At the end of January, I spent a week meeting with and learning from some fabulous people at the Midwest Education Technology Conference (METC) in St. Charles, MO. In reflecting on the conference, I was thinking about some of the sessions I attended and I can’t help but wonder what conference goers want from a conference. Is it to learn about the latest and greatest tools or is it more about strategies and concepts? As someone who presents at a variety of conferences and for a variety of groups, I spent some time watching people present and to a certain extent, analyzing their presentation styles looking for things that I might implement.
This year I’ve been thinking a lot about presentation styles and working with/leading groups. I’ve read books like Presentation Zen and, while those have helped me think about techniques, it hasn’t really helped me think through my latest pondering, that being the responsibility of presenters to serve their audience. In one session, the speaker was describing the evils of filters and how filtering the web from students isn’t helping teach responsibility and ethics. Now let me be clear about this, I agree with this speaker. I’m not for filtering everything and I think that students miss out on a lot of information/experiences because of these filters. However, I’m also a realist and understand that most districts are not about to completely open up the filter to the world. As a presenter, I feel as though I need another solution. What if YouTube is blocked in the district? Is suggesting breaking YouTube’s terms of service and downloading the video for use really the best idea? Sure it’s possible, but what are we then modeling? Certainly not ethical use. Is a school district likely to get sued? Probably not. Is that a good defense or justification? Definitely not.
In another session I attended, the presenter was “shocked” that sites like YouTube, Flickr and Twitter were blocked in schools. I was amazed. “How can you be shocked?”, I thought. “Are you ever in a school anymore?” More often than not, these kinds of sites are blocked for “safety reasons”. I’ve even heard of districts who’s filters are so locked down, the school website isn’t even accessible inside the district. Ridiculous.
However ridiculous, this is a reality. I hope it’s not a reality forever, but I also understand that many times, teachers have no control or say over what is blocked and unblocked. Rather than looking at them with incredulity when they ask what to do when a certain tool or site is blocked, I think it’s important to understand the plight of these teachers who desperately want to give their students access and try to help them by giving them alternatives or avenues to help them help those who make decisions to see the benefits of sites such as YouTube.
As I more time comes between me and the classroom, I’m going to try to keep my perspective and understand the limitations that teachers have based on the decisions of others. I want to continue to work inside of schools and not just with teachers but with students as well. It’s important for those of us who are “spreading the word” to also live that life and get inside the classroom. Currently I’m working on three different presentations and will continue to keep revisit the responsibilities and understandings that I need to have about my audience so that I can answer those questions. I don’t believe that filtering online content is the way, but I also don’t want to rattle on about it with only one solution, to un-filter everything. I will be continuing to think about alternative solutions or approaches and welcome conversation about how to address the needs of classroom teachers.