Tuesday, December 2, 2008

Twitter Blocked in Minneapolis Public Schools



Twitter being blocked is battle I didn't think I would have to fight. I've been using Twitter in several ways and hope to do more in the near future. For example:
A teacher friend of mine, "Boss," is using Twitter for tracking parent contacts. Another great idea.

However, on Monday, I was greeted with the "You have reached a blocked site" warning from the good people in the IT department of Minneapolis Public Schools. (click the image for a larger image to read.)

Here's where I'm confused. I've read at least 10 articles in the past month about how teachers are using Twitter in the classroom. In addition, I'm attending a conference break-out session on this exact topic next week. There are so many practical uses for Twitter in the classroom. I've listed examples above that are beneficial for students, teachers, and parents. I'd also like to expand what I am doing. For example:
  • Exit Slips: I have students write a short exit slip when the leave class to reflect on learning. I'd love to have students doing this online. Less papers to carry, authentic audience and I'd actually be able to read the handwriting typing.
  • Weekly "Knowledge Nuggets." I teach a class that prepares students for all their other classes. Having them post Tweets would allow me to follow what they are learning and applying in other classes.
I know the argument. Porn, horrible topics, swearing, online bullying. Along those lines, there thousands of other sites that we should block. But I was curious, how bad is Twitter? I did some searching on Twitter.

From the main Twitter page, there isn't an obvious way to search. At the bottom of the screen there is "search" link that gets you to the search page. From there I typed in "Cityview" and didn't come close to my school page. I typed in "porn" and got Tweets that contained the word porn. Not actual porn. Also, keep in mind, Twitter doesn't let you post pictures (other than your own profile picture). I typed in "angry teacher" and got students referencing their teachers who they were mad at or that got angry at them.

I didn't search long, but, then, most of my students wouldn't search long either. Also, it is possible to block people from following your Tweets. You can even protect your Tweets so that no one will see them, except for those that you let.

A good teacher stays on top of the students and the work that they are doing whether it is on paper or online. I would make students sign a contract regarding appropriate behavior, allowing me to follow them on Twitter and making sure that they can lose the use of computers at school. I would monitor it daily using RSS in Google Reader.

Can they create a separate account for personal use? Sure. In a way, I hope they do. Can they use it negatively? Of course. I can't monitor what they do at all times. I can monitor what they are doing at school. And if I hear of any issues, I know how to search Twitter.

So, I put all of these arguments in a condensed email to our IT department. I haven't heard back yet. As of 3:40 this afternoon, Twitter was still blocked. I am 1 for 1 in getting sites unblocked. I successfully lobbied to unblock Blogger two years ago. Let's hope for the best!!!

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