The tools and materials schools choose convey values, like the artifacts of any culture. When these choices become traditions that no longer reflect the changing face of technology and those who use it, schools may alienate new teachers and students, and waste money.
Sometimes values cannot help but conflict. No student, and not many teachers, appreciates internet filtering when a search engine lists what looks like a perfect page that eludes access, but few parents would accept students having unblocked access to pornography.
Sometimes relationships with software vendors or school support services may lead to bad choices, made without an appropriate pre-purchase evaluation, or outside expert advice. However, few outside experts come without their own technology values. As educational technology experts, we consult with school districts on technology plans, but with two biases:
- We favor replacing pre-made materials with open source tools that help teachers and students create and share.
- We seek to involve all stakeholders--especially students--in the planning process, and have formal ways to do that.
This said, every situation is different, and there are many stages along the continuum to empowerment.
Because teachers rarely visit the classrooms of any but their closest colleagues, an online environment for sharing ideas, making project plans, showcasing student work and evaluating what works can bridge communication and diffusion between "pioneers" and "settlers" of the digital world. As more teachers derive a sense of community from their online interactions, man of the constraints of the school schedule and physical spaces on individual, team and school management articulated in "Prisoners of Time" fall away.
The planning, management and support of a school Intranet to support teaching, learning, and administration is therefore a core infrastructure need for 21st century schools.
The Empowered Teacher offers a model of hosted and supported Intranet services to schools we work with. By adopting an intranet (servers controlled by the school), communications and resources can be made public or private on a case-by-case basis, responsive to changing situations. In contract, by promoting the use of cloud computing tools and outside services (like GoogleDocs or WikiSpaces), schools cede control.
Favoring Open Source
In place of commercial software (with notable exceptions like Inspiration, Filemaker Pro, and Adobe products), we value:
- Open Source Software: Although many extol Open Source because it is free, runs on old equipment, and does almost anything you might pay for, there are deeper reasons for adopting it. Every dependency on a company's products ties your school to a for-profit corporation, limiting and driving your decisions based on market forces that have nothing to do with your mission. The ethos of Open Source communities behind Linux, Wikipedia, Moodle, Drupal and Open Office, on the other hand, more resembles an Iroquois Council than a trade show. What communities should our faculty, staff and students rely on?
- Web 2.0: There are many engaging software products to choose from, made by skilled and talented people. However, the high multimedia production values of shrinkwrapped software have nothing to do with the constructing of knowledge by individuals, teams, classes and schools. A great high school school newspaper is more compelling for that school's stakeholders than a graphic novel or glossy magazine. Web 2.0 means inviting students, teachers, administrators and parents to contribute to a rich learning community that reflects local realities and opportunities.
- Drupal: Drupal is the favorite CMS of the Open Source Community - that's why http://opensource.com is a Drupal site. Many other educational sites, made with Drupal and taking advantage of it's focus on community collaboration and social learning, tell the story better. A visit to the resources and schools of the Drupal Schools Network show the range of interactive sites built with Drupal, recently adopted by The White House, the New York State Senate, and many other serious institutions.
This combination of culture (open source), technology (web 2.0) and platform (Drupal) make for a highly functional work environment that can flexibly adapt to the needs and goals of your school. Learn more about the relationship between Technology and Collaboration.