The MassCUE TIE special interest group meeting flew by. Yours truly spent too much time on the philosophy of open source. We did have some rousing discussion, though. It was good to get together with the eight SIG members who were able to be there (Beverly, Bev, Warren, Carol, Nancy, Susan, Brenda and Jennifer).

We had a lively discussion of the suitability of Wikipedia, classroom blogging, the cost of software and training, and administrative support for innovation. Nobody said they had too much computer/software training time!

Wikipedia faces push back from educators. Its reliability is questioned. Biased opinion in articles is often blamed as a reason for recommending against its use in schools. Ultimately, it can at least be a great object lesson about the need to check multiple sources when creating an essay. The “free encyclopedia that anyone can edit” statement scares educators, I think. We also talked about the K12 Open Ed Kids Open Dictionary Builder which is still in early development. Some wanted to see it as a tool for students to enter words, but feared that it would become corrupted by malicious or silly entries. I pointed out that it was more a tool for teachers who could expect to generate word lists and glossaries and legally include them in handouts they created for their students. It was interesting to see the expressions on several faces when I reminded them that copying definitions from commercial dictionaries to create glossaries was a copyright violation. It does seem odd that using the meanings of words should be restricted in that way. That is, of course, the reason that the Kids Open Dictionary Builder exists. It is planned to be a public domain dictionary which will allow unrestricted use of word definitions.

Keeping student blog comments out of “public” view was an issue. Issues with the Web sites like FaceBook and students who reveal too much for their own safety are in the news. Getting your school/district to host an internal blogging tool can be one answer. WordPress is an open source blogging tool that can be installed on a server (for free) by the tech staff so that that it is only accessible within the school or district. It should be noted, however, that blog comments can be “moderated” on the classroom blog by the teacher. Teachers can, as they routinely do, help to direct the flow of discussion and keep students from being too controversial for their own good. Without involving overworked school tech staffs, teachers can set up a blog on a commercial blog space (no cost there, either): WordPress.com, Blogger.com and Edublogs.org [for some reason, I am having trouble making a link there, but you can type the Web address in yourself – http://edublogs.org%5D.

Everyone was able to go home with a CD of open source programs that could be installed on Windows machines and a copy of the Ubuntu 8.10 Live CD so they could explore it even if that could only happen on their personal computer at home.

Here’s a list of the links to the tools we discussed:

There was general sentiment that school tech staff/leaders were reluctant to explore beyond the boundaries of “approved” software. Some who attended felt that they would not be able to install any of the programs on school PCs. Some (most?) schools have implemented restrictive installation policies. A couple of reasons may make sense, keeping malicious software off computers, for one. Keeping students from installing games to play instead of competing assignments makes sense, too. But knee jerk push back against teachers installing useful software does not make sense.

What is the situation at your school/district?

  • Can you, as a teacher, install software on your “teacher” computer in your classroom?
  • Can you get software installed by a tech onto a lab of computers?
  • Does each program need approval from administrators before it can be used?
  • Is your district encouraging innovation by offering training on Web site creation, blogging, and other similar tools?
  • Do you have a Web site set up/hosted by your school/district?
  • Do you have a Web site like the ones set up by companies like Teacher Web?
  • Do you have a school related or classroom blog?

Let us know.

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