Last weekend, we ran another open content authoring session at Lewis Elementary in Portland, OR; we'll have more details on the event in a post laster this week. During this session, we talked with several educators about ways to work around the organizational barriers they face. I'm going to list out a couple here; frequently, when we talk about the things that are absent from school learning environment, the conversation stops at blockages of YouTube and other social media sites. Really, though, there are barriers that are far more basic and pervasive than that.
Students Can't Save HTML Files
We spoke with an educator working within PPS who had set up a lesson where students were learning about the web, including some basic HTML and css. The lesson went fine until it came time for students to save their work; they were blocked from saving html files.
SSH is blocked
We have worked in schools, and worked with teachers in schools, where SSH is blocked. For anyone working in web development, SSH is a central tool to doing out work. Blocking SSH is akin to teaching carpentry without hammer and saws.
Districts Claim Ownership Over Teacher Intellectual Property
The way some district contracts are written, districts claim ownership over any work that is done during school hours, over a school network, or on a school-provided machine. So, if a teacher does planning during the school day, even if she is creating something entirely new that is her creation, the district position is that they - the district - own that work.
Why Should We Care?
In the current political climate of educational reform, teachers are under a tremendous amount of pressure. Teachers and schools have a lot of rhetoric directed at them about how they need to embrace "21st century learning" and teach web literacies and develop knowledge workers, all while meeting more time consuming reporting mandated by the unfunded mandates of NCLB, and having their performance measured by standardized tests that often don't examine what learning looks like.
And in the face of all this, there are district-level policies that directly interfere with a teachers ability to work. When a district claims ownership over creative work done during the work day, the district creates an enormous disincentive to work with peers during school time, as any result of the collaboration would be owned by the district and not the creators. This flies directly in the face of what networked, connected teaching should be, as it is predicated on sharing our work with others. Fortunately, as we discussed in our authoring event, incorporating openly licensed materials into our work makes district claims of ownership a moot point, as the district can still claim ownership but the license allows for free and universal reuse.
What is incredibly heartening is talking with teachers, and hearing the creativity, thought, and caring that they put into their work. There are some amazing educators working to help our kids learn, and it's great to see.
What is disheartening is to see the artificial, policy-driven barriers put in their way. Here in Oregon, we are hearing a lot of talk about improving our educational system. And some of these things actually sound okay. And please don't get me wrong: high level change is part of the solution too. But we also need to remove the unnecessary barriers to teachers doing their best work. The notion that a district owns a teacher's work needs to be addressed legislatively, and through contracts. If a district thinks that they are going to get rich from owning and selling content, they should go talk to their local newspaper - the one that went out of business three years ago.
Image Credit: "Contradiction" taken by sweetenough, published under an Attribution Share-Alike license.