Saturday, September 20, 2008

Quick Fixes Do Not Work: Case in Point=Filtering

Quick fixes are very inviting. Wouldn't it be great if you could solve complex problems with simple and speedy one-stop measures? Here are some that have failed for me:
  • That diet where you consume large quantities of noxious cabbage soup.
  • The book that promised toilet training in three days.
  • Blocking the hole my dog made in the cyclone fence with a golf putter and a couple of broom sticks.
  • I am not a golfer, but Dad is watching the Ryder Cup. Just plugged on a TV commercial was something called "15 Minute Golf"...somehow I wonder about that too.
On a larger scale I can think of other quick fixes:
  • Preemptive war
  • FEMA trailers
  • Enron economics
  • Fixing schools with standardized tests
  • Making kids readers with AR
But the allure of the quick fix is very hard to resist. That brings me to a prime example:
I wish I could say that identifying filters as quick fixes was my idea, but it is not. Last week Nancy Willard posted about a recent presentation she had made. When Nancy talks, I listen. The main them was that Internet filtering is a quick fix and that, like other quickies, it simply does not work. Here are some comments she shared with me and gave me permission to cite:

I think you will like my definition of technology "quick fix" because I
found a way to distinguish quick fixes from technology protections. By
nature, a quick fix is trying to stop intentional behavior of the user,
whereas technology protections guard against attacks from the outside and
accidental behavior. There is no technology that can effectively keep
teens in electronically fenced play yards. And the sooner we realize this,
the better.

A specific technology can function as both - depending on the age of the
user and use of the technology. Filtering software can function as a
pretty effective technology protection for younger children but is a
woefully inadequate quick fix when used with a teen. Digital
identification will be a valuable addition to allow adults more security
when engaging in electronic commerce, but is a woefully deficient approach
to address concerns of teens on social networking sites.

Her words made me remember a panel discussion presented at last spring's TLA (Texas Library Association) Conference. Nancy was on that panel, and so was Spring Branch ISD Media Coordinator, Dr. Barry Bishop. He is putting into practice what both he and Nancy preach, commonsense filtering. This is a paraphrase, but in essence he said, "We decided not to make filtering all about keeping out a large number of Internet sites that might or might not be problematical. Instead, we are allowing in as much as we possibly can, and then just blocking those sites which really are 'bad.'" Hmmmm you might say, that sounds like a lot of work. Well, it likely is more work, especially at the outset. That is because it is NOT the quick fix approach.

And think about the positives! Teachers in that district have participated in the "21 Things" training for Web 2.0 and are moving ahead with exciting new projects that engage kids and make them less likely to try so hard to circumvent the filters. This means that teachers need to be trained, something that I suspect is least likely to be happening in the schools with the tightest filters. How do I know this? I learn this from my MLS students. Those who accept filters as "the only way to keep kids safe" are those who have the least familiarity with new and exciting Internet resources and activities.

I am aware that many teachers, librarians, administrators, and others that work with kids are doing great things with Web 2.0 resources. I see their listserv postings, I follow them on Twitter, I read their blogs and wikis, and I attend their presentations at conferences. But I keep wondering about the many schools and districts where nothing has changed since the filters were set years ago. Again, I know there are many out there, because so many of my students describe their situations that way. These are the folks I worry about, both adults and children. I am presently on a campaign to offer information in print that can be used to help people who are seeking resources to help bolster their efforts to loosen filters. And without a doubt two of the leaders to whom I turn are Nancy Willard and Barry Bishop.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

This is the way I like to write...

Remember the Mulberry Bush song? It has been running through my head all day. I am "blessed" with an ongoing sound track in my cranium, often playing songs from way back and not ones that I particularly like. Anyway, I have been thinking
"This is the way I like to write, like to write, like to write.
This is the way I like to write so early in the morning."

Yesterday morning when I lost power, one of my first thoughts was...HOW WILL I WRITE??? To my credit it did not take me long to come up with...duh...pen...and...paper. After all it was good enough for me for many years. In fact it took me a very long time to reach the point where I was writing directly to computer. My entire dissertation was written in 1999-2000, entirely in longhand and then transcribed to computer. This entry was also handwritten up to this point, where I left off yesterday.

Resuming on computer...the thing I have been mulling over is how others are writing these days. Does anyone out there still write by hand when doing formal or serious writing? My transition was not a specific decision, but really an evolution. As I recall, I started out slowly, writing short memos directly online and then gradually composing longer and longer pieces. Eventually, without consciously making a transition, I realized that I was no longer using pen and paper. I am not sure if this change is reflected in my writing. I type very fast, and thus write a lot faster than I used to. Do I write shorter sentences? Do I include less in the way of description? I really don't know. I am curious how others feel about longhand vs. online writing, how it has impacted their own work, and how they now write.

After the Storm

Date: September 14
Place: My office

I am transcribing from a handwritten entry I wrote goes:

I am stting in front of my west fancing front window and writing with...DRUMROLL...pen and legal pad! It is September 13, 2008 and thanks to Hurricane Ike I am without power. I probably have close to three power hours left on combined computers but am hoarding that for dark time. I'm hungry but holding off on that too. It seems to me that I should use the rest of today's daylight for things that make good use of it.

Right now I have to reflect a bit. I am very, very lucky. Two houses on my block have very big oak trees on them. All I have is branches down and none of those are on my house. A neighbor told me that one of the few deaths reported so far was on the south side of my little town. If true, it is another tree on house incident, a bit ironic in view of the fact that many people came here to escape the storm.

My original thought is to talk about my feelings on being unplugged. Bottome line: I MISS MY GIZMOS! Like everyone else, I am in the dark with no expectation for relief any time soon. The big issue for me is my cell phone. To my irritation, my old iPhone car charger does not work with my new iPhone. Thus this afternoon I was out scouting for power. Nothing downtown. Nothing on campus. Discouraging! Finally I headed north for one last idea. Maybe, maybe that truck stop north of town would have power...Yesssss! The restaurant was out of food but they nicely let me plug in and charge while I bonded with truckers and stranded travelers. Truckers were worried about their loads. One lady had sheltered in town with a sister but they inded up in an argument so she left. She was cheerfully chugging coffee and reviewing her options. Me, I headed home to count my blessings. My phone is charged. I am safe and dry, and all I am facing is yard cleanup. My thoughts and prayers are with those who have lost so much.

Friday, September 12, 2008

Hurricane Ike Thoughts

I am sitting on my beloved back porch, listening to my little fountain, and enjoying a day off since my university closed campus until Monday if the earliest due to the approaching storm. Many of our students commute and of course that will be impossible between now and Sunday. The word is that we will re-open Monday, and I hope that is true because it will mean that things are going pretty well. Also, several of our campus buildings are already filling up with evacuees. My town is a major stopping point for folks heading away from harm's way during hurricane threats. As I contemplate what the upcoming hours may bring, I find myself with some random thoughts:
  • Last night on the news, a reporter stopped a woman who was strolling down the nearly deserted beach in Galveston. She had a little one in a stroller and two tots in tow. He said a bit incredulously, "Ma'am, why are you still here? You should be leaving! Aren't you concerned about the storm?" She replied, "Oh no, we aren't worried. The Lord is going to push this storm further on up the coast. He will take care of us. We will be fine." The reporter said "But what about your children? Aren't you worried about them?" Her reply was "Of course I am concerned for my children but we don't want to get out in all that traffic. If things are really bad tomorrow, we may leave then." This made me angry then and I am still thinking now about those little ones! I wish I knew that these folks left. By now I don't think they CAN get off the island. The bridges will be impassible soon if they are not already. It is OK to be an idiot in America, and we tend to prove this regularly. But the children have no say in this! I am having trouble getting them out of my mind.
  • I was on the road early yesterday morning for a doctor's appointment and came home up Interstate 45, a major evacuation route. Traffic was bumper to bumper but moving and orderly. It is clear that things are unfolding in a much more orderly fashion than they did in the wake of Hurricane Rita. It is heartening to see that people can and do learn from past mistakes! Now if we can also see this happen in the coming election, my whole world view will improve!
  • I am thinking very much about my students and former students, many of whom I know are displaced. My prayers are for them. I know that many suffered from Hurricane Rita, several losing homes and others with damage. Since SHSU LS Department has for years taught courses throughout South Texas, we have many folks to be thinking about.
  • As for me, I am selfishly thinking about power. If anything were to happen to me beyond some heavy rain and maybe winds knocking down limbs, etc., it will be power loss. My plan is to use this down time to write. But what if my power goes? I am keeping all three computers charged up...but what will I do if my gizmos all run down? I could be forced to pick up a pen and legal pad. Since I transitioned years ago from writing in longhand to writing online, I will have to readjust!

More on Filtering

I really appreciate Doug Johnson's comment on my recent post on this topic. My reason for trying to get names of people who are speaking out "loudly" is that I hope to provide some reputable and authoritative names and sites that might help others whose voices must perhaps be a bit more muted due to job security concerns. And again, let me hasten to say that my concern is NOT with frivolous, bandwidth wasting "surfing" rights but rather with access to all the wonderful Web 2.0 resources and informational sites that are still off limits to far too many folks. A good part of my concern stems from living in a very conservative area in a conservative state, and seeing my own friends and students fight for access every day. Doug is so right though...this is NOT a "battle" to be won by a few people with loud voices, but by everyone doing what he/she can to move things along. Sometimes that has to be with baby steps, I know, after my years in public schools. My one wish would be for a few more names to share with the librarian who is trying to build a case and wants to provide some documentation. My listserv query yielded none, which may have been due to my wording being a bit off, or (and this is my concern) due to the fact that people cannot come up with any more names! If that is the case, then my list is needed more than I thought. I am going to do some searching on my own, but would still love any suggestions. Maybe I need to change the name from Filtering Heroes to something else. I will try to come up with a better title.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Uh When I Said Heroes I Meant...

Regarding my previous posting and the title "Filtering Heroes..." I did post to LM_NET and TLC and asked for names of other people who could be resources for educators seeking increased Internet access, and I got chastised a little via private email. I do appreciate the fact that this person did not post publicly. The gist of the complaint was that I was oversimplifying and not taking account the problems in districts related to bandwidth issues. Further, labeling these people "heroes" was said to be inappropriate, and that many hard-working individuals have to put into place some constraints due to needing to keep resources available for appropriate use. So let me clarify: First, I am not talking about bandwidth issues. I am talking about the kinds of filtering that keep out perfectly innocent and even extremely valuable Web 2.0 resources. Second, about the use of the word "heroes." I was going for a catchy monniker. I was not trying to say that tech folks who apply reasonable filters are "bad guys" and that those who oppose filters are literallly "heroes." Guess I may rethink my label...anyway, the last thing I wanted to do was cause any sort of bad feelins! As I said to the person who emailed me, mea culpa! I hope my words were not widely misinterpreted.

Wednesday, September 10, 2008

My Heroes! Filter Fighters!

Last spring I got to meet a cyberfriend and also one of my heroes, Nancy Willard, who came to Texas for our annual library association conference. She speaks out for Internet safety and also for commonsense filtering in K-12 schools. Since I also care deeply about these issues, and since we have communicated for several years online, getting to talk to her in person over coffee was one of the high points of TLA for me last year. Then just yesterday I got an email from another of my heroes, Doug Johnson. He is so generous in his praise for others, and was kind enough to take time and send me a message about a recent article of mine about filtering. Since yesterday I have really been thinking about the importance of communication between like-minded individuals, and how the Internet has played a major part enabling this. I feel fortunate to learn so much from others via listservs like LM_Net and EDTECH, via email, and now from my tweets on Twitter. So hooray for heroes!

One thing Nancy Willard said at her TLA presentation was that she has made up her mind to speak out strenuously for commonsense filtering since she knows that many times teachers, whose jobs are on the line, may not feel that they can express themselves quite so freely. That statement galvanized me! It made me think that I could and should do the same. That led to my article in the September/October issue of Multimedia&Internet@School called "I'm Mad and I'm Not Gonna Take It Anymore" about draconian filtering still all to common in schools. In the next issue I will have an article called "Everybody Else is Doing It," which seeks to give people ideas for seeking access based on the fact that so many districts and schools have already jumped on the bandwagon using great Web 2.0 resources.

Today while I was working on an upcoming presentation about filtering, I got to thinking that it might be helpful to offer a list of some people whose presentations and writings can be used by educators in the trenches as they try to get access so kids can benefit from the many great Web 2.0 resources available online. Thus I am starting my heroes list: MA Bell's List of Commonsense Filtering Heroes. I will start off with three names and a bit about each person and will add more in the near future. Maybe readers have suggestions?
  • Nancy Willard, director of the Center For Save and Responsible Internet Use, is the first person that comes to my mind when I think about advocates for sensible filters in schools. She is a lawyer as well as an educator and thus has a two-pronged approach which adds additional import to her contributions. Her many articles on this topic are easily found in databases, blogs, and other sites located by doing a simple search using her name. Also, you can find online information at many sites, foremost being her own: Also listed there are her two books on the topic.
  • Doug Johnson, Director of Media and Technology in the Mankato Schools, MN, is a wonderful presenter and author as well as educator, with a long history or leadership in librarianship and technology. He has a plethora of presentations and articles about filtering and access, and also addresses the topic frequently in his Blue Skunk Blog: For more great information, visit his website at
  • Dr. Barry Bishop, Director of Library Information Services, Spring Branch, TX, is a True Texas Hero! Take a look at the wonderful district website he maintains. This site should be in everybody's tag collection: Last year he took part in a panel discussion at TLA about student access and filtering. His commonsense approach should be adopted by so many other administrators. Seeing his excellent resources should show other leaders the way to move beyond overly restrictive filters.
I know there are many more leaders, and my goal is to add to this list and post a more complete one somewhere for ready reference if someone is looking for experts who champion reasonable filters. Any suggestions?

Friday, September 5, 2008

Stuff White People Like Quiz

The SWPL guy was on Conan tonight, and inspired me to take the quiz. Results are interesting. It seems I am pretty multicultural! Or something. Who knew?

You are 22% white and nerdy.
How White and Nerdy Are You?

Happy Birthday to Me!

Thanks so much to my wonderful daughter who immortalized me with this greeting. I am the hapless voter in the last seconds of the video. And beware...I am, as we say in Texas, fixin' to post an entry with a political slant. I think it is appropriate in view of current candidates' views about the 1st Amendment and what that means to librarians and educators.

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For Whom The Bell Told