Miguel Guhlin invited me to be a guest blogger on the TechLearning blog. A couple of days ago I submitted my first post – I will be blogging for TechLearning the third Wednesday of every month. Below is an excerpt and a link to the full post. Thanks for the invite, Miguel!

Should schools allow teachers to use outside technology tools?

I’d like to kick off my guest blogging by raising again an issue I once blogged about long ago. Many educational technology advocates have been blogging about the need to enable teacher and student use of Web 2.0 tools – for example, see these recent posts by Wesley Fryer, David Warlick, Susan Brooks-Young, and Jeff Utecht. While I agree with them, I also want to highlight the essential conundrum that school administrators face: there are rarely ways in which school organizations can effectively monitor the use of many of these tools.

As I said in my long-ago post…

Schools and districts are required, both legally and professionally
/ ethically / morally, to monitor employee and student use of
technology tools when those tools are used for professional or
instructional purposes. School organizations that don’t must face the
legal and public relations ramifications of ignoring potential employee
/ student abuse of digital technologies. No school system wants to be
sued and/or highlighted in the news because it wasn’t effectively
safeguarding against sexual harassment, cyberbullying, dissemination of
inappropriate content (e.g., pornography), etc. via electronic
communication channels or online environments.

Some schools and districts are providing rich sets of tools for
teachers and students to use for classroom purposes. These tools
include e-mail accounts, network folders, web pages, parent portals,
online chat, online threaded discussion areas, online whiteboards,
online calendars, instant messaging, wikis, blogs, podcasts, and other
similar tools. No district, however, is making all of these tools
available to all teachers and, indeed, probably never can. The
incredible (and burgeoning) diversity of available tools is simply too
much for school systems to keep up with, more or less provide.

Many enterprising teachers thus are using (or would like to use)
tools provided by entities outside the school organization (such as NiceNet, Yahoo! Groups, Blogger, pbwiki, Flickr, and SchoolNotes)
to enhance the classroom experience. These tools typically are not
hosted by the school system, however, and there is no ability for
administrators to effectively exercise oversight over teachers’ and
students’ appropriate use of these tools. In many instances, school
leaders may not even know such tools are being used.

So administrators are essentially in a bind. If they don’t allow
usage of these tools, they become fodder for bloggers and other
educational technology advocates because they’re failing to tap into
the pedagogical potential of these creative technologies and ignoring
the future needs of students and society. If they do allow usage of
these tools, they run the very real and likely risk of inappropriate
usage, including usage that may incur legal liability and significant
financial costs for the school organization and the taxpayers that it
serves. I think it is important that we not downplay schools’
obligations in this area. Cyberbullying, sexual harassment, and other
inappropriate uses of technology are real and frequent occurrences by
both students and employees. Schools cannot abdicate their legal and
moral responsibility to monitor appropriate usage of technology tools.

As an educator, I desperately want to allow students and teachers to
use these wonderful new tools that are external to the school
organization. As an attorney, I’m struggling to figure out how to make
this happen.

What do you think schools should do to enable student and employee
access to these external tools while simultaneously fulfilling their
obligation to monitor and protect against abuses? Should administrators
just trust that instructional uses of these tools will be okay and deal
reactively with lawsuits / parent complaints / financial costs / media
feasts as they occur? Since there is no way that school leaders can
monitor all of the different tools that are out there on the Web,
should schools have a preemptive ban on all non-school-provided tools
because monitoring is literally impossible? What would appropriate
school policy and/or guidelines look like for these types of tools?
Does anyone have a good example of school- or district-level policy
language that deals with these issues?

This post is also available at the TechLearning blog.