I've attended the CoSN (Consortium for School Networking) annual conference for almost ten years now. It's a great, national conference aimed at technology leadership, with a focus on policy, safety, and administrative issues. I'm always struck by the movers and shakers present, and the high-level conversations going around. I've been able to network with some great thinkers over the years, and have learned lots from all of them.
One of the things I like best about the CoSN conference is that it's a chance to network with principals from all over the country. I spend a lot of time trying to have informal conversations about technology issues with these folks. This year, the whole MySpace topic kept coming up over and over. Most of us in the technology world are pretty well-versed in the ins and outs of social networking. However, principals face the issue from a different perspective every single day - finding a balance between ensuring the safety of the students, while allowing the teachers in the building to take advantage of these tools.
I spoke with a few principals about the good and bad. I also asked why most schools I work with tend to "overblock" and just lock out all blogs, wikis, and social sites of any kind, preventing access to the entire school community. I personally think blogs and wikis are two tools that have proven themselves beyond the next big gimmick. If you can read this, in fact, thank a blogger. I would bet many of you are reading this outside a K-12 school setting, though. Why is that? Have you had real, concrete troubles with blogs and your students' safety? Can we find a way to allow teachers and principals to access blogs, wikis, etc. while preventing the student access to these sites? I know that it's technologically possible - I've seen it in schools, and I know enough about I.T. and networking to know that a user account can be customized. But, why aren't we doing that? What am I missing? How come teachers and administrators can't have full access?
I'd love to hear feedback from principals about how we follow the letters of the law (CIPA, COPPA, etc.), ensuring we're making our student online experiences safe, while allowing the adult learners in the building to use these tools.