Staying Connected with the World of Learning

5 03 2013
Keeping tools of communication out of the hands of educators and students isn't called safety.It's called isolation.

Keeping tools of communication out of the hands of educators and students isn’t called safety.
It’s called isolation.

I had the occasion to talk with a person working at the US Department of Education the other day. As we were planning our meeting, I asked if we should Skype or if we should connect using Google+ Hangouts. The person suggested we use a phone conference because Skype and Hangouts aren’t allowed at the US Department of Education.

I was taken aback for a few moments. In a flash, my brain fired off 20 thoughts all at once.

What? They’re not allowed to Skype? Heck, I had my students Skyping back in 2007 across continents to other classrooms and this person isn’t allowed to Skype to talk with me, an educator in the field? This is their policy? How in the world are they able to make relevant recommendations about modern education without 1) being able to connect easily with those in the field and 2) … I don’t even have words for this one. Are you kidding me? They’re adults. What possible reason could they have for not allowing the use of a free tool that so many people, including schools, ARE using to great learning benefit?

Flummoxed.

But only for a moment.

Quickly, memories came flooding in of the numerous conversations I’ve had over the years with various Kansas State Department of Education officials. They have also said they aren’t allowed to use tools like Skype or Hangouts.

I took a breath (hey, it’s not this person’s fault) and shared my cell phone number, hoping at least for some Facetime. See, I like to look at people when I’m holding serious conversations, and anytime I’m talking education, it’s serious.

So reflecting on the situation as I’m writing this post, I shake my head and recognize the reality. And I’m saddened.

I know that my students, rooted in the center of this nation here in Kansas have been connected with schools across both the Atlantic and the Pacific Oceans, as well as to the far corners of our own nation talking with real experts in real locations, and connecting (virtual) experiences with learning.

They have Skyped with a Smithsonian-affiliated museum that was only a two-hour drive away, but in reality, it might as well have been two-hundred hours away because we could never afford to go there in person. And yet, there we were, getting a personal tour and all our questions answered by the CEO of the museum himself, as he stood in front of the actual historical artifacts.

They have also Skyped with students in other schools right across town.

And they have Skyped with other classrooms inside our school.

And they have Skyped friends sitting across the table from them.

And they did it all for a purpose: connected and seamless learning.

They learned how to do it with proper etiquette, intelligence, and style. And we learned how to considerately share bandwidth by communicating (gasp) with other classrooms inside the building before we Skyped.

And we, in small-town Kansas, in a teeny tiny school with a less-than-limited expense budget, rooted firmly in “flyover country,” became personally connected with the world. Without these tools, we would have been truly an educational detached retina, unable to see — and therefore experience — the world outside our immediate touch.

Yet our nation’s (and state’s) educational leadership does not allow their employees to use this tool of connected learning.

I am crestfallen.

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2 responses

12 03 2013
dnewell

Time, place, and one person’s opinion do not always match in the national educational scene.

12 03 2013
GingerLewman

Yep. And neither do the opinions of thousands of Skyping educators, apparently. And I wonder to what benefit or detriment.

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