review” suggests that provision of student email accounts by schools may become even rarer in the United States. Many free web-based email services are already blocked by school district IT folks, in an ostensible effort to force teachers to use their district-provided (and trackable) email accounts, and “encourage” students to remain on task with district-assigned computer tasks which DO NOT include (typically) accessing and using email.
I wonder if school-provided network services may become increasingly irrelevant for teachers? When everything you write in email is archived so it can potentially “be used against you” later, I think it is natural for email conversations to be “chilled” and almost grind to a halt– at least the email conversations that could potentially take place with district-provided email accounts. What will happen to teachers that use free tools to keep their email and computer files private on the school network? (See “#5 How do I protect my files from prying eyes â€” even after deleting them?” in Miguel Guhlin’s article “8 More Ways to Make Computing Easier” for details.) I’m not sure, but those actions are not likely to win local IT department hearts and minds.
What will the likely results of this situation be? More teachers will want to use free, web-based email solutions like GMail, Yahoo Mail, Hotmail, etc. The irony seems to be that the more regulated schools and school networks become, the less autonomy teachers and students have to creatively communicate. Regulation as a general rule in education (at least recently, but maybe always) seems to have the effect of chilling conversations. I’m reminded of the rumor that spread at our state librarian’s conference in Oklahoma that DOPA had already made all school blogging in the US illegal. (That was a FALSE rumor.)
If student use of email is considered non-academic, frivolous, and even dangerous by many school officials, what about instant messaging (IM)? I wrote “The case for instant messaging in the classroom” back in August, before this legal ruling, and I remain convinced IM can and should play a constructive role in the formal, school-based learning environment. The requirement for schools to track every instant message sent on their school network, however, will likely have the effect of causing even more schools to ban IM entirely.
Most schools that I’ve worked with and visited ban IM clients like AIM, MSN, and Yahoo. Some ban Skype, but many don’t. I am working hard to convince school leaders that classroom-to-classroom desktop videoconferencing with Skype can be instructionally powerful, constructive for the learning environment and the engagement of learners, and also managed in safe and controlled ways. This legal opinion is not going to help this cause.
I do not want to throw up my hands in frustration, and I’m not going to, but situations like this really seem to beg the question of why US taxpayers and consumers are investing billions of dollars in educational technologies. I am convinced of the need for digital literacy and a constructivist learning environment that emphasizes student CREATION of knowledge products— but clearly most policymakers and regulators are not. I honestly think most of these people are entirely focused on providing a transmission-based model of education for our students. If that is the goal, then why don’t we just put every student in front of a television set for 8 hours a day when they go to school? No one will be authoring any content that needs to be tracked, and this will make the teaching environment really easy for all the teachers and administrators to monitor.
In addition, such a move would make school even more irrelevant for students, since most of them have access to a television at home.
We need to come to grips with the realities and potentials of both read-only (RO) and read-write (RW) technologies in the 21st century learning environment. Requiring school districts to track and archive every message that is created by users on their networks is NOT going to constructively advance an agenda of appropriate RO and RW digital learning. Most likely, the primary effect will be to chill the conversations. 🙁
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On this day..
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- How to add administrators to a Facebook business page - 2010
- Delicious Social Bookmarks Going Away - What Shall We Do? - 2010
- iPhone & iPad Apps for Fun & Productivity Workshop - Dec 29th - 2010
- Planning for T4T in the Spring - 2009
- Workaround for Parallels problem with USB Mic in WinXP Audacity - 2008
- A spooky museum experience tonight - 2008
- I'll pass on the Kindle, give me a thinner and cooler laptop - 2007
- Most important digital tools for teachers? - 2007
- Slow hotel Internet connection and a ridiculously broad AUP - 2007