Making my case for unfiltration: Images

I’m trying to convince my district to lax their filtration policies. Currently all blogs, social media sites, image hosting or searching sites, and many other online tools are blocked. I’ve met with and sent out emails to our tech directors and principals explaining my concerns. So far I haven’t received any response to my emails and my face to face meetings haven’t yielded any progress. I’ve decided to send out one email a week to the tech directors and principals explaining why various online tools should be unblocked. I’m also trying to work other angles (Curriculum directors, School Improvement Team) as well.  Here’s this week’s episode.

Image Hosting and Searching

Reasons for images being blocked (as I understand it)

Many image hosting (Flickr, Picasa, etc.) and searching applications (Google Images, Yahoo Images), even with a “Safe Search” setting turned on, will still occasionally turn up  inappropriate images. As a district, we want to prevent these images from being accessible to our students.

Reasons for unblocking image hosting sites and searching

Humans, by nature, are visually oriented. As a species we’ve been honed to analyze visual information for as long as there have been humanoids on the planet. Written language and text is a much more recent invention than sight. While it is an effective method of communication, visual stimuli trumps text-based stimuli in our brains. Therefore, students pay more attention (and generally learn better) when they are visually engaged or are able to exhibit their knowledge through visual modalities.

The ability to search for Creative Commons licensed or other fair use images allows students and staff to publish their work online. One major hurdle that has to be overcome to legally publish content online are copyright laws. However Flickr allows people to publish their image under Creative Commons (CC) licenses (here’s my photostream). These CC licenses can allow third parties to legally use and republish their images in any format. There are several web sites that allow you to easily search the content on Flickr for CC-licensed images (Flickr’s own, Blue Mountain, Comp-Fight). As a result, I can publish presentations online for students and other teachers to access from anywhere without having to worry about copyright infringement. Students can publish projects and other works online; accessing a global audience for feedback on their work. Research is heavy with studies showing how authentic publication of student work increases student performance.

Students can create high quality projects. Previously, I have had students create artifacts of their learning to demonstrate their understanding of the concepts being covered in class. Invariably, high quality projects include images. What good is a text-based description of a stratovolcano when you can have images of real stratovolcanoes? Why simply have a description of what the element lead looks like when you can also have a picture of lead.

Filters generally won’t be an obstacle in any other environment. I am not suggesting we unblock everything and let students do whatever they’d like online. However, most students are accessing the unfiltered internet at home. When students graduate from Fitch they will go on to educational and professional settings that will more likely that not either not have filters or have very lax filtration. In many of those places, student computer use is unsupervised. In school, all student computer use is supervised. This provides us with a wonderful opportunity to teach students how to work with sites where they may run into objectionable content. As a school, we should be jumping at the chance to teach students skills they’ll be using the rest of their lives. Instead, we’re running away from one of the best lessons we can teach our students.

Again, I thank you for your time. I feel that we need to have an open discussion concerning filtering policies concerning what is best for our students.

Signs of success

A snippet from a conversation I had with a student this morning:

Student: “This project is long.”

Me: “That’s why I gave you so many days in class to work on it. I wanted you to have time to make it excellent.”

Student: “Yeah, but this project is taking longer than when we just used PowerPoint. Then we’d just put the information on the slide. Now we have to put it in to something. It’s a lot harder.”

If you haven’t been following along, students are creating artifacts of their knowledge as their final exam (see previous posts). the student chose to create a textbook that covers all the information we’ve covered throughout the trimester.  I banned students from using PowerPoint since they were mainly just filling the slides up with text and totally missing the point of presentation software (they’re not presenting, they’re weren’t creating graphic-based slides, etc.). That decision seems to have been a good one. I’ve seen many projects-in-progress that I’m sincerely excited to get a chance to look over, which hasn’t always been the case in the past.

Final Exam Projects- Day 2

I’ve made the switch. This year I’ve been using a cumulative project in lieu of a traditional written test, and at this point I believe that the projects are a better indicator of student knowledge than the old examinations.

Students have just started working on their final projects for the 3rd Trimester. So far, I’m impressed. Day 1 is usually always a bit of a waste. Students aren’t sure what they want to do or how to start so they end up doing lots of email checking, Google Image labeling, Impossible Quiz taking, and other things that are probably violating their AUP’s. Day 2 is when the action happens (for most). They figure out what format they’re going to use for their exam, and start to frame how they’re going to include the required information into that format. About 25% of the projects I’ve seen from students so far look like they’re going to be great. I don’t mean simply deserving of an “A.” I mean they look like they’ll be shiny monuments to mountains of knowledge!

A couple things I’ve learned to do as I’ve done more of these cumulative projects:

  • Push for more than just bulleted points of information. It’s dull to read, it’s dull to write, it’s just dull.
  • Demand diagrams, graphs, graphic organizers, and media-rich projects. These are more interesting than text, and they generally demonstrate a student’s understanding of a topic more clearly.
  • Require projects to show the student’s understanding of how the material covered in the class is interconnected. We covered volcanoes & plate tectonics this trimester. I want them to show me how they relate.

If you’d like to see the project description and rubric for the 3rd Trimester final exam, visit my school homepage. There are links to the rubric and a brief explanation of what is expected. Let me know what you think. What would you add? How might it be structured differently?